It happens every so often (more so if you’re single and on the wrong side of 21) that you’re “doing coffee” with a relative stranger.

The sole purpose of this caffeinated collusion is to “get to know each other better”. This is based on the flawed premise that double espressos act as conversational lubricant and thus complete biographical revelation will ensue.

But after the “what’s your favourite colour” interrogations and “do you think Marilyn Manson is really the geeky kid from the Wonder Years?” you find yourself in deep reflection over how the crema at the bottom of your cup looks a lot like Solly Philander.

And you never saw it coming. Creeping up surreptitiously, the slowly weaving bind coming together and the net descending; The Awkward Silence: that bane of many a promising acquaintanceship and the death knell of discourse.

It’s a vortex, this moment of oblivion, for the more you try to avoid thinking about the numbness that’s taken over, the more you get sucked into its vacuum.

And rather than thinking about how to break the crushing dullness, you imagine that it’s an indissoluble entity and you’ve set in its gelatinous nature; like a cherry in the jello.

Conversation used to be an art form, the finer intricacies of which had its place in charm school syllabi. Scenes from a bygone era: tea time tête-à-tête over delicate cucumber sandwiches and confidences flowing between sips of earl grey and pinky finger salutes. It’s all very Hail Britannia, but in an era where it’s more likely for one to hear God Save The Queens and GLBTs, surely there’s still lacunae for such civilities?

I blame IRC, java chat and SMS for the scourge that’s spread its canker over conversation.

>midnite_cruizer: hello

>babycakes: hi

>midnite_cruizer: asl?

>babycakes: 19 f jhb

>midnite_cruizer: kewl

>babycakes: u?

>midnite_cruizer: 23 m jhb

>babycakes: kewl

>midnite_cruizer: u got a pic?

>babycakes: yeah…

>midnite cruizer: swop?

>babycakes: ok

¦dcc file transfer in progress…

¦complete¦

>midnite_cruizer: ur hot

>babycakes: thanks ur hot too.

>midnite_cruizer: wanna hook up?

>babycakes: sure

>midnite_cruizer: this Saturday? At the Zone? 9pm?

>babycakes: ok

>midnite_cruizer: I’ll scotch you and we can meet at the games

>babycakes: scotch? huh?

>midnite_cruizer: I’ll give you a miss call

>babycakes: ok, my number is 085 321 5265

>midnite_cruizer: sms me later 085 223 7864

>babycakes: ok

>midnite_cruizer: laters

>babycakes: bye

And the moronic messaging continues later, this time the cellular networks bearing the burden of transmitting insipid but febrile missives.

Of course, that’s worst case scenario.

But worse than this economical, shorthand conversational practice, would possibly be the antics of the over-revealer. Sure these types are fun material for the post-meet autopsies with the girls, but there are times where you really do not need to hear how his father ignored him for most of his childhood while his mother slept around.

Those resourceful Asians (probably the same ones who thought up life-size dolls with “just-like-real” latex skin and “responsive” mouths, I kid you not, do a google) have come up with a wonderful way to keep the salt of conversation free-flowing. I read about a restaurant in China that provides patrons with paper serviettes that have conversation topics pre-printed on them.

How convenient. After you’ve just about exhausted all possible avenues of chat, you pick up a serviette to demurely pat your mouth and find yourself staring at printed inspiration.

“So, what are your thoughts on the changing political economy of the emerging marketscape in the developing world? In light of neo-liberal practices, that is?”

“Well, I like long walks on the beach. My favourite color is blue. And I enjoy listening to Julio Eglesias”

Enough said.

(on the note of printed serviettes, there’s a site that offers beverage napkins printed with verses from the Bible. Great for when you’re having Ray Macauley over for inter-faith debate. My favourite- “my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5” heh heh. Yes, we Muslims do have a sense of humour)