“The Worst Ways to Start a Dinner Conversation in Mixed Company,” by Zach Kessler

Jan 26th, 2011 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

Starting a conversation in mixed company is almost prohibitively difficult. However, there are some clues to help us along. Here I have entered some observations into a brief outline and following commentary regarding the worst ways one might start a dinner conversation in mixed company. By simply avoiding these gaffes, you will be well on your way to an evening that satisfies you and your new friends.

The Worst Ways to Start a Dinner Conversation in Mixed Company: Deportment Don’ts in Three Categories


1)      I read this Lockhorns cartoon a few weeks ago. Let me describe the picture…

2)      I’ve never been entirely sure of the differences between caves and caverns. Here’s my issue:

3)      My cousin thinks that waxed floss is a big waste of money.


1)      Have any of you ever thrown up something while it was still cold?

2)      Once, in college, I threw up after having performed an act of oral sex. Here was my issue:

3)      My cousin told me a few weeks ago that after going down on a recent amputee, he threw up from this act oral sex while it was still cold.

Boring & Vulgar

1)      Sometimes I really worry if I masturbate too frequently my semen will become so viscous it will fail to produce a spurt that will truly satisfy me.

2)      How often per day do all of you move your bowels? How do you feel about that number?

3)      Sometimes my cousin really worries that if he masturbates too frequently he won’t have enough time to figure out all the correct tax exemptions he gets since he works out of his home.  

This list is handy in and of itself, but we do ourselves one better to extrapolate more generally from its conditions. Study these extensions before heading off to the restaurant:

a)      Make sure not to bog yourself down. If you have to explain what you mean, then you’re not being clear. Instead of describing the Lockhorns cartoon, bring it with you. This way you can pass it around the table and quickly establish the context you would otherwise protract or fail to create.

b)      If something is bothering you, don’t stop there. Explain why it does. It is much better to describe something about yourself through discussing cavern v. cave than merely present that subject as vexing. Remember, in order to get to know others you will at some point have to let them get to know you.

c)      Make sure, though, that you keep aware of your party. When you talk about yourself, relate your concerns to a wider context. If you are worried about your semen, try to frame that concern narratively so the rest of your party can become involved in a story instead of listening to a series of facts. Think back. Why were you masturbating with such frequency? Was it due to arousal or boredom? Both? Describe for your dinner-mates the set of circumstances that led to the situation you describe and they will better be able to empathize with your position.

d)     Don’t just take others into account with your stories; include them explicitly in your conversation. Instead of asking a question to the entire table, hone in on one person in particular. Ask Tom or Cindy or Larry about his or her own bowel/stomach evacuations. But don’t worry; you won’t have to ask each member of your party every question. If the others are keeping up and doing half as nice a job as you, soon each will speak naturally and there will be no more need for ice breakers.

e)      If you’re going to talk about a person that no one else in your party knows, help them to get to know that person with a few quick details relevant to your story. For instance, what brand of floss does your cousin now prefer? What kind of work does he do out of his home? Why was he in bed with an amputee? Did he enjoy himself? Did his physical reaction to that sexual partner’s genitals preclude an advancement of their relationship? Was his reaction due specifically to the temperature of that party’s oral sex-making? The problem with vulgarity is that it too often overshadows what is interesting about the story it adorns. By providing salient details about the events you describe, you will build a scenario ripe with meaning that can withstand, and gain from, that raw talk that would otherwise derail the fellow-feeling you aim to create.

Finally, my advice here refers only to how, or how not to, start a conversation. Once it is underway, to steer it in one direction is often to lose it completely. So, be bold and take charge, but have a good time. Enjoy yourself with the friends you will soon make by comporting yourself appropriately, and keeping in mind that if everyone counted on everyone else to start talking, we would only ever eat in silence.


Zach Kessler holds an M.A. in English from Ohio University and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has also been published in shaking like a mountain.

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