Holiday Parties and the Small Talk To Avoid

THE OFFICE -- NBC Series -- Pictured: (l-r) Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, Steve Carell as Michael Scott, B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard, John Krasinski as Jim Halpert -- NBC Universal Photo: Paul Drinkwater

If you’re like me, you’re maybe going to attend one (1) holiday party this season, depending on your mood and what the weather’s like. And even then, you still might not go because there’s six episodes of The Crown left to watch and the couch is very comfortable.

But if you are going, you will inevitably run into a few people you have to talk to despite having nothing in common with. And I am here to tell you how not to talk to them. Because look: it’s not their fault you have nothing to say, and they don’t deserve your weird questions they don’t want to answer (especially since you’re not even really listening to them).

Thus, behold: the conversation starters to avoid according to me, a person who hates a lot of things. You’re welcome, and I will never, ever corner you at a party, I promise. Let’s do this.

“So what are you up to these days?”
Nothing. They’re up to nothing. They will, regardless of what they’re doing, say “Nothing much!” to this, and you will say “Same!” And then you will stand there feeling foolish for thinking they were going to deliver anything to keep this conversation going. So no. Bring up a thing about them. Anything. It can even be a lie. “I hear you’ve been boating!” you will declare. They have never mentioned boating. They hate the water. (Like me, a person who hates the water — among, as I mentioned, many other things.) But they will say, “Oh, no I’m not! Where’d you hear that?” and then you make up a source, and from there, you forge a friendship based solely on how much you dislike your now common enemy.

“What do you do?”
For work? See above default answer. For fun? They avoid questions like this. Instead, go bold: “I’ve heard about you!” is one way to start a conversation that will terrify the hell out of the person on the receiving end. “What did you hear?” they’ll say, anxious and scared but also hopeful that whatever you heard was good. And then you say “That you love all-dressed chips!” and you hand them a bag. Now you are the person who delivers chips to people you don’t know at parties. And that makes you better than everybody else. And that makes you God.

“Are you seeing anyone?”
Oh my God, no. Just no. I don’t even have anything witty to add to this, I just can’t with this question. First of all, why are you phrasing it that way. Second of all, why? Why do you want to know? Are you obsessed? Are you going to follow up this question with a dinner ask, because now the tension is palpable and not in a good way. Thanks to you and this question, everybody is on edge to the point of the record player making that record scratch sound and one person dropping their plate in complete silence. Never ask this question. If you like someone and you want to ask whether they will date you, I don’t know what to say because I’m bad at this. One time I had a crush on a guy and I just kept telling him he was obsessed with me until I convinced him that he was and we went on a lunch date at work. It went terribly. I can’t help you. Just leave.

“This party is terrible”
Without fail, you will end up saying this to the host of said party. A real Love Actually experience, but without the turtlenecks or Colin Firth. Instead, just say “What a house!” to anyone willing to listen. Which is especially helpful as said party is taking place in a public space or small apartment.

“Are you Anne T. Donahue?”
No. They are not. I promise you they are not, because I don’t go to things I have to stand around and make small talk at. If they say they are, they are lying and they are impersonating me, and I want you to call the police. They wish, you know? So here’s a rule: if the person you think is me is not monopolizing the shrimp ring in a very old fur coat, they are not me. Happy holidays, I have set you free.



Tags: Anne T. Donahue

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