Theodore Zeldin, who has spent a lifetime studying friendships, wants to celebrate his 74th birthday with everyone - but only if you promise to have a proper conversation with a stranger.
Professor Zeldin, the president of the Oxford Muse foundation, is a philosopher, historian and public speaker says the idea of friendship has, over the centuries, changed radically and has created a new pressing issue for humanity - the need for real conversation. It is not new lands we need to be discovering but other people's thoughts. "I think we have less and less time for conversation," he says.
I'm amazed by the number of women...who come to me and say 'I just can't find men who are able to talk' . What have we rebelled against? When have we felt isolated? What have been our most difficult conversations?
Now I am sure that the good professor is a very learned man. I am sure he applies experience, studying, reading and thought into all his conclusions.
However the simple fact is; I disagree with him.
I am not a woman who wants men who are able to spew forth on their rebellions, their isolation, their difficult conversations. If I had someone in front of me carrying on like that, I would baulk, walk away and leave them talking to themselves. Therefore, yes I know, creating a new example for their witterings.
The art of smalltalk or "talking shite" (pron. s(w)hite, where the w is silent) is an artform in itself. The willingness to engage in seemingly trivial chatter in person, on the phone or even on IM is something of a gift. One person's ability to pick their subject, add to it and to listen for a reply is worth ten thousand people holding forth meaningfully.
There are two men in a room. You know neither, one talks to you about his lonely years between Maya who left him to run an international hotel chain and Gabrielle who "was lovely, but wasn't Maya". One talks to you about something that was on the telly last night. You go for a drink. Which one do you come back and talk to?
Why, the funnier and better looking one of course.
Professor Zeldin has got it wrong, is it not quality of subject matter than is important to most women. It is the method of presentation and most women do not want heavy subjects delivered to them with a jackhammer. Einstein was clever but the pose that makes the poster was him sticking out his tongue.
He may have concluded and proven that E = mc2 but people remember him more readily for: "If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut" or my own personal favorite: "You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat"
These are deep notions presented trivially, the very essence of talking shite. Contrast Einstein to Freud: "Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent"
Now who would you rather go for a pint with?