Social Success: Paying Calls and Making Conversation

The art of paying and returning calls is a subject we will most certainly return to again and again. Calls are, after all, absolutely instrumental to the development of an active, productive and (we hope) happy social life. If you stop engaging in calls, you will soon find that your circle of acquaintance shrinks and that your pool of invitations runs dry.

And who wants that?

However, it is not simply enough to show up, in order to consider a call properly paid. Your friends and acquaintances are due far more consideration than that! There is a finesse to be had in paying a call well. Here at Behind The Past, we have already looked at the etiquette of calls, and considered the use of calling cards. Now, we shall turn our attention to what is means to ‘make conversation’.

Most importantly, you must always remember to make the proper enquiries. You should make a point of asking after the health of the family. Also, if you are calling upon a household which has recently celebrated a birth or a marriage, be sure to give your congratulations. By the same token, if there has been a bereavement, you should express your condolences as best you can. You should, in your conversation, show that you care about the people with whom you are speaking.

In addition, if you know that the mistress of the house has a particular interest, try to engage her in conversation on this topic. You might ask after her beloved rose garden, or the new novel by her favourite author. It will demonstrate that you have taken a sincere interest in her as a person, and she will look upon you kindly for it. Moreover, a good conversationalist is marked by their ability to talk freely with other, not at them. You call to listen, as much as you do to speak.

So, also remember to bring up subjects that you know are close to the other person’s heart. Ask after her daughter, who has just left to set up her own establishment, and who you know is much missed. Ask how the younger children are getting on with their studies. Simply put, be nice! (But don’t be nosey!)

While it is not forbidden, be careful about embarking on a detailed, lengthy or controversial matter. Firstly, ask yourself if the other person is a friend, or if they are still an acquaintance. It is better to err on the side of caution with people you do not know very well. Secondly, do not forget that calls are normally of a fairly short duration. You should always avoid overstaying your welcome, or detaining others for too long. They may have other calls to make, or other callers might feel awkward if they walk into a deep discussion. Moreover, what might have been a lively and pleasant exchange of views during an evening conversation, could end up being a brief, blunt disagreement in the timeframe of a morning call. If in doubt, stick to gloriously simple topics such as the weather, and the latest trimmings for bonnets!

In short, you should endeavour to make your conversation polite and agreeable. Take an interest in those around you, and do all you can to avoid giving offence. The point of a call is to be a good friend and neighbour. So, when you make conversation, consider how your visit might help you demonstrate that. Good conversation does not always have to be about dazzling others with your wit and charm. Sometimes, consistency and sincerity are just as important. When it comes to call, they may be more so.

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