It was a weekday and I was doing homework in my room when my host family’s oldest son and wife came over. I heard everyone talking in the kitchen and thought, “Wow, I sure have been in my room for a while. Should I go out and say hi?”
I didn’t know what to do. First of all, I was in homework mode and I had barricaded myself in my room specifically because I didn’t feel like dealing with people (it had been a long week). But was I being rude by not going to say hi? I heard the sounds of knives and forks. Was I expected to join them, or would I be intruding on their family time?
As time passed, my rambling thoughts grew worse and worse until I was half convinced that staying in my room was some kind of horrible offense. “This is the worst exchange student I’ve ever had,” my host mother was probably telling her son. “All she does is stay in her room. The other students we’ve had were friendly and perfectly civilized. What’s the deal with those Americans, anyway?”
Oh no! Was I making America look bad by doing my homework alone in my room?
Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I decided to go mingle. They were in the kitchen, so I figured that I could quietly slink in under the pretense of looking for food, chat with them for a time long enough to be considered ‘interaction,’ and retreat back to my room. It would be virtually painless. What was I afraid of?
My room is on the second floor, and getting to the kitchen requires going down this creaky wooden staircase. The staircase is actually a very beautiful part of their home, but the moment I laid eyes on it I thought, “I might die on that thing.”
As you can see, there is nothing to hold onto as you climb and the steps are very smooth. On top of that, the wood creaks really loudly with every step. Loud enough for everyone in the entire house to know exactly where on the stairs you are at that exact moment. Why it’s varnished I don’t know, but it turns this pretty, rail-less stairway into a loud, frictionless deathtrap.
I was thundering down the stairs when, sure enough, I slipped on a step and fell the rest of the way down.
My stealthy invasion of the kitchen sounded something like this:
- Creee-EEEK (Me opening the door to my room)
- WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP WHUMP WHUM-
- BAM BAM BAM BAM BAM
When I hit the bottom, my entire host family ran out of the kitchen to see if I was ok. After I had assured them that I hadn’t broken anything important, we all went into the kitchen.
They were in the middle of a discussion, so I wasn’t sure how to jump in and converse with them. That shouldn’t have been a problem, because I was allegedly looking for a snack. That meant I had a valid reason to be in the kitchen during their family time, right?
All of the chairs were taken.
This meant that, after I found something, I ended up standing awkwardly in the corner and cramming food in my mouth while they all talked around me.
Eventually they noticed me hiding in the corner and the son ended up giving me his seat. As soon as I sat down he and his wife said, “Well, it’s time for us to get going.” They both advised me to be careful on the stairs and left. After they said goodbye, my host parents said goodnight and went up to their room, leaving me alone in the kitchen.
This is how humans make small talk, right?