Conversation(al?) woes

So there are two kinds of conversationalist’s in the world – the conversation continuers and the conversation blockers. You can immediately find out who is who when you’re meeting someone or texting someone online.

A continuer is someone who meets you and immediately strikes up a conversation, fluidly moving on from one topic to another while leaving you wondering at his or her capability to move the mouth that much. A blocker  is someone who literally sets up a verbal block to an otherwise flowing conversation, leaving you fidgeting and awkward and even heartily welcoming the sound of nails dragging across a blackboard to fill up the excruciating silence.

I think I have subtly indicated that I belong to the former category and so I would like to share my pain and humiliation publicly.

A person can be a blocker for many reasons. One, he or she despises you that much that even talking to you is considered a waste of energy or time. Two, is just shy or not a huge talker. Three, is uninterested and wishes you would finish already and four, just a plain, boring person. I think I might have had conversations with all of the above types unfortunately.

At a first-time student trip –

Me: Hi, are you on this trip too? My name’s Swathi, nice to meet you! (wide smile)

Her: Yeah. I’m much older than you. (silence and expectant stare)

Me: ………

(This one I’m sure she didn’t like me or else she thought it the greatest offence that I didn’t show enough courtesy to my elders. Apparently, exchanging pleasantries with a person two years older than you is a sign of disrespect since two years is considered “much”)

While texting a good friend for help in a desperate situation a.k.a ordering pizza –

Me: Hi! what are you up to? Sorry I’m disturbing but by any chance do you have the number for Domino’s? I feel like pizza 🙂

Her: Yeah, I do….. Gotta go. See you soon 🙂

( Seriously, if you have the number then GIVE it! I’m asking, not stating for heaven’s sake. Its not like I’m solely interested in finding out if you are in possession of a chain pizza restaurant’s number. What am I, a private detective for that franchise?)

At a first date in a restaurant –

Him: Lets sit here! (points at table)

Me: Okay!

(Once we’re seated) Me: This is a beautiful place. But quite hard to find isn’t it.

Him:  Yeah (smiles)

Me: I see. Well, you were lucky enough to find a place like this huh? (laughs)

Him: That is true (smiles)

Me: Do you come here often?

Him: No (smiles)

Me: …….


(The likes of the above continued the whole time we were seated there. And HE was the one who asked ME out. I appreciate all the sweet smiles, I really do, and I tried to be quiet to let him speak but all that resulted in was an impasse of all-pervading silence)

Chatting on Facebook with an acquaintance who, I might add, initiated the conversation –

Him: Hi, how are you? You ‘re an avid reader of books right?

Me: Hey, I’m good. Its been so long since we talked! and yeah, I do love reading.

Him: You should read The Orphan Masters Son. We can discuss it.

Me: Oh I already did. It’s a beautiful book and very well researched on. Don’t you just get so horrified but also overwhelmed at the descriptions of all that war propaganda to the North Korean public?

Him: Yes. Totally. (Long pause)

Me: You did read it right?

Him: Yes, I did 🙂

Me: So what did you think?

Him: Was pretty sad.

Me: I for one loved it though.

Him: Yeah, me too.

(Was I the one who wanted to discuss the book? Or does discussion mean only one person talking? This kind of conversation is a very good example of a conversation starter who turns a blocker in the end. Maybe I should add this category to my kinds of conversationalist’s in the world)

Anyway, being a conversation continuer is not cool if you end up being annoying and over-talkative. I am well aware and I try to hone it down and listen. But, honestly sometimes patience does get pushed when conversation does not ensue for an incredibly long time. Which ultimately is awkward for both parties involved. I need to try harder at being patient I guess. Maybe carry around a sound recording of nails dragging on a blackboard would be a good idea.

Lets see.






Subtle Stereotyping

Being stereotyped is something every person experiences at sometime, especially when you are in a foreign country. I have experienced it often enough, being an Indian who is living and studying in Japan. And unfortunately most of the time, it feels like the most awkward thing in the world when you have to rack your brains to find something suitable to say when a person you are talking to unconsciously stereotypes you.

How can you fend off the stereotype image and at the same time not offend the person?

The image of various countries and cultures in peoples minds are often quite different. For example, what do Japanese people think of first when the mention of India comes along? The answer is, curry.

Seriously, the first question I get when I say I’m from India is,” Oh, isn’t the curry there really spicy? But I love Indian curry!” and so forth. Of course, in countries like the USA and UK, there are huge populations of Indian immigrants. As a result, many Indian stores, cinemas and eateries has spread their wings there. The poeple in these western countries are aware that India, more correctly Indian food, is not only about curry.

However, in a place like Japan where the Indian population is considerably less, where would you find something related to India? On a restaurant billboard of course. I am not blaming them though. Happens everywhere doesn’t it? In India, people probably think the Japanese only eat sushi. Interesting, how food is a major contributor of stereotypical assumptions.

The other day I was chatting to a Japanese teacher about taking on a teaching assistantship. We exchanged introductions and I told her I was from India. The whole ten seconds of curry conversation ensued like always. I had just come from another campus of my university on a bicycle and was pretty much out of breath. She noticed this and on my telling her, she looked at me with startled eyes and asked me, “Do you know how to ride a bicycle?”.

I replied in the affirmative and was a little affronted as to why she looked so surprised. Did she not think I looked capable enough of riding a bicycle? She then, in all seriousness, started talking about how her husband was from Congo in Africa and how he told her apparently girls don’t know how to ride bicycles there.

Now this I understand and I do think it is quite an interesting fact but I was totally nonplussed at the timing and the context of this in our conversation. I’m pretty sure she  knew where India was since we were talking about it in detail like fifteen seconds ago. She was looking at me expectantly for an answer, but what on earth do I reply to that?

She was a sweet thing so I didn’t want to repeat that I was from India. That would have only embarrassed her. So in the end, I nodded with a  “that is so interesting” look on my face. On hindsight, I think maybe she thought India was similar to Africa in that way and thought it was perfectly normal to assume what she did.

These kind of moments do leave me frustrated because on one hand, I know that I can explain to a handful of people and correct some of their assumptions,  but on the other hand, not to a huge population.

Incidents like this happen to me on a daily basis here in Tokyo and I have started to think them more hilarious than offending. Especially because its always done in a harmless and mostly curious manner.

I just hope I keep a straight face next time.