Well, it’s been a week and a half since classes began. New friends have been made, schedules are finally memorized, and almost everyone has been sufficiently raped by the overpriced campus bookstore. The nights are warm, the beer is cold (unless you still think frat parties are cool), and life is good. Unfortunately, settling into the semester poses a huge new problem for some: how to have a face-to-face conversation without using “how was your summer?” as a crutch.
To be fair, I understand why the classic “how was your summer?” line occurs in 98 percent of conversations during the first week of school. It’s been three months since you’ve seen each other. Things have changed. You can no longer use the bull shit conversation topics like that kooky professor you both had last semester, or that night you were both wasted at Old Main and ‘hilarity’ ensued.
As a member of this skin-deep acquaintanceship, you’re forced to grab for straws to get the initial conversation off the ground. You have to avoid the awkward silence that is bound to happen when you both realize you really have nothing worthwhile to say one another. Granted, I know for some people it is nerve racking to actually talk to someone in person. Thank god text messaging and facebook chat can’t show awkward fidgeting and looking around nervously for an excuse to leave.
Since the superficial summer inquiry is inevitable, you can be just as prepared for one of three generic responses. Keep in mind, the goal in most of these cases is simply to appease the other person, and end the conversation as quickly as possible.
Probably the most common response is “not much, I worked a lot”. This is a completely understandable (and equally as boring) answer. As college students, summer is a great time to go home and pick up some extra hours to make bank. Then, you can come back to Fredonia with fat stacks to blow on bad weed and/or cute home furnishings from Wal-Mart. In rare cases, the person you’re talking to might ask “where did you work?” or “how was it?” But don’t worry; chances are they want this awkward exchange to be over just as much as you do.
The second most popular answer, especially for upperclassmen, is “I traveled”. Whether through study abroad, visiting friends, or just taking a trip for the hell of it, summer provides the footloose student a chance to get up and go. If you’re lucky enough to talk to a summer traveler, the burden for conversation has been lifted off your shoulders immediately. No doubt will this person talk (and talk, and talk) about their experiences, crazy stories, and misfortunes. This conversation also provides a great time to zone out and think about your next witty twitter update.
Finally, you are bound to meet at least one person who responds “I didn’t do anything all summer. I couldn’t find a job and all my friends were gone. I didn’t do anything”. Take caution to this person immediately. Not only do they seem about as boring as first day ‘getting to know you’ exercises, they are also probably looking for someone to buy their broke-ass a drink.
So, since the ship has sailed on the time honored “how was your summer?” line, it’s time to get creative. Ask real questions (“tell me about your first sexual experience”). Tell stories (“I remember the first time I tried heroin”). Have discussions instead of flat conversations (“what’s your theory on 2012”). If all this freaks you out, don’t worry; it’s only a few weeks until you can start using “how was your break?” all over again.
–Brett Jones, August 2010