My friend Kathy’s husband HATES small talk. We all got a giggle out of it, but I did try to have more meaningful conversations with him during social gatherings. And recently, I read an essay by David Sedaris on a scathing conversation he had with a taxi driver because he was sick of small talk [he was basically taking it out on her], but don’t worry he ends up regretting acting like an ass.

Then I was nominated by Sneha at Chocolates and Feelings for one of those nice blogging awards, and her questions reminded me of a crazy list of icebreakers that landed in my email inbox. This led me to think about how we sometimes attempt to have non-small talk conversations on social media, and naturally, how we fail.

I also wondered if we could have better conversations this holiday season (and in general) if we were equipped with more thought-provoking questions. I think so. This reminds me of long road trips or my old archaeology days when we were clocking in 10-hours, and you’d inevitably start to play those “If you were a fruit, what would you be?” kind of games to help pass the time.

But today we have smartphones so we don’t talk anymore. Pretty soon we’ll just gesture and grunt. Until then, I’m ready for a new set of fun questions to ask the guys at work. [I’m getting there!] Okay, on to Sneha’s questions first.

LIfe is not so black and white… [Rayong Thailand, 2020]

What does the color black means to you?

You know, it’s bananas that you ask because once upon a time, I was a Waldorf teacher and some hardcore followers of Rudolf Steiner (the founder of this educational philosophy) believe in some crazy things he put out at the other turn of the century. Well, maybe it’s not that nutty since there is evidence that colors have different associations and feelings around them.

One of the crazies thought I was wrong to let my first-grade students use black crayons. I guess because it’s a non-color, a void, if you will, too much for young minds to handle. So I had to defend the use of that color in my classroom. Seriously.

I said my hair is black, and other students have black hair. We use it to draw ourselves. And I didn’t see the harm in it.

I miss this. [Chiang Rai, 2014]

What does being in nature feels like to you?

Whew! An easier question to answer! Being in nature feels like heaven. Unless it’s really buggy, then it feels closer to hell. Or hot… I hear hell is quite hot. But then being really super cold is no picnic either. Damn, so much for easier answers.

[In the old kitchen in Lamphun, 2007]

If you could swap your life with your mom for one day, what do you think will happen?

This one’s tough. I think both our brains would short-circuit because we’re so different. But hopefully, we’d gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of each other. Now, if we could collectively remember to do this in our newly divided world…

Life is sweet, enjoy every bite. [Siem Reap Cambodia, 2017]

Which is the sweetest thing you’ve tasted so far?

Carmel is pretty darn sweet. You can feel the sugary goodness eroding your enamel. OH, and love. Until the other person (or you) screws it up and then you want nothing more than the earth to suffocate you to wipe out all the pain… just kidding!

Finding serenity and bliss [at a Mae Gnat houseboat, Thailand, 2011]

When did you realize you needed to change and why?

Oooo. Lulled me to thinking these questions were sugar and spice and everything nice, eh? After I left home for college, I knew I had to forgive folks and move on, or I’d live a life full of anger and regret. Thus started an intensive journey of consuming A LOT of self-improvement books and spiritual New Age-y stuff. Actually, trying to be the best person you can be is addicting, and so I’m still totally into it.

There’s strength in kindness. [Banteay Kdei, Cambodia, 2015]

When I say, strength, what comes to your mind first?

People who’ve had to overcome serious obstacles whether it is an addiction, abuse, or poverty are my superheroes. I’m overtired of the whine and noise of first-world problems being aired out on social media to the tune of look-at-me. It’s not that I’m insensitive to everyday issues that we all face or that I don’t believe we have the right to complain, we do. It’s just ironic that those who have the darkest demons usually end up being the quietest about them.

Visiting Dad [at Punchbowl Cemetery, Hawaii, 2015]

What new thing have you discovered about yourself during this quarantine period?

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I discovered that I really, really love my mom. Prior to quarantine, I’d call her once a month, but during? It’s once a week now. We’ve gone through a lot and I’ve always loved her, but this year I realized how stupid I was to keep her at a distance, to fear speaking to her more regularly. To be fair, we’ve both changed after our big falling out a couple of years ago, but that’s been the most significant change.


Thanks again, Sneha. Those were some heavy-weight questions! And now, my questions (from the icebreaker list) to anyone who reads this and doesn’t mind us getting to know each other a little better.

  1. Without using your job title, tell me what you do.
  2. What’s something you would not tell someone on a first date?
  3. If you could sing like any famous singer (alive or dead) who would it be and why?
  4. Describe something that made you smile today.
  5. If you could live in the setting of any book or movie, without necessarily being involved in the story, which would you choose?
  6. What is your oldest or most cherished grudge?
  7. If you could only use three condiments for the rest of your life, what would they be?

Feel free to answer the questions in the comments or a blog post. I’d love to hear from you. Check out Shena, that list of questions, and have fun getting to know your family and friends in a new way.


15 replies on “Icebreakers, awards, and the antidote to small talk

  1. I’m rubbish at small-talk; it’s one of the reasons I’m not good in big or noisy social gatherings. I can’t hear well enough to have proper conversations and end up miserable. I had to smile at your list of questions; I almost said I don’t hold grudges, but then I remembered my brother (deliberately) breaking my birthday present — on my birthday. Worse, my parents kind of shrugged and went “oh dear”. I’ve been holding that grudge for over 50 years.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m okay with small talk, I think because I’ve been in enough awkward situations that they no longer feel that bad anymore. 😛

      Oooo. Yeah, siblings. There’s some stuff to be found there for sure. Sorry about your present, sounds like someone was jealous! Does he know you’re still upset about that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. He probably doesn’t even remember; there were no consequences for him. And actually, I think I’m more aggrieved with my parents.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Something that made me smile–in addition to this post–is looking back at photos from my boys’ 5th birthday. They just turned 11, and are still adorable, but 5 was my favorite age, because every day was exciting and new, with so much to learn. Seeing them discover a love for reading was especially rewarding for this book nerd mom. Well, speaking of ice breakers and small talk, my husband and I had a super weird double date once, and after dinner at the other couple’s house, they broke out a book of ice breakers (which was weird enough because we all had plenty to talk about)–and the questions were about sex. Like, “what’s the craziest place you ever, etc.?” Were they swingers or just having fun, I don’t know. I think that was out last double date with them!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, what’s up with folks wanting to know about your personal sex life, right? I had a ‘friend’ ask if I wanted to be featured in her mag and it was all these questions about my sex life with my partner, and I’m like, uh, no thank you. And then she was offended!

      That might have been fun when I was in my twenties but as I’ve gotten older, public pillow talk is not my thing. 😛

      Aren’t you lucky that your lads like to read as much as you! I hear so many stories of parents and their children being so different, having different interests and such. Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In a magazine or even online–I would have said no, too! The cult movie maker and actor John Waters, who’s been around forever, said something once about talking about all sorts of things in public–but never about his sex life or his health. Makes sense to me. The bots online know SO MUCH about us, already; I hate to willingly give up really personal info.

        I do feel lucky by boys like to read and write. It is fun to share interests–and within those interests there are differences. One of my guys is a big fantasy reader, which I didn’t read much of as a kid. So, that’s opened up a new genre for me. Fun–and great post, Lani, that got me thinking about so many things!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like your comments about strength. When I think of strength, I think of my dad. He was the strong, silent type. He never complained, never bragged. He had a hard life. Everything he accomplished, he worked hard for. So growing up with him, I also am “overtired of the whine and noise of first-world problems being aired out on social media.” I am sympathetic, but sometimes I wish they would just be tougher and realize how lucky they are in so many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s almost feels like a generational thing. My mom is utterly stoic about traveling and inconveniences. Something about social makes everyone want to say something, even if that thing is nothing or to complain.

      I need to check out The Coddling of the American Mind by Lukianoff and Haidt …

      Go Dad! xo

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey I love that houseboat pic! It’s serene and that pink flower completes the scenery.
    And about color black, hmm, interesting. Something to think about. Why don’t we use that color more when teaching kids? I realized just now my questions were really heavy! Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😉 No problem. I’m sure there’s a psyche test we could do around these. 😀

      The houseboat was nuts, no electricity at night in the middle of a lake = very dark.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. i don’t like small talk either =) but over time i’ve come to accept it and how it’s a gradual way of getting to know people. i do prefer these ice breaker type of questions, i think they are more useful in getting to know a person. =)

    it’s great you’ve been talking with your mom during quarantine, even if you’ve had a complex relationship. ❤ it is so much better to try to restore your relationship now as opposed to later on when ou might regret that it's too late.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agreed! Thanks, and yes, I’m comfortable getting to know folks in many different situations. With both our jobs, it comes with the territory 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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