An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

An Italian-American living la dolce vita in the Deep South

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Art of Interrupting

Last night we had dinner at my parents' house. A friend of the family was there with her daughters, and since she lives in Washington State and we haven't seen her in a year, conversation was fast and furious.

At one point I happened to glance over at my oldest son, and he had a dazed, helpless look on his face. "Uh oh," I thought. "Like father like son."

The first time I brought my husband (then fiance) to a big Italian picnic, he later confided to me that he had wanted to participate in the conversation, but was at loss as to when to jump in. No one stopped talking long enough for him to say anything.

My poor husband. He comes from a polite family where everyone takes turns speaking: one person speaks, then another, and so on. There are no interruptions and voice levels are moderate.

On the other hand, in my Italian family conversations overlap, and in order to get a point across, or a story told, we get louder and louder. Interruptions are the norm, and chaos can reign supreme.

So when I saw that same expression on my son that my husband had twenty years ago, I knew it was time for an important lesson. I gave this same lesson to my husband, and I could see that it was now time for my son to hear it.

The Art of Interrupting

  • Be vigilant for pauses: Even though it may seem as if there is no cessation is speech, there are in fact pauses; for example, when someone takes a sip of wine or takes a bite of food. Even a big intake of breath is a significant pause.

  • Create your own pause: don't be afraid to call out someone's name that is sitting across the room. That person will then pause to see who called his name...this is your chance to speak.

  • Be quick. Other people will also be looking for these pauses, so you need to move in quickly!

  • Instead of trying to address the entire group, address the person next to you. It is much easier to get one person's attention.

  • Go with the flow. With everyone talking, shifts in the conversation occur from sentence to sentence. One minute the topic might be the recipe for Nonna's minestrone, and the next minute it's about natural childbirth. Transitions often don't make sense, but if you're willing to take on any topic, you'll then have more opportunity speak.

    • Finally, when you can't get a word in edgewise, grab a glass of wine, listen, and enjoy the show. You'll have the best seat in the house.


      SuburbanCorrespondent said...

      My husband also does not understand conversational interrupting and looks down on those who practice it. His attitude drives me absolutely crazy, as I grew up conversing mostly with New York Jews and Italian Catholics.

      :o) mg said...

      Or he could make a gaseous noise with his underarms and create not only a pause in conversation, but also a set stage for anything at all he wants to say, such as, "Mom, I am out of wine."
      Fun post!

      SuzyQ said...

      This was great!
      I'm married to a mediteranean so I can relate, being a reserved "little English girl" myself.
      However my father's side is french and irish and they gave me a pretty good training ground in the art of interuption and getting my voice heard lol :0)
      Great post!

      Cheryl Lage said...

      Not Italian or Mediterranean, I do pride myself on inserting what I feel to be pertinent, relevant germane contributions to the conversation when I sense a pause (or someone takes an ill-timed breath).

      Although next to "I love you," I daresay the sentence my husband has said to me most often is "If I could FINISH...."

      Oooops. ;)

      j.a.varela said...

      Excelente Bia! En casa somos 50% italianos 50% españoles, así que la mesa está servida!

      ¡Y cómo nos divertimos!

      Cordiales saludos desde Montevideo.


      Soutenus said...

      Great post!
      btw -- I tagged you in a meme. It should post tomorrow afternoon.
      Have fun with it!

      E said...

      i am married to a quiet guy and one of our three kids is one too. But they learn. Eventually they do learn. I am printing these off for our Eli to show him ours may not be the loudest house in the whole world anyway...

      GrandmaK said...

      Well, ya know we "Irish" (by descent)in this family have so much "blarney" to share that we are sure once we start talking someone will listen, even if we're only talking to ourselves. This was great to read, and after returning from a family reunion where talk is the by-word, this was just what I needed!!! Thank you!! Cathy

      Lisa said...

      LOL! This is so funny, Bia! Not Italian here, either, but Irish loudmouths. And my poor husband from a small family of polite people had the same problem merging into our conversation super highways. He settled happily early on with your last word of advice. &:o) Now we're starting to have to train girlfriends and prospective fiances... Oh, my, but it's fun watching them work it all out for themselves. Poor things, though... I think I'll be printing this out, too, and posting it on our bulletin board for easy referral.

      Laura said...

      Sometimes, Bia, I cannot stop it hormonal? I interrupt over and over again as if I will DIE if I don't get to say my important insight into the converation...other times I am very aware of "turn taking" and "pauses" etc. But if I am on a roll baby....I am on a roll.

      You will probably receive many hits on this post because people google this type of Manners issue a lot. Good post idea.

      Aimee said...

      Fabulous guide! My husband could have used it about 12 years ago :)
      He comes from a small, polite, quiet Scottish family.

      Me? Not so much

      I took him to Thanksgiving at my grandparents' house and he was nearly paralyzed with the noise of 40 first cousins!

      Plus, he head never seen ravioli served next to a Thanksgiving turkey before! :)

      Kevin - "pax tecum" said...

      I feel exactly like your husband when I'm in my own home...