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April 27, 2021

Learning to talk to each other – again

In the run up to Monday’s ‘big release’ from lockdown, you could be forgiven for thinking the biggest party ever was about to kick off, rather than a few socially distanced drinks imbibed in draughty gazebos. It was though, an unmistakable first step for many towards what used to pass for a social life. But according to new research for many others it’s also a cause of some anxiety. One in four worry that they’ve forgotten the art of conversation. Comedian and mental health campaigner, Jo Brand, recommends the Big Lunch as a perfect first step.

Jo Brand

We need to learn to talk to human beings again, so why not start with the ones living next door?

A survey out this week revealed 1 in 3 of us is anxious about socialising without restrictions, and millions are worried about increasing social pressures as lockdown measures lift. Clever people with letters after their names are calling it ‘re-entry anxiety’.

I can relate. While I’m chomping at the bit to see family and friends again, I certainly won’t be at the front of the queue dishing out hugs when my local rave club reopens. Everyone has their own social roadmap to what they will feel comfortable doing. We all need to go at our own pace and that’s just fine.

What I did find interesting from the research though is that a quarter of the population worry that they’ve forgotten how to have an engaging conversation.

Zoom chats, Google hangouts and WhatsApp gifs may have been a lifeline in social Siberia but as we emerge from hermit hibernation there’s no ‘mute button’ or ‘bad signal’ to cover up an awkward silence in real life.

And when we do venture out for a chat and a custard cream in the park, will our pre-pandemic friends still be the ones we call on for a natter? According to the research, millions of people believe the pandemic has changed their friendships for good.

The French very poetically call it ‘Friendship Funnelling’, which sounds like it should be a ride at Alton Towers, but it just means prioritising some relationships over others. I think we’ve all probably experienced that to some extent over the last 12 months.

So, friendships have fizzled out and we’ve forgotten the art of small talk. No wonder so many people have re-entry anxiety.

How will we break the ice with people we haven’t seen for ages if we can’t wrestle them into a bear hug? What is there to talk about once Covid and quarantine have been covered?

It’s time to get ourselves socially fit again. Forget training for a Couch to 5k, it’s all about getting from Couch to 5 conversations now – and what better place to start than on your doorstep.

I have been a supporter of The Big Lunch for the last five years as it encompasses two of my favourite things – chatting and eating. I am a strong believer in the power of getting together to talk, now more than ever.

Historically the idea of The Big Lunch has been for communities to come together as a sort of thanksgiving weekend for neighbours. The first one I ever went to was a massive street party with bunting, trestle tables, the lot. Last year this of course wasn’t possible so the event went online. That didn’t stop over 6 million people from coming together for some digital dining.

This year The Big Lunch could be outside – or online, or both – we’ll have to wait and see. But whatever socially safe gathering you are able to have it’ll be the perfect excuse to dip your toes into the post-pandemic social pool.

With 12 million people reporting they’ve grown closer to their neighbours in lockdown, what better way to celebrate that support by busting open your door and waving an egg vol-au-vent over the back fence?

We need to learn to talk to human beings again, so why not start with the humans next door?