Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.

The Art of the Conversation

Travel to a foreign country always makes the art of the conversation a bit trickier. You are rolling in without the connectivity you have at home, the networks you’ve built up over years of living in a set location and making contacts. Sometimes you are working against a language barrier and subtleties and implications of the phrases you use don’t convey. Sometimes interactions with locals is reduced to a Dick and Jane book level of brute force communication to convey anything. With all subtleties removed, the comfort of making conversations through the careful language play is gone and may not be worth the effort. Ultimately, being able to spark conversation may just be an overwhelming task.

And once you have topics of conversations, the exact manner of engaging in the conversation is a matter of personal preference. I’ve found that here the best conversations are those that happen when we aren’t seeing sights, when we aren’t necessarily doing anything, but are using our surroundings as a manner of keeping the background processes occupied so we can focus on the matters at hand. And so the best conversations I’ve had here have been at one of three times.

Sitting somewhere majestic – on a rock wall in the harbor, at the foot of a waterfall, on top of a volcanic wasteland in a ping pong ball, on top of the Viking statue in the park, at the foot of the independence leader statue in front of the parliament building. The gorgeous settings around – be them naturally beautiful or historically significant – give an added weight to the conversation. We still talk for hours, but at any gap in the conversation, or any point where we want to add emphasis to what we’ve said, we can look out over the scene and just appreciate the setting.

Wandering the city – Having a conversation while wandering really gets the blood flowing and gives an added kick. Just as with the majestic setting, having something in the background to trigger topics helps. We wandered past a graffiti artist out at 2AM. We saw desolate streets. We ate hot dogs. We lost ourselves in the city rather than in the crowd. When no one is around to hear you, the words flow easier.

At the bars / concerts – Having a conversation around the bars, while less interesting than the majestic settings, does allow you to drink beers while letting the evening unfold. The people watching does also make for an interesting topic, though the general noise level can become too much and if a bar gets crowded enough, the meat market mentality makes me a little antsy. Having conversations at a concert enhances both, so long as you are willing to let them both work together rather than having to choose one or the other. Being able to talk for a bit before turning and focusing on the stage for a song can provide a meta-analysis. And having music in the background of the conversation prevents the words from having to stand on their own.

The key to conversations on this trip has been having them at night, when anyone around is in a festive mood because everyone low key has already gone to sleep. This thins out the crowds and makes them more boisterous or concerned with their own things. While the sun never sets, the light doesn’t seem to be an issue. People will pee in bushes just off the path without fear or concern so long as it is past 10PM. And as such, night time conversations are just more relaxed, and I intend to make the most of my last few nights in the country.

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This entry was posted on July 6, 2010 by in Iceland.

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