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ANXIETIES AND COMFORTS IN AMERICAN SMALL TALK: PHILIPPINES TO BOSTON

By : Anna Cayco

4 min read




On my summer visits to the States, I would line up at the counter with bags of economy-size snacks, armfuls of makeup, and branded t-shirts - things requested by friends and family back home. In my mind, I would rehearse my reply to the cashier’s attempts at small talk. My script rarely left my lips.

Back home in the Philippines, you can buy something without uttering a word. In 30 seconds, you can place your item and money on the counter, have it taken by the cashier, and get your change.


At Marshalls, my aunt would patiently wait for me at the entrance. Customers ahead of me would take their time telling the bored cashier about the weather or the things their kids were doing. American small talk felt pointless, shallow, and ingenuine.

When I decided to move to the States, I dreaded the need to sharpen my small talk skills. Working at a school in Glendale, CA, teachers in the lounge exchanged pleasantries without warmth, talking about what they watched, where they ate, and who they saw over the weekend. And of course, the great weather.

Being much older than me, I thought they wouldn’t genuinely relate to what I did over the weekend. It wasn’t that I was shy, which they described me as, but rather it was unclear how much I was allowed to share. Short and simple responses were safe.


A year later, I moved to Boston. The “cold” personalities people seemed to have was somewhat comforting to me. Both Bostonians and Manilenos tend to be quieter but would bond specifically over traffic, unpredictable weather, and politics. These conversations among strangers would end with wishing each other to stay safe or mag-ingat.


On one of my first days in Boston, after failing to get my moving errands done, I passed the bakery next to my apartment. The aroma of baked goods convinced me comfort could be found inside.


It was nearly closing time. The cashier asked how my day was going. I truthfully told her I was having a bad day. Boston’s perpetually understocked department stores had gotten the best of me – and I needed to let that one sentence out.


She didn’t pry. Instead, she gave me a cookie for free, telling me I deserved to end my day on a good note.


It was a three-sentence exchange. None of it felt insincere or ingenuine at all.






Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #153 December 2022

 

Check out all the art and columns of December's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass


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