On being … the gift of unselfconscious chat

 By Ingrid Sapona 

For more than a decade I’ve been part of what I call my electronic coffee klatch. As I type this, I realize some might not be familiar with the term. According to Merriam-webster.com, coffee klatch – a variation of “kaffeeklatsch” (from the German words for coffee and gossip) – is “an informal social gathering for coffee and conversation.” There are three of us in the group: me and a friend who lives on the west coast and one who lives in Europe. 

What distinguishes our coffee klatch is that the three of us correspond via email pretty faithfully every week. One of us usually starts it off with an email on Friday evening or Saturday and before the weekend is done the other two respond. (It helps that we’re in time zones 8 hours apart). We got to know each other (in person) when the European and west coast women were doing post-graduate work in Toronto. 

I don’t remember how the coffee klatch started, but I think it just seemed efficient to include the others in a single email, rather than trying to keep in touch separately. Of course, there are times when we two of us might correspond separately, for example, if we’re travelling and able to meet in person someplace. 

What makes these round-robin emails (another way I refer to them) so special is their conversation quality. Emails addressed just to one friend tend to be more of a volley and return – a back and forth exchange of information or ideas. In these round-robin emails, if I say something about how I felt about a project or something I’m working on or did that week, the others may respond but often they pick up on very different things. It’s always interesting to hear their different impressions. And, because these are emails (versus on-line meetings, for example) often the second person’s response might include a comment about what was originally said and about the other person’s response. And sometimes there’s a short additional round of emails to respond to the comments. It’s surprisingly conversation-like – but with more time to think before responding. 

A couple weeks ago, at the end of a shortish email my European friend wrote: “Sorry, I don’t have much chat tonight…”. In her reply, my west coast friend commented on how the notion of not having a lot of “chat” made her laugh because she was feeling the same. She went on to say that she likes hearing what we’re up to but doesn’t always have much of interest to report about what’s going on in her life. She also mentioned (I’m paraphrasing) she sometimes wonders if others in her life find her interesting only if she’s got something to complain about and – considering all that’s happening in the world – she has nothing to complain about right now and so she feels she has not much to chat about.   

To be honest, I didn’t even register my European friend’s comment about not having “much chat” until my other friend picked up on the idea. That’s when I realized there are many social interactions where I’ve felt self-conscious about not having much to say – or complain about – and I’ve worried that makes me seem boring to others. I was actually rather relieved to realize these feelings are probably more common than I think. Indeed, the feeling that I have nothing interesting to report about what’s going on in my life plays a role in my reluctance to initiate social interactions and sometimes even to participate when other’s have initiated. 

I guess that’s why the I love – and value – our coffee klatch so much. The habit of checking in with these girlfriends relieves the self consciousness (for me at least) of having little of substance to report because what matters is the connection. I care about what’s going on in these friends’ lives – whether it’s work successes or frustrations, family concerns or joys, whether they’ve had fun travelling, or even just whether they’ve had friends around for dinner.    

This is the only electronic coffee klatch I’m a part of and, as I mentioned, it started pretty organically. So, I don’t know if it’s reproduceable. But, if you have the chance to starts one, give it a try. I think you’ll find it rewarding and a good way of practicing sharing yourself. 

© 2023 Ingrid Sapona


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