From Monday in England, people will be able to meet outdoors either in a group of six (from any number of households), or in a group of any size from up to two households, including in private gardens.
While this is exciting, it may also be a little daunting – many of us will have forgotten how to socialise normally during the long months of lockdown. Here’s a quick refresher course on the art of making conversation under current guidelines:
1. Be the host of the conversation, not the guest
Imagine that your boring, socially distanced walk is a fun drinks party thrown by you. That means it’s your responsibility to get the conversation started. Don’t wait for others to initiate small talk, jump right in with a topical icebreaker; something like, “How about that big stuck boat? Can you believe it’s still stuck?” That should get the ball rolling.I’ve never enjoyed small talk with strangers, but lockdown has made me crave itLouis StaplesRead more
2. Explore your mutual shared reality
This is easy when you occupy the same social realm – you can always discuss the moral shortcomings of a mutual acquaintance. But since you and your friends have been trapped in different realities for months, you may have to guess at things you have in common. Try one of the following:
“Feels strange to be wearing shoes, am I right?”
“You know that thing where you think the Amazon guy is flirting with you, but it turns out he just needs a bottle to pee in?”
“I’ve loved spending time with my son, but is it weird that I can’t wait for him to move out and get his own place? He’s seven.”
3. When in doubt, ask questions
If you haven’t said anything out loud for a few weeks, even a short conversation can be exhausting. When you need a break, tap the ball into someone else’s court with a simple question:
“Acquired any interesting new skills or neuroses since last year?”
“What are the odds of you going anywhere nice this summer?”
“Do you know anyone who can forge me a pub passport?”
4. Avoid dead-end inquiry
While questions normally keep things flowing, certain kinds can actually short-circuit a conversation. For example:
“Have you seen anyone lately?”“No.”
Avoid questions that solicit only brief, dead-end replies, such as, “So, is that your hair now?” or “On a scale of zero to two, how many vaccines have you had?” Instead, try starting the conversation in a way that encourages follow-up questions, like so:
“Guess who I saw the other day?” “I can’t imagine. Who?”
“One of the main characters from Line of Duty!” “Really? Where?”
“On Line of Duty.”
5. Don’t probe – reveal
Personal questions have their place, but under the circumstances your friends may feel as if you’re just interrogating them to see if they’ve broken any lockdown rules. Be assured: they have.
Instead of endlessly grilling them about where they got their nails done, try revealing something about yourself that might get them to open up in response: “I’ve been eating with my hands since October – what about you?” Listen carefully to their replies, in case they accidentally confess to some rule-breaking. You can use that information in a conversation with someone else, possibly the police.
6. Come prepared
This may sound silly, but if you haven’t socialised in ages a few pre-prepared topics can help. Even something as banal as “What would your superpower be?” can provide a conversational lifeline. Be sure to rehearse some answers as well, such as: “the power of issuing or denying pub passports” or “freeing huge stuck ships” or “to be able silence the screaming in my head”.
If all else fails, just look at your phone until it’s over.