Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Warming up social conversation


     It takes the skill of a seasoned player to navigate in today’s world of social conversation. The rules remain the same, although most would admit that etiquette leans toward the casual side. Participants’ attitudes have changed. Add in cell phones and, well, it gets complicated.
     When you converse with a group of unfamiliar people at a party, you stick with subjects of general interest. At least, that’s the way I approach it when I am hovering around the buffet table — also, a relatively safe place to mingle. Now health experts say that is the worst location to hangout. I have a different motive and hear me out.
     Sometimes it is nearly impossible to break into a group, though. I was at a party and a bunch of people in a circle had their heads down texting. (I hope not to each other.)  Obviously, I wasn’t needed there — if I was even noticed — and I moved on. Certainly, it is quite rude, but I not going to let lack of social graces ruin my evening.     
      General foodie talk works well when you don’t know others. I let the conversation warm up a bit, although, I steer clear of making specific comments about a particular dish on the table in case the cook might be standing within earshot. Talk about putting your foot in your mouth instead of a tiny meatball.
     Occasionally, a topic will be worth digging into and speaking your mind, especially if you have attentive, open-minded listeners. Other times it is best to slip away quietly and leave folks to grumble about the colder than normal spring. It won’t get solved anyhow no matter how much bantering goes on.  
     Lo and behold, the subject of microwaves came up at the last reception that I attended. One astute conversationalist wondered out loud how long a group of relative strangers could talk on the subject. Everybody took turns putting his two cents into the discussion. Surprisingly it was between a mixed age group, too.
     There are two major points of view on microwave value. Some folks take microwaves for granted and do not appreciate how valuable they are in our lives. No dorm room is without one. No office kitchen either. I overheard someone say that she couldn’t go one day without her microwave.
     Then a lot of people gung ho on eating naturally that are horrified at letting waves of radiation “cook” anything going through their digestive systems.
     While we were chatting, someone had an ulterior motive and momentarily slipped away from our group. When the lot of us was diverted laughing over a silly nothing, the sleuth went to work. However, we have watched too many crime shows, and we knew that we were witnessing a crime in action.
     The thief didn’t get away with anything. One of the braver people in our circle spoke out, and said, “Hey, that cookie you have taken off the refreshment table will be just fine later tonight if you zap it in the microwave for ten seconds.”
     He was reassuring the cookie monster by now wrapping her spoils into a paper napkin that there might be better times ahead. The embarrassed look on her face softened when she realized we were joking.
     We reminded her that all those leftovers would go to waste in this public gathering, and justified her actions doing the host a favor.
     Since etiquette had been broken the rest of us launched in and took some extra treats for absentee husbands and for our own midnight snacks. The whole idea seemed good once the ball got rolling, and we dug in hardily depleting the trays of cookies.
     “Remember how we had to throw things away before microwaves?”
    Recent generations don’t have quite the issue with tossing items out. My Depression era parents and relatives struggled with their frugal habits even though life became much easier for them. I can remember my mother saving paper bags to reuse. In some ways she might have been more eco-friendly than we are now.
     Raytheon invented the first microwave oven after World War II from radar technology developed during the war. Named the 'Radarange', it was first sold in 1947. Raytheon later licensed its patents for a home-use microwave oven that was first introduced by Tappan in 1955, but these units were still too large and expensive for general home use. The countertop microwave oven was first introduced in 1967 by the Amana Corporation, which had been acquired in 1965 by Raytheon.
      “My father-in-law, a widower, told me that ten seconds is just right for a doughnut. He has it down to that. I am pleased that he has adjusted to a new lifestyle of living on his own,” said the man who started the ball rolling on the conversation in the first place.
     “Fourteen secs if it is stale and you need to revive it,” chimed in another person, also a connoisseur of pastries.
     “What did we do without it? The refrigerator is okay, but bread gets stale if it is just the us.”
     “My husband puts his loaf in the freezer and takes out what he needs,” someone replied eager to get in his two cents.
     Before I knew it, a half hour has slipped by.
     Quality conversation raises the bar and makes an ordinary party into an outstanding event. Turn off your cell phone for a brief period of time and simply talk the old-fashioned way.