Small talk can be a minefield

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I try to be a polite guy. I say “please” and “thank you” and I try my best to be sincere when I say something. I imagine, though, I have become too sincere.

I have become sincere to the point that most conversations I seem to have with people lately become lengthy diatribes about their entire lives. When I ask “How are you?” I mean, well, right now. At this moment. I don’t mean your entire existence.

I know that sounds a lot less sincere and a tad bit rude, but, folks, please understand I’m not asking for a resume. I’m simply exchanging pleasantries.

The concept of too much information is lost on some people. The simple query of “how are you?” opens up a floodgate of information that is rarely staunched successfully. I believe in these instances, HIPAA, statutes of limitations, pinky swears and “cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye” go right out the proverbial window.

I was looking at some travel magazines in one of those big bookstores that have a coffee bar in them and a guy looks at the magazine I am leafing through.

“Sanibel Island, huh?” the guy says, “I’ve been there. Went there on my honeymoon. Woo, boy! We had such a good time that we didn’t see the outside of the room.”

What followed was either a medical explanation or one of those letters that used to be in the back of those magazines your father kept in his toolbox.

My wife returned from her browsing just in time to hear about something I am certain was in the Olympics until 1972. I think the Olympians wore leotards, though. Soon after, the guy’s wife showed up and asked if he was telling “that old Sanibel Island story” again. They both laughed and I got to hear the same story from the other point of view.

When someone asks me how I am, I simply answer “fine” or “doin’ great, thanks for asking!” No one wants to hear about how my lunch is doing a number on my digestive system. It’s common courtesy to omit the graphic detail.

I shared a cubicle with a guy a number of years ago who would always complain about the job. The director of the department would walk through once in a while and ask folks how they were doing.

“Doing great, Jim.” I would say, “How are you?

Jim would give me a sentence or two on the state of the department and move along to the next guy.

“How’s it going?” Jim would ask.

“Counting down ‘til five-thirty.”

This guy just told a senior executive that he was clock-watching. What followed was a 10-minute monologue about how the customer base “sucked.”

The next time Jim asked me how I was doing, I said I was doing better than that other guy and I thanked him for asking. Jim nodded and moved along.

There IS such a thing as too much information. There can be too much information about pretty much any subject. I don’t discuss politics with people any longer. I think the last time I did, it was the ‘90s. It’s gotten too ridiculous to discuss and everyone insists they are right. I don’t discuss my wife’s health. Everyone has a solution, a treatment or some kind of sorcery that worked for them. My wife is doing just fine, thank you for asking.

I don’t want to hear about your bathroom or bedroom activities. I don’t want a detailed medical history from you going back to that time you had “stomach distress” in the third grade.

I deal with the public on a daily basis. I ask a lot of people how they are doing. Please keep it to one or two general statements. I will acknowledge if you are a little sleepy and understand that you don’t wish to shake hands because you are fighting a cold. If you give me a detailed rundown of events that happened after you contracted the stomach virus that has made its way through your office, I may be less than sincere.

For the record, I didn’t feel too hot today. I had a sinus headache, my feet hurt, and the day was much too long. It’s OK, though.

My wife and I are planning a trip to Sanibel Island.

Joe Weaver, a native of Baltimore, is a husband, father, pawnbroker and gun collector. From his home in New Bern, he writes on the lighter side of family life.