Toss a salad, learn to talk

The average American’s communication skills appear to be in much worse shape than I ever imagined.

Things have gotten so bad, in fact, that some folks may be turning to everyday items like bottled salad dressing for guidance.

Really.

A recent trip to the supermarket, necessitated by a distinct lack of food-like objects in my refrigerator, eventually brought me to the prepared salad dressing aisle. There I encountered a large bottle of Thousand Island dressing which was topped by a cheery label that read “Talkin’ Together.”

Uh-huh.

Just how much can be said to your average container of glowing pink salad dressing? I mean, it’s not like they talk back or anything…

“Talkin’ Together,” however, was just the opening gambit.

The saladmeisters have apparently decided to help jump-start mealtime communications throughout the nation (and possibly Canada) by gently suggesting that families try communicating with something other than unintelligible grunts and the occasional “Hey, whaddabout those Seahawks?”

The salad dressing bottle I was examining helpfully listed a couple of sure-fire “Dinnertime Conversation Starters,” including:

* What was the best moment of your day? Why?

* What is your most cherished possession? Why?

Please note that this salad dressing doesn’t let you off the hook all that easily. You can’t just say “Uuuhhh, the best moment of my day was when I found my pulse…” and go back to shoveling in the mashed potatoes again. There’s still that “why?” to be dealt with.

I suppose you might be able to get by with “Hey, whaddabout those Seahawks?” but then you’d have to ask “why?” Unfortunately for Seattle Seahawk fans, there is no “why.”

What, exactly, is going on here? Have we reached the point as a nation where we no longer know how to speak to each other between the salad and the salmon loaf?

Families never had these problems when I was growing up. No, siree – insightful intellectual interaction was just another course at my family’s dinner table.

Ah, how well I remember the stimulating dinnertime conversations of my youth…

“Hey, whaddya doing with that ketchup? Ya gonna use alllll the ketchup? Ya know there’s little kids in China that don’t have any ketchup. There’s more ketchup on yer meatloaf than they’ll see in their entire lives. If you were eatin’ escargot in Paris an’ you poured all that katchup on ’em the cook would come after ya with a meat cleaver…”

Or:

“When are ya gonna get a haircut? Ya look like a damned hippie.”

“I am a damned hippie.”

“Watch yer language, ya little socialist – you’ll never see Ronald Reagan with a haircut like that.”

Perhaps my family’s most illuminating dinnertime talks, however, went something like:

“Hey, why don’tcha just shaddup?”

“Me? Why don’t you shaddup?!”

“Aw, shaddup…”

“Didn’t I tell ya to shaddup?”

“You better shaddup.”

“Shaddup!”

No, you won’t find great conversations like that on any silly old salad dressing bottles…

Originally published June 25, 2000