I recently had the pleasure of reading Karan Mahajan's brief and brilliant article in The New Yorker on the American custom of easy small talk and how it can be confusing to downright challenging for an outsider to adopt. I am squarely in Karan's camp. I never really asked my barista how their day is going. (And why 'my' barista anyway? why must a possessive pronoun precede everything that is implicitly mine anyway - I don't just like coffee - I like 'my' coffee, I don't just like to ride a bicycle - I like to ride 'my' bicycle.) I have never thought getting to know the person on the other side of a brief, one-off financial transaction is an obligation or even a harmless ritual worth entertaining. If anything, like Karan, I've found it needlessly patronizing and disingenuous.
I loved the unusually short (in a good way, specially for the New Yorker) article and here are some gems from it - but go read the whole thing immediately!
American life is based on a reassurance that we like one another but won’t violate one another’s privacies
In the East, I’ve heard it said, there’s intimacy without friendship; in the West, there’s friendship without intimacy
On a day that I don’t spend money in America, I feel oddly depressed
Everything is subject to analysis until it becomes second nature to you
and finally, a quote from The Inscrutable Americans - wow - a refreshing blast from the past - a lovely little novel, a bit ahead of its time, that flirted with greatness before descending into the usual obsession with sex.