William Deresiewicz suggests that elite schools actually stunt your social and intellectual growth, and the dramatic hook he chooses to start the piece is his realization that he is incapable of making small talk with the plumber who has arrived to fix the pipes.

Okay. I disagreed with a LOT of the article, which maybe eventually I’ll blog about—but, today I just have one small question.

Why would I need to say anything to a plumber? While I certainly have an arrogant and elitist streak, it is not at all driven by things like how many degrees or type of occupation and I sure as fuck don’t believe test scores say anything about the value of a person. I can talk sports and pop culture no problem, I am perfectly confident that I could chat with the plumber, that I could learn something from the plumber, that the plumber is an intelligent person, that the plumber could probably school me on World War II via watching the History Channel and on my own time period via reading some recent biography of the Founding Fathers, but seriously?

I open the door, I say “hello, come on in. Thanks for coming, glad to see you. The problem is in the kitchen”, describe the symptoms, maybe ask if I can move anything out of the plumber’s way, and get out of his way and let him do his job. Why is small talk necessary?

Similarly, I offer the movers cold drinks, but I don’t try to chat. I point out the “Fragile” pile and I apologize for the distance from the door to the parking lot. Sure, I’ll certainly respond if they say something, and I’ll say more than “yes or no”, and I quite liked the movers I hired last summer and I think we did get a bit chatty, but I don’t remember initiating any small talk.

The Comcast man came to install my cable in the fall. We talked about where I would put the TV and how long I wanted him to cut the cord. Three men were in my apartment the other day redoing the cable. I think there may have been a small chat about my cats, because it was relevant to having strangers in the house and putting new holes in the walls.

I’m inclined to think that I am not presumptuous enough to assume people with a job to do want to hear me babble trivialities, but maybe I’m just rationalizing. I didn’t grow up with enough money that we ever hired plumbers, or movers, or paid for cable. Am I supposed to be starting small talk with all these people? This is a serious question—sometimes I think I’m being friendly when I’m not really. Are they leaving my house thinking, “wow, she was rude”?

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