Once we had a friend Mike, we called him Mikey. He was a huge man, 350 pounds, built like an aging football player, with an easy laugh. He lived next door and often, he would stop at our house on his way home. When we heard his truck we knew we were in for a few laughs and a good story. He was a true raconteur, regaling us loudly and always had us laughing in two minutes flat. Mikey was the kind of friend you were always glad to see coming.
Other people can converse on a more quiet and less showy way. My friend has a husky laugh and her eyes sparkle in delight when we talked. She didn’t say much, but her words were always insightful and full of love. Her style of conversation was more of the listening kind. She would listen with full attention, too. I’d storm in, say, “Guess what happened?!” and she would stop what she was doing, fold her hands across her belly, and look me full in the eye. She would laugh at all the right spots, and was entertained by the smallest incident. Often, she would add an insightful comment that left me pondering a new thought for the rest of the day.
I think that the dubiously named skill of “multi-tasking” has had a negative effect on conversation. Have you noticed that people do a lot of things while they say they are listening to you? Cell phone message checking, taking notes, shuffling papers, glancing at the computer. I am a bad offender of that as well. I need to do better at my listening, I admit. What if we all stopped doing other things and really listened to each other? Society would improve, I am convinced.
Italians’ style of conversation is steeped in storytelling. We call it “l’historia.” Even the simplest query from a friend, the smallest question designed for a short answer of “fine”, to the Italian, is met with excitement. Immediately we launch into a long, lyrical story that has a beginning, middle, end, and ranges from laughter to tears and back again. Watch out if you ask me how I’m doing! You are likely to get a long, and to me, absolutely fascinating story.
Remember the movie Moonstruck with Cher? A Brooklyn Italian-American family and their trials and triumphs? The brother-in-law character was named Raymond Cappomaggi and it was he who saw the large moon years before. Around the dinner table he was urged to repeat the legendary incident, with the family exhorting, ‘Come on, Ray, tell about Cosmo’s moon!” he responds, “Well, it’s not a story…but…” I knew exactly what he meant. It’s almost genetically impossible for me as an Italian-American to converse without having a fully born story in my mind, accompanied by hand gestures that usually knock over the salt shaker.
There are many different styles of conversation, and the one I like best I had the good fortune to experience this Thanksgiving. As a person with no family nearby I was invited to spend the day at a friends’ house. There were ten of us there, their family members and me. Even though I was meeting some of them for the first time, they included me in conversation that was flowing, relaxed, and easy. I was really touched by their hospitality. Ultimately, the best conversation style is not verbal, it’s one of the heart, one that includes, listens, and loves. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and are having a blessed Christmas season.