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Conversation, one Minnesotan’s style

November 29, 2011

Taylor Baldry craved face-to-face, meaningful English conversation when he returned to Minnesota from a two-year stint teaching English in Japan. So he set up a card table (complete with table cloth and reading lamp) and three folding chairs last month at Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. Then he put out his sign that read: Free Conversations.  Folks out for a walk or a run around the lake stopped, sat down, picked a topic off the menu and had a nice chat.

Baldry’s literal menu of topics included “starters,” such as a book recently read or the weather, a topic of complaint year-round here. (70 is too hot for some folks. And yes, some are complaining about the delayed snow this year….) “Main dishes” were, the Minneapolis newspaper reported, “meatier”: Politics, religion, love. “Specials” included: Advice, dinosaurs, brainstorming, famous American Indians, weird dreams.

As an extrovert and native of the South, I find Baldry’s efforts admirable. After all, there are lots of introverts here in Minnesota. Anything to make eye contact and chit-chat easier helps.

And as a mild “talker” from the South who’s always the last to leave any gathering, according to my family, I’m writing Baldry a note about how he can drum up conversations in winter (when Lake Calhoun will be a little chilly):

Dear Taylor, Here’s how you can get some conversations going in the winter: Go to the grocery and stand in line. This is where some of the most interesting conversations occur in the South, and maybe we can get this custom going in the North, too. But don’t expect conversation to just happen, Southern grocery-style.  Ask loudly: “Any of you-all from the South?” Northern introverts will avert their eyes, assuming you are mentally ill, just as they no doubt did out there at Lake Calhoun.  Natives of the South will proudly claim their heritage and the conversation will begin–no menu needed. Northern extroverts will look around and say: “No, but I’ve been to Tennessee (or Texas or wherever) once….” And the conversation will get going, although you might need a menu prompt or two to keep it going. (Northern extroverts have been repressed and fear the “must be mentally ill” label, after all.)

The menu of topics for grocery store conversations? Look around for ideas: The weather. Kids. Food costs. The grocery cart’s contents (Prunes? Soy milk?). Michelle. Kate. Herman. College tuition.  Two-headed giraffes on tabloid front covers….

P.S. We frequent the Cub grocery on Old Shakopee Rd. in Bloomington on Saturday afternoons, Line 3, and hope to run into you there. In fact, we’ll invite you home with us for a chat and a little prune and soy milk snack. And we’d love to hear all about Japanese dinosaurs.

Click here to see the article on Baldry’s conversations.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. Greta permalink
    November 29, 2011 1:13 pm

    Absolutely!! Here in Kentucky I can be talking to my husband (from Michigan) in line and before we are checked out there will be 4 or 5 people chiming in. Here is an opening in the 10 items or less line. Ask the cashier on avg how many items does she/he usually ring up per customer. They will usually join right in along with half the line. Last cashier I asked said avg of around 150 items. Yes folks they do watch!!! And my husband has quit bothering being amazed. He just thinks the phenomena is just me… Nah!

    • November 29, 2011 1:23 pm

      Hmm. Minnesotans probably actually count their items before they get in the 10 items or less line. They also start merging into one line as soon as the sign says one lane will be closing up the road. I suspect this is why Midwesterners make good employees.

      • Greta permalink
        November 29, 2011 1:28 pm

        Here in Kentucky shoppers see a sign saying 10 items or less as a challenge! “I can get through! this line” They will run on the side of the road or in a ditch to get ahead of the person trying to merge… It’s a pride thing! “They are trying to get my place” Oh I should explain, here there is no large shoulders on the road. It’s only 6″ from the white line to dropping into a ditch or off the side of the mountain. But that’s no concern. “I can make it!”

  2. November 29, 2011 1:56 pm

    In my “southern” experience, the line at the post office is another great place to converse. There was usually a long line and lots of people chiming in, including the clerks at the counter. In fact, they were some of the best conversation starters. I heard some of the funniest jokes and most amazing stories at the post office. I actually looked forward to standing in line every afternoon during my daily p.o. run! At one point, I pondered writing a “post office experience” book…

  3. December 1, 2011 4:13 am

    Haha! That’s an ingenious idea! Maybe I should write up a conversation menu for the folks on the metro around here! It’s hard to practice your Spanish when no one talks on that thing. 😛

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