March 04, 2015


In one of those momentary synchronicities, I heard a priest who'd spent much time in Europe say that Americans are internationally famous for being unable to be passive and not talk. He said one European monastery has ruled out letting Americans take a vow of silence since it is so difficult for us and because so many left - hence this particular one had an American as greeter and tour guide.  Our priest said the downside is obvious with respect to prayer: we talk to God, but rarely are receptive, passive, or listening. 

Then I see this, on Karl Ove Knausgaard's trip to America:
On the way back to the car, we stopped by another place for coffee. I told him about the last time I was in New York, when a well-known American writer invited me for lunch...I tried desperately to think of something to say. We had to have something in common, we were about the same age, did the same thing for a living, wrote novels, though his were of considerably higher quality than mine. But no, I couldn’t come up with a single topic of conversation.
He talked a little, I listened, nodding politely now and then, said: “Oh, really? Is that so?” while all the time I also had to communicate with the children, who weren’t used to strangers either.
When we got back to Sweden, I received an email from him. He apologized for having invited me to lunch, he had realized he never should have done it and asked me not to reply to his email.
At first I didn’t understand what he meant. I thought we’d had a good time. So why was he apologizing?
Then I realized he must have taken my silence personally. He must have thought I didn’t find it worth my time talking to him.
I wrote back and asked him if he’d seen any Bergman movies? No one talks there either. And Finland was even worse; there, no one ever said anything to each other. I wrote that I’m always like this, that I never say anything to people I don’t know, even when they’re having dinner at our house. He never answered.
“Who was it?” Peter asked.
I told him.
“It’s deeply un-American, you know, not to make small talk. It’s a very important part of the culture of this country. You remind me a little of my dad. He didn’t know how to make small talk, either, when he first got here. Or maybe he didn’t want to. But he does now.”

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