I’m often a fair bit awkward with small talk… the other person usually needs to be pretty stellar at it for me to be even remotely comfortable with carrying on a conversation with a stranger. This actually happens a lot, turns out, but that’s another story…
You know what DOESN’T help with this awkwardness?
Being a vet. Seriously.
Most common small talk location: a taxi.
Cabbie: “So, are you a student?” (A very common opener in a town with a large university.)
Me: “Nope, I moved here for work.”
Cabbie: “Oh yeah? What do you do?”
Me: “I’m a veterinarian.”
Cabbie: “Oh yeah? I had a dog. She was put down a month ago at the clinic you just told me you work at.”
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO THAT? I generally say “Aw… sorry. That’s never easy.” And they either go on about their dead animal and why they were put down.. or the conversation awkwardly dies.
And it’s not just cab drivers… I’ve been at parties and had someone go on about their dead pet once they find out I’m a vet. Because while I’m having a few drinks with friends, the part of my job where I KILL YOUR BELOVED PET is exactly what I want to talk about. Yes, it’s hard. No, it’s not a part of the job I enjoy. I’m sure you COULDN’T do it, that’s why I’m a vet and you’re not. COULD WE PLEASE TALK ABOUT THE OBNOXIOUS SONG THAT’S PLAYING RIGHT NOW INSTEAD?
Have also had this conversation in a loud bar:
Random: “YOU’RE A VET? MY DOG JUST DIED!”
Me: “I’M SORRY.”
Random: “YEAH, HE WAS OLD. IT WAS TIME.”
Me: “YEAH. IT’S HARD”
Random: “I STILL MISS HIM.”
Me: “. . . I NEED ANOTHER DRINK, NICE TO MEET YOU” *walkaway*
Because if I can barely hear you, it is not the time to have a heart to heart about your dearly departed Fido. I hate having to ask people to repeat themselves when discussing a sensitive subject. And I don’t feel very sympathetic if I have to YELL my condolences at you.
Please don’t misunderstand – I get that putting down your pet is a hard thing to go through and it sticks with you. I had my Charlie cat put to sleep over 5 years ago now and I can still see every detail of that vet visit in my mind. I understand that if you’ve ever had a pet euthanized, that’s likely what you’ll think of when you meet a vet. And you know what? With the cab drivers I’m kind of used to it. It can make things super awkward, but a cab is a venue for random small chat and you work with what you’re given. But at a party? Or a bar? Or any occasion where I’m probably trying to have fun? Forcing me into a discussion about what is probably fairly obviously the worst part of my job? Not so much with the appropriate, I’d say…
However, the “oh, you’re a vet?” party conversation that takes the cake? The time this girl was super excited to find out I was a vet so she could discuss her pest problem. She wanted my opinion on exterminating these pests. I would walk away, she would find me again and bring it up again. I really wanted to just say “Listen, I am a VETERINARIAN, not an EXTERMINATOR… I save animals, I don’t kill them!”
…but then I remembered my usual party conversations. I guess I do kill animals. Boo.