Tag Archives: Seinfeld

You burst my personal bubble

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Before I moved to Latin America I had a rather large, roomy personal bubble.  Most Americans do.  I didn’t like “close talkers” to use a phrase from Seinfeld.  You know, a close talker is someone who stands uncomfortably close to you when they talk.  And they may even unconsciously pursue you as you back away gradually.  A close talker could easily creep me out or make me super irritated.

This past week at the conference I was basically chased around a table by a close talker.  I kept backing up and he kept following me!  I even tried throwing a few chairs in his path, but they didn’t deter him!  He was WAY into my personal bubble.

But in Latin America, my personal bubble was completely burst.  Here girlfriends often touch each other’s hair and clothing as they talk.  Old ladies hold my hand or pat my cheek or rub my arm while they talk to me.  Friends link arms as they walk along.  Everyone kisses as a greeting.  Closeness is part of the warmth of the culture.  Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t.

When we lived in Mexico occasionally we would take advantage of our two oldest kids finally being in school and we would go to see an early movie.  No parents in town meant no babysitters for date nights, so we compromised.  Naturally because we are Americans we always bought our tickets early and arrived at the theater early enough to choose our seats.  Being the first ones, we had the whole theater to chose from.  But it never failed, the very next couple to enter the theater ALWAYS chose the seats RIGHT NEXT TO US with no buffer seat between us.  (Have you noticed how Americans put their coats on the seat next to them as a buffer?)  To our American sense of space, this was incredibly awkward to be sitting in an empty theater shoulder to shoulder with total strangers.  Awkward!

But for the Mexican who were used to living in one of the most crowded cities in the world, it was nothing to be nearly on top of each other.  More than likely they were thinking we had chosen the best seats and naturally they wanted the best view too.  It’s kind of like how you can draw a crowd just by staring and pointing to something vague in the distance.  (It’s kind of a fun prank, you should try it sometime.)

Here in Latin America touching and grooming and friendship all shrink my personal bubble.  I have discovered that when I return to the United States I often freak people out by standing too close for comfort.  I don’t mean to be a creeper, I just forget!  One time I was in the grocery store in the meat section.  There was only one other lady in the whole place.  She was looking intently into the cooler case, examining some packages of meat.  I thought because she was looking so purposefully that she must have found a sale item.  So I slid over to her side and looked right where she was looking.  She looked up in surprise and took a few steps to her right.  Instinctively I followed her a few steps to the right.  She gave me a dirty look.  Then I realized what a creeper I was being.  I apologized and headed to the bread section post haste!  It was pointless to try to explain that Latin America had broken my personal bubble.

The Art of Small Talk

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For years I had a love/hate relationship with the T.V. show Seinfeld.  I hated it because it was a show about nothing, but I loved it because it made the everyday stuff of life so funny.  Now I have had to restrain myself in conversation, to limit the number of Seinfeld references I make in any given conversation for fear that it will appear that I am watching too many T.V. reruns instead of living a real life.  In every episode I found something to relate to, something that made me say “THAT is SO true!” or “I KNOW!” or “I hate it when THAT happens.”  And I think that was the true reason why the show was so successful, because everyone could relate to it.

Seinfeld is a show about small talk, and I’m not so good with small talk.  When we decided to go on the mission field I realized that I would have to learn how to make small talk.  Missionaries have to talk to people.  I had to face the true nature of my personality.  I am really an introvert.  There, I said it.  Conversation wears me out.  I get stressed out anticipating situations where I will have to talk to people that I don’t know well.

It’s not so much that I have nothing interesting to say.  It’s more that I’m less interested in others than they are interested in themselves.  I have a hard time making small talk, and without small talk, it’s nearly impossible to jump to the deeper and more interesting topics in a conversation.

So knowing that I have this blank spot in my brain where small talk should go, I decided to take a deliberate step to LEARN the art of conversation and to PRACTICE making small talk with people.  So I got a job as a barista in a coffee shop.  Baristas are always chatty and friendly.  And it’s hard not to like someone who engages you in a 2 minute conversation about yourself and then hands you a steaming cup of coffee as you walk away (maybe the pleasant small talk is to distract you from the distressing fact that you just paid $5 for hot water).  I watched how my co-workers did it and I learned.

In this job, I started paying attention to the details of people.  I started looking for little things to talk about.  The guy who brings his daughter in after a soccer game, I see the ball and shin guards and ask her who won.  The woman who orders several drinks to bring to co-workers, I ask her if there’s a big meeting today.  The little old lady wearing a sweatshirt from a quilting competition, I ask her if she had a project in the competition.  The guy that carries the most recent issue of Field and Stream magazine, I ask him if he’s excited about the fishing opener next month.  And that, my friends, is how you make small talk.  You notice a detail and build a conversation around it.

Some people have the talent for conversation, the gift of gab; others must learn this skill and practice it to get good at it.  Small talk is not about caring about the topic of conversation, it’s about caring about the other person enough to make an effort to make them feel comfortable.  Small talk is not about telling you about myself, it’s about letting someone else feel special and important even if it’s just for a minute.  Small talk is such an important little thing in our society that someone wrote an entire T.V. sitcom about it… and it lasted for years.

The Bad Boy

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***I must begin this blog with a huge disclaimer:  Josh told me to write about this.  So let’s all agree together that we will be laughing WITH Josh and April and not AT them.

In the fabric of our collective history there are some threads that shine more brightly than others.  Beloved moments and tender memories are the pretty pastels.  Mistakes, sorrows and pains are dark colors.  Blunders, gaffes, and faux pas are also part of the fabric of my history with Josh.  For example, my family has a knack for quoting movie lines.  We can’t remember our own phone numbers, but we can quote everything from Woody Allen to Pee Wee Herman.  My husband, on the other hand, has the antithesis of this gift.  He messes up EVERY line he tries to quote… and he makes it 100x funnier!  And I love him for that.

Another one of the funny stories that makes up the history of our relationship involves a Seinfeld episode.  It’s the episode where Elaine has forbidden her assistant Anna to flirt with George and tells her that he’s a “bad seed”.  This piques Anna’s interest in the short, balding man.  Jerry figures it’s because Elaine has made George “The Bad Boy” and Anna is into Bad Boys.  George is confused because he’s never been the Bad Boy.  “Why not?!” Jerry encourages him “You’ve been the bad employee, the bad son, the bad friend (yes, yes, agrees George) the bad fiancé, the bad dinner guest, the bad credit risk (OK the point is made!) the bad date, the bad sport, the bad citizen (George stands to leave) THE BAD TIPPER!!”  Jerry chimes.  (Here’s the clip though you might have to go directly to youtube to watch it.)

This scene rolls me into hysterics every time I watch it.  A few years ago Josh asked me why.  I finally confessed that before we met, I had a “thing” for the Bad Boy image.  Clearly, at some point I chose safe and responsible over unpredictable and… fun.  Josh was shocked!  And not for the reason that I suspected.  “But I AM a Bad Boy, aren’t I?”  he queried.  This coming from the man who thought about being a banker before he became a minister.  After laughing until tears rolled down my cheeks.  I said, “If you don’t believe me, ask your friends what they think of you.  They will tell you the truth.”

So a few days later Josh came to me sheepishly and confessed that he had told his friend Peter about our conversation.  He had asked, “Peter, am I a Bad Boy?”  (I’m giggling as I write this.)  And Peter shook his head slowly, “Oh Joshy, you’re a Good Boy.”  So there, Josh had the truth.  He was not a Bad Boy after all.

But Josh was not willing to admit defeat.  So to augment his new Bad Boy image, my husband refuses to shave more than once a week.  When I complain that he’s getting prickly he says proudly, “It’s part of my Bad Boy image.”  And why not, we’re all entitled to our own dreams.