How to Start a Conversation in San Francisco
Local author Chris Colin and comedy writer Rob Baedeker recently had their excellent book, What to Talk About, published by Chronicle Books. It's a funny but absurd manual for improving conversation at every level. Chris has written for the NewYorker.com, the New York Times Magazine, Wired, and Smithsonian, and Rob helped form the Kasper Hauser comedy group. Their latest publication is for the bumbling and debonair alike.
To help celebrate the release of What to Talk About, Chris and Rob offer some additional advice for very San Francisco situations. We suggest stapling their tips into your waistband so you’re never left in awkward silence again. - Jennifer Maerz
What should we talk about in this city?
NO. We at What to Talk About HQ reject the very premise of the question we just asked ourselves. A better question? What do we GET to to talk about. Free tips below.
What to talk about in an endless line for something to eat
Could you make fun of the whole ridiculous line-for-restaurants phenomenon? Sure, but that's too easy and anyway, you're not above the situation – you're in it. You're in the line, and in your life. Embrace it: Talk about the history of the line. When do you think humans first came up with the concept, instead of 1) shoving/knifing one's way toward the front and 2) clustering around something with no sense of order? In some places they still use strategy #1. Who's right? And why are East Coasters wrong when they say waiting "on line"?
What to talk about when someone brings up how the city's changing
Pretend you haven't noticed any of the changes. Keep insisting nothing has changed, provoking the other person into a full articulation of his/her joy or rage. After five minutes blow a slow-motion kiss and pat them on the bottom football-player-style.
You're both free. Talk about something grounded, something non-theoretical, something fun: Who's the luckiest person you've ever met? If you could hear a master recording of everything ever said about you, would you? Describe yourselves in ten words. If a wizard offered you the power to walk through walls, but you'd vomit one out of ten times, would you go for it? Describe yourselves in one word.
What to talk about on your first Grindr date
Resist the urge to appear clever or even half-clever. What do you really want? Nope, not that. That's right – you want to know you're not alone in the universe. The footpath to intimacy wends a path of ignorance. Start by opening up about something you don't know. Admit you're not sure you could clearly define "wend," or for that matter explain how cameras work.
You're on a roll and now your date's exposing his unenlightenment, too. Polish-Soviet War? Someone mentioned it on KALW so confidently – are either of you sure you've even heard of it? Say it a couple times and it does start to sound … familiar? Or not. Can the two of you even list ten things about Poland? Okay, five. Seriously? You do have the Internet, right? No, it's okay. We're all in the same boat. Talk about this boat. Name it. "Ignorance Boat" is too first-thought. Come up with something more artful. You are having sex now. End the date by dramatically deleting Grindr from your phone in front of your brand-new fiance, and then delete the phone itself, under your heel. Phones are pretty cheap these days.
What to talk about when your family comes for a visit
This is a high-wire act. You're already annoyed, which makes you act 16 again, then you get annoyed with yourself, and now you've blown $48 on these three coffees. But there's a way out.
Astrally project yourself onto the ceiling and peer down upon your insane relatives. The boorishness, the irritating tics, the borderline racism – from a distance, these can stop being maddening and start being ... fictional. That's right, look at your family as though they aren’t kin, but characters in a dark comedy. (They are!) Treat them as you would your favorite HBO stars, should you be lucky enough to meet them.
From this safe conceptual distance, you can safely probe their eccentricities and even sympathize with their plights. Dig inquisitively into their backstories. If they start to bug you again, the fictionalization has simply worn off. Reapply it and start again.
What to talk about when you run into your ex
If still in love, comment how their hair looks great and ask if they have been doing a protein-shake diet.
If not in love anymore, use the protein-shake healthy hair strategy, too.
If they have no hair, sub in fingernails.
But you are still in love with them, right? At some level. Don't act on it. We know how this goes. Don't call your friends to whine, either, they're busy discussing the history of lines. Call a cab. Ask the driver about the love of his or her life, too. Ask about his/her most memorable fare. Fall in love. Have kids, move to the Excelsior. Fight about how the city's changing, break up. Run into each other at Ocean Beach four years later. Look at that magnificent hair. Repeat.
Photo by Illana Diamond