“Do you use coconut oil?” she asked.
“Yes. Why do you ask?” I asked cautiously.
“Just making small talk” she replied, smiling.
“oh. Yes. I use a brand of coconut oil that doesn’t have the coconut smell. I don’t use any gels or other commercial hair care products”
“Is it a part of the Indian culture?” she inquired.
My hairdresser was a chatter. She has gathered a mountain of information about India and Indians while giving her customers a hair cut. It was quite impressive. I decided to answer her question with some depth and take the conversation to a new level.
“Well. It depends.” I began. “India has several regional sub-cultures. Depending on which part of the country you hail from, the oil that is loathed in one region may be used for bathing or cooking in another”
I wasn’t particularly interested in continuing this line of thought. So, i flipped the board and became the interviewer.
“How long have you been a hair stylist?”
“And before that?”
“Waitress. And before that I was a gymnastics coach at a high school”.
I noticed a hint of sadness as she recounted her experience as a gymnastics coach.Normally, I’m not too good at small talk. In any other setting, by this point I make up some excuse and get as far away from the person as possible. But In this case, I was literally a captive audience.
“You should try Yoga. That would be a logical progression for a gymnastics coach” I ventured. Trying to lead the conversation in another direction.
She stopped cutting my hair and looked straight into my eyes.
“How did you know that? I practice Yoga everyday.”
I believed her. She was wearing a dress that hung well above her knees and revealed a pair of fit and firm legs. She was telling the truth.This was interesting.
“I’ve read that Yoga instructors don’t get paid much, but they are very happy”. We were delving deeper.
“Yes. Yoga helps remove all the stress from a tough working day. It’s good for the outer body and the inner self too”. She said hesitantly. This was uncomfortable territory for most Americans. The response to such a line ranges from a dismissive “whatever” to “are you really into all that new age stuff?”.
The conversation was moving from boring small talk to new depths.I was enjoying this new depth. Now, I could talk to her. I could connect with the person behind the hair dresser’s personality.
We continued to chat and had a great discussion about Yoga, Spiritual implications of some of the postures and general cultural bias around the world.
small talk was manageable. I just had to hang in there and keep talking. At some point in the conversation, the mask of personality will crack to reveal the real person. that was my cue. If I persevered, this glimpse will give me the opportunity to connect on a deeper level.
I’m not as bad at small talk as I believed earlier. And that’s a good thing.