The Trouble with Stop-and-Chats

There is an episode on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David is walking down the street with his manager, Jeff. They pass a man who recognizes Larry and slows down to speak to him. Without missing a beat Larry says, “Hey Ray,” and keeps walking. Jeff asks Larry if he knows Ray.

Larry: He works at the restaurant Mojo in your hotel.

Jeff: Why don’t you say hello to him, you know him

Larry: I know, he wanted to do a stop-and-chat; I didn’t want to do a stop-and-chat.

Larry may seem like a jerk, but he’s endearing because he says what we often think.

If you are like me, the stop-and-chat can drive you bananas.

It’s not that I hate stop-and-chats. I often have many pleasant run-ins and conversations when I’m out-and-about.

It’s the not knowing whom it will be or when it will happen that makes me anxious. I love being at a party, but the going-to always makes me nervous.

Who am I going to bump into and will I be pleasant and/or intelligent enough to leave a good impression? Will I speak to someone who has no interest? Will they talk down to me? All these thoughts have run through my head in the milliseconds before I converse.

I hate feeling awkward in a conversation that’s going nowhere. I tend to overcompensate when someone’s not reciprocating — coming out of the conversation feeling like a babbling idiot.

If you live In Whitehorse long enough you pretty much cross everyone’s path, constantly wondering, “Do I know this person?” Or, “I know this person from somewhere but I just can’t place them.”

The potential of a stop-and-chat is more nerve wracking because you can be approached at any moment.

Places like Walmart, Canadian Tire, and Real Canadian Superstore can be cesspools of strange and misplaced nods and hellos.

It drives my wife crazy when I ask to stay in the car during our grocery-shopping day. I plead that I’d just slow her down, but that excuse never works. My only hope of avoiding potentially awkward run-ins is to get there early and listen to my wife with acute precision.

I didn’t think I would have this problem anymore because my family and I have relocated to Old Crow for a year. There are no Walmarts.

But Old Crow does have its Northern Store, and waiting in line for service of can get a bit taxing, especially when you’re standing with a group of strangers who know each other well. And then there’s the main street where I make daily walks from my home to the store.

This is a fly-in community and there are very few vehicles on the street. Most people either drive snowmobiles or walk.

As I walk down the street and see other human beings, a new set of social etiquettes floats in my mind.

Because this is such a tight-knit community, do I present myself to every person I meet? Is just a nod and hello good enough? I’d hate to be labeled as the stuck up new guy just because I didn’t stop-and-chat.

Just as I’m about to be consumed by my own idiosyncrasy, I see my two-year-old daughter, who I pull in a sled, waving like crazy at someone who, of course, smiles and waves back.

Who can deny a cute girl waving at you? I nod, wave, and smile, and pleasantries are exchanged.

Mission accomplished!

My daughter Emily, who’s still grasping the concept of potty training is helping me as the ultimate ice breaker with her big smile and wavy arms, meeting people one stranger at a time. She’s become my secret weapon, turning strangers into friends — and a perfect starting point when embroiled in a stop-and-chat.

I’m thankful to have Emily here in Old Crow, and I owe her some ice cream for preventing me from becoming Larry David of the North.

Jason Westover is an Old Crow-based comedian and writer.

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