I spend quite a lot of time with older people. Lady Marjorie is in her eighties, Viscount Drayton is in his early seventies, I am one of the youngest of our various congregations by about twenty years and the same goes for the Choir.
Today, Viscount Drayton was hosting one of several Lent Lunches held in their parish and my presence was requested in a domestic capacity. The Lent Lunches are a great way of getting people from different villages to socialise and they raise a lot of money for charity. Today, there was not a single guest under 70; I suppose this isn’t surprising as being a Friday lunchtime, many younger people would have been at work and, because it is connected with the church, the majority of C of E regulars are older.
I am a gregarious type and don’t have any difficulty mingling in groups of people, but increasingly, when obliged to talk to strangers in my own peer group, I am struck by how socially awkward they are and how little conversation they are able to make. I have always taken the tack that when faced with someone you have to talk to but who is proving difficult, keep asking questions until you find some common ground, and it usually works.
However, recently I have found that these, younger, people simply reply to my questions or talk only about themselves without showing any interest in me whatsoever. This does not constitute a conversation and is extremely discourteous. I have sufficient self confidence to be aware that I am not, on the whole, boring (contradictions to the usual address) and this leads me to the conclusion that many other people are very boring indeed.
Conversation is often limited because so many younger people don’t have hobbies or interests outside work, they don’t get involved in politics or their communities or worse, they are living vicariously through their children.
I went to a local ball about 18 months ago, and I was placed at a table with the same group of people who had attended the year before. Not one of them instigated a conversation with me or even indicated that they had met me before. When I finally managed to get one man talking, he talked only about himself and his children and didn’t even ask my name. As soon as the meal was over I went outside, blagged a couple of Marlboro Lights, and stayed there until such time as I could decently escape.
At the lunch party today, I was struck by how friendly and socially competent the older people were. They smiled and shook hands and wanted to know who I was, they returned questions with questions. And they were all busy; they had broad interests and skills, they participated in their communities to differing degrees and there was much good humour. I found them delightful and easy company.
With much younger people, I am inclined to blame the addiction to television, mobile ‘phones and social networking sites for the decline in their social competence. But what is the excuse of the 35-50’s? I really don’t know the answer, but should I find myself in the company of strangers, I’d choose the crumblies every time. (They’d still have to have special stickers in their cars though – I’m not that indulgent.)