Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Eureka
Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.
The current season of good will and bad jokes set me to thinking. Exactly how does the spod cope with the inevitable office Christmas party? I mean, we know most of you work, simply in order to have a variety of computers to play with, and to be able to afford more. So this would seem to lead to a series of drunken festive celebrations of a few days off work, (for the rest of the company who aren’t on call) to which the entire company are encouraged - almost forced - to attend, and drink at, regardless of spodiness.

And what about any other unavoidable social occasions, that involve interaction with other human beings, without any form of electronic device to separate you and the general public? You might actually have to talk! And no, I don’t mean in a chat room. It sounds like a nightmare, doesn’t it! How is a spod supposed to cope? Where do you get a web-based training course to deal with these things?

Still coping with the Party Season? Gill offers her usual sympathetic advice on all life's problems which face the spod who just wants to have fun with his computer
Well, you’ll be pleased to know that for a number of years now, I have been doing my bit for ‘care in the community’ - the real community, that is, not some virtual one. Yes, I’ve been turning up at The ARM Club’s annual dinner on a regular basis. I’ve taken this valuable opportunity to slowly explain to your committee members that the ‘green muck’ on the side of their plate is in fact lettuce, and should either be eaten, or cunningly hidden by careful placement of the knife and fork at the end of the course. Chopsticks are a much more complicated matter, and hide far less, but at least Chinese restaurants never seem to mind sweet and sour seaweed all over the table cloth. And at some of these occasions, I’ve even forced some of the spods, once or twice, into conversations that aren’t about computers!

Now, I know that will shock many of you. Exactly when did your committee evolve into such higher life-forms that can not only wield a knife and fork, but also have multiple topics of conversation?

Well, actually, they didn’t. (Most of those non-techie conversations seem to involve analysis of the assets of any women who turn up to RISC OS shows. "Her company is going under...") No, they really haven’t proved Darwin right. They just have their moments of pretending. Like apes straightening up and stretching their backs out and wandering a couple of paces, before returning to type and grabbing another branch to swing on. Not all the apes turned into early man, just like not all spods can actually develop into ‘IT Consultants.’

But really, that doesn’t matter. Being able to bluff it at the right moments is what counts. Admittedly, if you go to the lengths of one or two of The ARM Club committee and gain wives, you need to be able to talk about other things for more hours of the day than most spods. The only cure for you is a very technical job. Become a Systems Administrator (Sys Admin) - no one at work then expects you to speak a word of sense, but they do know they need to be nice to you, or you’ll check their weblogs. But for the rest of you, with a few survival and conversational tips, a few hours at an office party once a year wont kill you.

Assuming you survived it this year, here are a few tips on how to get through 2002’s many and varied social occasions.

When faced with a woman, or anyone else who doesn’t feel the urge to run home and check their LAN is working and interacting with all seven of their computers, a helpful phrase is "what are you drinking?" This is particularly helpful when used on women, who will either think you are nice, or realise it’s time to leave, in order to ‘powder their noses.’

Powdering their noses is a very important process for women, but this is not an excuse to get up close and check whether you can see any powder. Firstly, it’s not meant to show, secondly, it’s a euphemism for all those complicated things women do to look and feel as lovely as you like to think they are, and thirdly, if you get too close, and they do have a powder compact in their handbag, it will hurt when they smack you around the head with it.

However, having asked "What are you drinking?" if you get a suitable answer (almost anything fluid, other than ‘hemlock’ - this would count as an unsubtle hint. Time to move on.), it is traditional to go and find the bar and buy one of the particular drink they mention. Get yourself one, while you’re there. You don’t have to drink the same girlie drink, but a little alcohol might help the conversation flow.

This also has the useful affects of buying you thinking time, and them enough alcohol to not notice when you lapse into techie-talk later. If they ask for something non-alcoholic, this is your chance to appear sympathetic and nice, by checking if they are driving, and being suitably sympathetic. Now give up and move on to someone who has had enough to drink to not notice you’re a spod.

Back to the drink offer. This can be a very good way to impress a girl, but you do have to have chatted a little first, otherwise you look like a weirdo. Which you may be, but don’t let her realise yet. The drink offer also looks a little odd if they, or you, have a very full glass, so you will need to find some small talk until you can make this offer.

‘Small talk’ does not, sadly, refer to a programming language. Nor does it mean just using short words and TLAs (three-letter acronyms). It means the sort of chat that, had you mastered it years ago, would have helped you to already know women you aren’t related to. ‘Small talk’ means that you have to ask questions, and let the other person talk, and most importantly of all, look utterly fascinated by what they are saying. Pay close attention, not only so that the woman you’re talking to thinks you’re a gentleman, but also so that you can later make reference to what she’s said. This is a technique that shows you were listening, and gains you lots of extra brownie points. While she’s talking, look at her, not your Psion. Her eyes, that is.

Popular ‘small talk’ questions include "Do you live around here?" This wont work if this is the office party, at the boss’ house, and you are talking to the boss’ wife. However, at weddings, assuming you have marriageable relatives, this is a good question. At office parties, you may be expected to already know, unless your company has many sites, in which case, you may be safe.

Another good question is "So, what do you do for a living?" This works well in almost all situations. Except when you’re talking to the girl you walk past in reception each morning, who may feel offended that you don’t recognise her. Otherwise, remember what she says, as you can then ask more, related questions. Here’s a sample conversation:

SPOD: So, what do you do for a living?
GIRL: I’m in advertising.
SPOD: That sounds interesting. (It is OK to lie here, if necessary!) Do you enjoy it?
GIRL: Mostly, yes. What do you do?

Now at this point, please remember, she wants a basic, simple job description - not a detailed analysis of your day.

SPOD: I’m in computers. (Now remember this one:) I wont bore you with the details. (Got that?!) What sort of thing do you advertise?
GIRL: No, do tell me more about your work. (Don’t fall for it!)
SPOD: Oh, it’s quite complicated, and really not that exciting. Tell me more about your job.

(At this point, we just have to hope she has sense, and starts to explain, otherwise your conversation is going nowhere. If that’s the case, ask another question about some aspect of her life.)

Other good questions include "do you have a family?" - although have a hankie to hand, just in case you manage to ask the girl who has just got divorced. Be prepared to admit to having parents. If she asks if there’s "anyone special" she is not asking whether your granny is nice. She means do you have a girlfriend.

Do not respond by rotfl-ing (rolling on the floor laughing) and saying "no, never, not a hope." She’ll either realise you’re sad, or assume you’re gay. And unless you actually are gay, you don’t want to cause a nice girl (who so blatantly asks if you’re single) to think you’re only talking to her while you eye up the barman. Respond with "not at the moment."

If you’re feeling brave, ask her if there’s anyone in her life. This is a good point to discover that the rugby-playing boyfriend is watching. Particularly if you’ve managed to keep your gaze as high as her face. The point where you’ve given up trying to keep your tongue from hanging out is a bit late, as rugby-playing boyfriend will have a better right hook than you. Trust me on that one.

For more small talk, try "do you have any hobbies?" - you can then latch onto one of them and ask her to tell you more. Pick the one that you think you’ll be able to look most fascinated by, and preferably, ask intelligent questions about. It just makes it all so much easier than feigning an interest in aboriginal raffia work dolls or thimble collecting. Do not, under any circumstances, feel the urge to tell her your hobbies of searching the web for naked pictures of your favourite pin-up. Do not, if she admits to a sporting hobby, demand details of what she wears for it. If you don’t put her off now, you might one day get to see it.

Another whole area of ‘Brownie point winning’ is to compliment a woman on how she looks. This has to be phrased carefully, however, not to sound like a back-handed insult. For example, stick to "You look lovely tonight." Do not continue on to say "So why do you always look such a mess for work?" Another popular one is "That dress really suits you." Do not follow it up with a detailed explanation of how the skirts she wears to work are unflattering. "You smell lovely," is enough - "you smell lovely: it beats your normal whiff," is too much. Get the idea? If not, just don’t try this tactic for talking. Stay at home and compliment yourself on your well-built Linux box.

The big trouble with compliments is that women are almost always bad at knowing what to say in response - unless you’ve continued into the insult zone, in which case, you may get closer to a woman than you have in years, as she slaps you into next week.

Most women do not know what to say, and will probably simply thank you. If you do find one that says "Yeah, I know I look really hot in this outfit," she is either trying really hard to pull you, in which case, buy her a drink (see above) or she’s just scary, and will soon get bored and move on. Still, buy her a drink too - it’s best to be on the right side of scary women.

As for the rest of the female population, buying a drink is, still, a good way to go from her embarrassed mutterings at your compliment. Trust me, she is pleased, but you then need another approach to keep the conversation going. (See ‘small talk’ above.) One brilliant approach though, is to remember that (generally speaking) people like to talk about themselves - hence all that asking "tell me about your work / hobbies / family / anything" So pay a compliment with a question at the end. This combination of techniques is only to be attempted after some practice of each approach individually.

One to try would be for women you recognise from work: "I like your hair like that. Have you done something different with it?" Normally, the answer will be yes. You may have to keep nodding and smiling through the traumas of the hairdresser, how badly heater rollers work, and several other disasters en route to the perfect hairstyle, but she will have been impressed. If you really do like her, and the haircut, when she runs out of explanation, look impressed, and say "it’s so much easier for us men. At least, all your effort was well worth it." Flattery will get you maybe not everywhere, but a lot further than letting her finish her story and promptly asking "Was I supposed to care?"

Now, tradition has it that you should also have something interesting to say about yourself in conversation. Well, it would be nice, but it’s a lot to ask of a spod whose only interests are chat rooms and ways to automate his websurfing. No, dippy blonde presenters do not count as interests. So use and practice these tips above, to learn to get lots of information out of people, especially women, so they talk, and think of you as "a good listener." Girls like good listeners, so this will make you popular OK, less unpopular. Girls will think you’re a nice, caring person. Show them your sensitive side, before you show them your server room. Please!

Written by Gill Smith. Published Spring 2002. Reproduced with permission.