Engaging in polite meaningless obligatory conversation is something we all have to partake in. There is no way around it. You have to try to appear genuine and interested. You can't be like the people Ted Stryker tells his story to in Airplane. Many a small talk exchanges may cause you to want to stab yourself in the way of the samurai, but doing so is simply uncouthe. I am personally working on improving bringing more to my meaningless conversations. Having the ability to effectively carry meaningless conversation can get you far in life. The following are some pitfalls that need to be avoided.
1.) Talking about college. "So where did you go to school"? This subject leaves you nowhere to go after about 30 seconds. Try to avoid this at all costs, or at least save it for much later in the conversation, if the conversation does indeed progress that far. If the person went to a college located in an undesirable urban area, the typical shmuck response is "Oh man don't walk around there at night", "Don't venture too far in the wrong direction from campus",or "rough area".
If the school is obviously a second rate institution, don't counter with "Oh that's a great school". Avoid that response because it's obvious what is running through your mind. "Wow what a shitty half ass school that is. What kind of nitwit have I gotten stuck in conversation with? They clearly didn't have the grades to get into XYZ University. Now I need to make sure I don't speak in terms too advanced for this numbnuts. How can I dumb this conversation down"? Try asking them if they liked it there and so on. The same goes for if they say they went to Harvard or Princeton. Don't act overly impressed, they've heard all the generic "wow" responses.
2.) Do you know...? "Oh you live in Wherever, wow do you know Jimmy Whatshisface"? I hate this game. You have nothing better to say than to discuss people who have a marginal role in your life? It isn't interesting that we have a mutual acquaintance. Yet, people react like it's some astronomically unlikely phenomena. Come on. I realize the "do you know" (DYK) game is often unavoidable, but try to contain it. It's particularly irritating when people get overly excited (excessive excitement is always a bad thing) about a mutual acquaintance. Suppose you can't stand that third party? The mutual acquaintances will surface somehow later. If the DYK question is presented, you need to seriously question where the conversation is going, and take evasive action. Bring something to the table.
3.) Talking about how beautiful California, Florida, or whatever warm climate locale is. Women are particularly guilty of this, as they have an odd obsession with the beach (MUCH more on this another day). "Oh my god I loooove Key West. It's soooo beautiful and the people are so nice and laid back. The sand is perfect. I went there for spring break and seriously laid on the beach like 18 hours each day. Life is so much slower. I want to move there one day". I fucking got the memo. It's warm in Florida, the sand is nice, the water is blue and it's warm when it's cold in the northeast. Got it. Thank you for clearing that up for me, because I wasn't sure. I get it now. The only thing worse than talking about the weather is talking about the weather of a place you don't live.
4.) Talking about the economy/politics/shit people actually know nothing about. This is usually linked to the college discussion and how the soon-to-be or recent graduate has very little chance of quality employment. Boo fucking hoo (I used to edit out word "fuck" using asterisks like so: f***. I'm done with that). "This job market is terrible, might as well stay in school teeheeheeheehee". "We're never getting out of the middle east". "The price of gasoline is high because George W. Bush got C's at Yale". "It looks like a nasty high pressure system might be bringing in some snow". Everyone is an expert in their own mind.
5.) Talking to people you are merely acquainted with, only see every so often, or maybe you haven't seen in years. This is serious. You're at a local bar, reunion, or whatever and now you're caught in a painful predicament. It starts with eye contact. Neither one of you really acknowledges the other initially. Right away you play the conversation through in your head. If you're lucky you can evade that person all night. However, not always the case. You get careless, lose track of that person, let your guard down, and on the way to the bathroom you bump into that person. Close Encounter of the Vague Acquaintance Kind. Typically, the reason you haven't seen this person is because you really don't care to see the person. If you did, you would see them more often, and have topics of substance to discuss. These conversations typically occur with people you went to school with at some point, former coworkers, etc. "What are you doing now? Oh hows that going? Where are you living? Oh cool.....".