Anyway, some of us (cough, me, cough) tend to personify awkward conversation, while folks like Valentino are masters of conversation. As a matter of fact, our friend Jim (Hi Jim!) and I watched the master in action and Jim said, "How does he manage to get people to tell him the most private things?" True story. He'd just met the woman and she was telling him things I don't even think I've told him.* That man can make any conversation sparkle.
Lucky bugger. I've yet to see him in the midst of an awkward conversation. I, however, live in Awkwardville. But awkwardness does happen, even in the cigar lounge family. Unlike during a chat with your creepy Uncle Bing (who turns every conversation instantly awkward), at the lounge, you can't turn around, storm to your room, and blast Led Zeppelin.
So then what? We're thinking Valentino should teach a class. Or you could keep reading. Same difference.
Let's start at the very beginning:
A very good place to start. You know you'd become BFFs with that cool guy at the other end of the bar if you could just figure out how to start the conversation.
The joy--pure joy--of the cigar lounge is the perpetual conversation starter. Repeat after us: "What are you smoking?" When he answers, focus on him. "How do you like that?" or a similar query to start conversing about something you know he's interested in. This works best.
Don't turn the conversation towards yourself. Your self-imposed mission is to connect with him, not try to impress him with your cleverness--although you can certainly sneak some of that in there!
And remember remember remember: Don't just interject yourself into an established conversation. Interlopers don't make good friends.
Redirection is key when a conversation goes sideways:
The best approach Jim and I saw, as we prepared to cringe while watching a conversation tumble around the participants:
"Oh! I'm sorry to interrupt, but I don't want to forget again. I've been meaning to ask you..." And then fill in any bit of information you can think of, like...
- How's your wife? Is she feeling better?
- Is your daughter doing better in school?
- How's your car running now? Where did you take the car to be repaired? I'm looking for a new mechanic.
- What are you reading now? [Don't ask this of Valentino. He'll say books are dumb. But I can talk forever about books.**]
- Can you give me the recipe for...
- Do you know when [name]'s birthday is?
(Fun fact--Did you know it only takes four seconds of silence to turn a conversation awkward?***)
When you're considering pulling the fire alarm to get out of a conversation, fines be damned:
Sometimes this is the hardest part. I wish I could be one of those people who just turns and walks away (while Led Zeppelin blasts in my head), but my mom would know, via her spidey-senses. Then she'd be disappointed.****
You can, however, excuse yourself without breaking manners protocol:
Tell your partner in conversation, "Oh my gosh. There's Percival. I need to chat with him for a second. Excuse me." This technique is frequently included in lists of "How to get out of a conversation without committing murder." But if you're as awkward as I am, and as much of a terrible liar as well, this probably won't work for you.
The other tried-and-true bailing method: "I've got to get going. I promised Bob, Ted, and Alice I'd meet them at the restaurant and I'm already late." Obviously, this isn't going to work if you don't want to leave the cigar lounge. Plus, he can see you if you don't leave. Awkward.
Sure, the non-verbal signals exist, but what if your conversation nemesis is oblivious? Stand and move away from him, and you'll just be followed. Look at your phone, respond to a fake text, and say "I've got to return this call. Excuse me."
Speaking of the phone, I hear Valentino tell people, "Well, I'll let you go" as if this were their request. I don't have the skillz for this either. Either I don't answer the phone at all or do and need to abandon ship quickly, I'll say (to a loved one), "I've got to pee."***** Use this excuse in person and no one's going to ignore you, letting nature take its course. Awkward and embarrassing.
Okay. If you're still confused, meet us for a drink and watch Valentino in action. It's a sight to behold.
*And yes, she knew I existed. I sat right next to him! We'd been introduced!
**Thanks for asking. Right now, I'm reading Dry Bones, the newest Longmire book by Craig Johnson.
***I'd tell you the source, but I can't remember where I read this. Since I saw it on the mighty, mighty internets, it must be true, right? Oh! Found it! New York Magazine!
****And we all know this is a million times worse than her being mad.
*****I know. Classy.