Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Three and a Half Cocktail Party Topics

Historically in North America there have been three and a half or so primary topics typical of convivial conversation; we have all heard them or participated in them at a dinner or cocktail party, if we indulge in that sort of thing—cocktails, that is. I say “in North America,” because in Europe there are more than four; one can add art, music and, of course, they have the same other half topic, i.e. animals, that we have. We occasionally talk about art or other cultural things—just last night it happened—but less often enough that I won’t include them in this blog.

The first topic, of course, is politics. This is a terribly difficult topic these days, however, as people seem to be so polarized in their opinions. I recently met someone who had actually gone so far as to move to California because “there were a lot of Trump people” in the portion of the country (Indiana) in which he was then living. I realize that some areas tend to be more or less “red” and others “blue,” but such a decisive move (changing jobs, houses, leaving family members behind, etc.) seems to me a rather hyper-extensive way to solve the problem of occasional eavesdropping on cocktail party banter or simply waving from time to time at a neighbor with whom you might disagree politically.

The second topic of conversation is, of course, sex. Even though this one never goes out of style, I must admit that I am feeling rather behind on this topic. I only just found out that Sex AND the City is not entitled Sex IN the City—I had not heard of the T.V. show until the other day, when I was traveling and I turned on the television and saw the show just coming on, so I actually saw the title for the first time. Add to that, I also found out that it is now in syndication, for the channel I had flipped to was something like MeTV, a rerun channel—and, even more interesting, that one of the actors in that show, which I also just found out is not a movie but a T.V. show, is, in fact, running for governor of New York. Sex and politics in one fell swoop!

Sadly, I just don’t know much about that topic (the T.V. show, that is), which puts me at a distinct disadvantage in conversations at dinner parties. To wit, I found out at a recent cocktail party that SJP, which I had assumed to be a type of STD, actually pertains strictly to this television show—I knew not what at the time, but I tried to contribute to the discussion anyway. Now I don’t mean that people discuss sexual details at cocktail parties—that would be too coarse—and even when they do, they tend to refer to them tastefully as “SJP” or the like; but they do seem to have almost an prurient interest in who in Hollywood is cheating on whom or sundry details of a series like Sex AND the City. Yet on those occasions when I’m feeling devilish, I actually try to contribute an opinion about something that I perceive might just pertain to the topic even though I have never seen the show. I admit that I rather like such conversations, as they present an intellectual challenge to me about how to bluff my way through one by saying something seemingly appropriate but, in point of fact, entirely spurious.

The third item of conversation is, of course, religion. This has, in recent years, become much less divisive a topic than it once was. It seems to me that in the 1980s the order of cocktail party appropriateness was sex first—everyone thought it was cool to talk about it for some reason—then politics and lastly religion. But now it seems that people are much more interested in religious topics and politics is the odd man out. And I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because fewer people, I think at any rate, go to church these days. Thus they are curious, not so much about church but about “spiritual things,” to use the phrase I most often hear. Spiritual things seem to overlap with supernatural things (like ghosts, I suppose) and, of course, who doesn’t love a good ghost story?

The half topic, well, that’s animals. It’s the safest one of all, even when you speak about unsafe animals. One friend found a rattlesnake in his yard; another a coral snake in a tree; a third, saw something about a giant alligator recently visiting a park in Florida. Thus, animals are the safe half-topic that you don’t really have to say much about, but allow you a way out of either discussing something about which you know little, such as SJP, or retreating quickly from an uncomfortable political discussion.

So, when you go to your next cocktail party, I advise you to speak about spiritual things—it will surely be a big hit, as such topics are off the endangered topics list. If you run out of things to talk about in that regard, which I doubt you will very quickly at any rate, then of course, resort to animals next. Alligators never go out of style. Sex I would put at a distant third, although of course it is still as spicy a topic as it ever was; probably, don’t bring up the SJP thing, though, unless you know what it is. But, whatever you do, I would avoid politics—though if you can’t avoid the topic, as these days it is all too tied to sex—just talk about Melania Trump’s lovely hat, for who doesn’t find that hat lovely? Otherwise, you might just cause your neighbor to move to California or Indiana or somewhere else. In the meantime, I propose a toast to animals and religion. Two out of three and a half ain’t bad.

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