Sunday, May 21, 2006

rethinking the social interview

The past week I've been in Charleston, South Carolina taking part in rehearsals for the Spoleto Festival USA, which opens next weekend. Spoleto is a two-week orgy of varied cultural offerings, from Indian dance to Brazilian jazz to a Mahler symphony. For those of us in the orchestra though, it's basically band camp.

As at any band camp, the first few days are largely spent asking the same few questions of countless people. It's the standard interview that strangers everywhere rely on, to start a conversation and attain some minimal level of familiarity with one another. In the music world it sounds something like this:
  • What's your name?
  • What do you play? (You might already know the answer to this, but still you don't want to get too far into the conversation before finding this violinist is really a violist.)
  • Is this your first time at Spoleto? What do you think of it?
  • Are you in school? If yes, where?
  • Where have you gone to school before?
  • Did you know x, y, z, etc.? (These being other people from those schools whom the questioner has met.)
And so the conversation proceeds, probably with anecdotes about those common acquaintances or some other trivialities. I guess it's obvious that I take a rather dim view of the whole process, being generally bored with asking and answering the same questions ad nauseum. For one thing, I don't think my answers really give any sense of who I am as a person. For another, I can't seem to remember anyone else's answers, leading to the embarrassing situation of repeating the social interview with the same person, days or even hours later - only realizing after the third or fourth question that we've been down this same track before. Obviously I didn't get much of a sense of those people either, or at least not a memorable one.

So I'm proposing a new set of social interview questions, some things that I would be happy if someone asked me, and possibly even have to pause and think before answering. Some of these questions might seem ridiculous, stupid or inappropriate, depending on the person and situation, but still they might carry a conversation in an interesting direction.
  • Does your instrument have a name, and what is it?
  • Do you have any siblings? How close are you to them?
  • Do you share your apartment with any pets / plants / large insects?
  • Do you ever carry on argumentative conversations with yourself? If so, what are some recent subjects, and did you settle on any solution?
  • What's the last movie / book / album you saw / read / heard that changed your life?
  • What's the most interesting thing about you I'll never think to ask about?
  • Do you have any other suggestions for new social interview questions?
And if anyone reading this has some more ideas, please contribute in the comments! I'm not the most socially adept person, so I'm sure most people could think up many better questions. And if you're so inclined, please feel free to answer any of these questions yourself. I won't trouble you with my answers, unless you're really curious.

No comments: