Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Small Talk! Can You Do It?

See? Ican do this--singing with Supreme Mary Wilson
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Thinking about going to Bouchercon tomorrow (yikes) got me thinking about small talk. Reds, I cannot do it. 

I can interview a person, all good. I can speak to three thousand people, no problem. 

But chit chat with strangers, or even pals, at a party or gathering? Fills me with dread. WHAT WILL I SAY?  

Yes. I confess. I am shy.

Bouchercon has been described as an event where they get 2000 people who spend most of their usual days by themselves--and forces them talk to each other.  Don't get me wrong--I cannot wait to see everyone. So thrilled about that! 

But how do you feel about small talk? Any advice?

LUCY BURDETTE: It's very hard to believe you are bad at this Hank--you couldn't possibly be as bad at it as I am! When John and I went to Bermuda on our honeymoon 25 years ago, our hotel had a cocktail reception for all the newlyweds staying there. (I think there might have been 15 couples at least.) We must have looked supremely awkward, because the maitre'd came over to collect us and shepherded us around the party, introducing us to other couples. Which was very kind, though embarrassing. 

Secrets? If you're not naturally an extrovert, the key has to be asking about the other person, don't you think?

HALLIE EPHRON: Can I be honest? I enjoy small talk. I love meeting new people and finding out about them. Really I do.  And I especially like chatting with complete strangers, a reader or writer who's at Bouchercon for the first time. And I can't wait to put some of our regular Jungle Red names to faces.

I'm there also as a fan girl. I've got my list of authors I'm dying to meet just because I love their writing. Watch out Julia Dahl and Becky Masterman, just for example. And I want to reconnect with Kate White and Mary Kubica and Sara Blaedel and J. T. Ellison and Fiona Barton. And sad to hear Lori Rader-Day won't be there.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I will talk to pretty much anyone, anywhere. Shop clerks, cab drivers, strangers in the supermarket. Some of my best friends are friends I've made by striking up a random conversation. 

HANK: Oh, yes, me, too.  (Drives Jonathan nuts, I fear.) But those kinds of conversations, with strangers? I love. 

DEBS:  HOWEVER, because I'm partially deaf, things like cocktail parties and big gatherings like there will be at Bouchercon are really hard for me. There are only so many times you can ask people to repeat themselves, but if you don't and you don't understand what people are saying, you just look really stupid. So I will be the one always looking for the quiet corner.

JENN McKINLAY: I'm like you, Debs. I talk to everyone! I figure everyone's a friend I haven't met yet. Last year, I had to take the Hub to the ER for pneumonia and while we were waiting a woman from Venezuela and I tried to figure out how to work the spiffy coffee machine. Despite the language barrier - I speak some Spanish and she was the same with English - we ended up talking and laughing for about a half hour. When I finally got back to the Hub, he shook his head. "Even now, you're making friends?" He is more of an introvert so this mystifies him. When I'm meeting someone knew, I always ask them their origin story (like a Marvel comic character) and most people think that's funny and dive right in. No worries. 

RHYS BOWEN: I'm also slightly intimidated by Bouchercon--hanging out at the bar and joining groups of people I don't really know.  I can make small talk if I have to, but I really dislike cocktail parties. I don't enjoy talking to people with whom I have nothing in common and I hate high noise levels. If I meet someone I find interesting I can chat away anywhere... always chat with my drivers on book tour. Such interesting people. I love to chat with people when I'm on vacation in Europe. I speak good French and German and can stumble through in Spanish and Italian. "You how many grandchildren have?"
I have learned that the secret is to ask the other person questions. People love talking about themselves. 

INGRID THOFT: That’s definitely the secret, Rhys:  People love talking about themselves.  I have a list of go-to questions like “Are you from X?  Is this your first X?  Any tips to make the most of it?”  I don’t love small talk, but I’m happy to engage as needed.  I’m not sure this falls into the small talk category, but when a salesperson or waitress asks me how I am, I always ask the same question in return.  So many of them are shocked when I ask—and am genuinely interested in the response.  This makes me think most people aren’t very nice to salespeople and waitresses!  Just yesterday, when asked how I was by the makeup guy at Target, I asked him the same question in turn.  It turns out he was hungry, and we had a brief, lovely chat!  You never know what answer you might get!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: To no one's surprise, I am an extrovert. I grew in in a family where conversation is considered an art form, and Lord help anyone who didn't hold up her or his end at the dinner table. However, I always remember my first mystery convention - Malice Domestic in 2001. I arrived as the guest of St. Martin's, having won the Best First Traditional that year. I felt like a total fish out of water. I was an author, but my book wasn't going to be published for another ten months. I was a reader, but without the depth of knowledge and experience the other fans had. I remember spending a lot of time up in my room, pumping and freezing breast milk. 

Since then, I've always tried to talk, not just to my friends, but to that person who's sitting by herself on the chair in the lobby or who is alone at the panel. We are a welcoming community, but sometimes we forget how it is when everyone seems to know everyone else, and you don't know any of them!

HANK: Love you so much, and you have now solved my dilemma. Julia, you are right! So I will just follow you Reds around. Gregarious Hallie has named some of the exact people I cannot wait to catch up with or meet--add Shari LaPena and Wendy Walker and Megan Miranda. (Lucy, you come with me, too.) The Jenn and Ingrid can break the ice, Rhys can speak another language (very exotic)  and Debs can look wise. So excited! 


Readers, what are your tips for conferences and gatherings? Can you give me some advice?



Photo credits:
Copyright: kwanchai123rf / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: aleutie / 123RF Stock Photo

69 comments:

  1. While I am positive that you will be just fine, Hank, I don’t have any tips or hints because I am horribly awful at chit-chat, small talk, and that mingling thing. I guarantee you I’d be the one hiding out in the corner, wishing I knew what I ought to say . . . .

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    1. WOw, that'd be fun. ALL of us in the corner. Together! Good solution!

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    2. Oh, I like that idea. The shy person's corner. Complete with bar.

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  2. I am really bad at small talk. I can do it, but I just hate plunging into a crowd of strangers to try. I fall back on that theatre degree, and act like I'm someone who is happy to be there. If there is an organizational task to do, like handing out programs or checking in registrants, I'm all over that. I like Julia's suggestion of talking to someone who is sitting by herself and, like Lucy and Jenn, I do lead by asking the other person about herself. Of course, if she's another introvert, we're both stuck. Like Ingrid, I often have my most interesting conversations with clerks and waitstaff. Once, in New Orleans, I had a fabulous conversation with the hotel maid who was cleaning my room. She was expecting a big crowd of family later, and told me how she cooks gumbo. But, more and more these days, big crowds exhaust me, and very crowded rooms make me look for the posted maximum capacity number and head for the door.

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    1. Somehow, strangers are easier. Now, why is that?

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  3. Those who said ask the other person questions completely nailed it. And I love the origin story one! This summer I met my son's girlfriend's mother at a big Quaker gathering. She has a huge smile (just like her daughter) and she said, "What questions should we ask?" I must have given her a blank look, because she went on, "You know, to get to know each other." I loved it, and we proceeded to yak for half an hour.

    I also don't hear well in background noise, but I have my extroverted side so I'll wade in, anyway, cupping my hand around my left ear like an old lady. Now I'm off to catch a plane north. See you all up there.

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    1. Love that "what questions should we ask"! Wonderful way to get to know each other. As for me, who when asked a direct question about myself (the other person using it as an "ice breaker") feel like that third grader standing at the blackboard with no idea what 9x3 equals. In short, tongue tied and embarrassed. The perfect way to start a conversation with a question about a question. Thanks for passing this conversation on, Edith. Safe travels and a wonderful time in "the north".

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  4. I always look for children or pets. Oh wait, probably won't be any at Bouchercon. Can you tell that small talk is not my forte either so little help here.

    Talking to waitstaff, salespeople, etc., people that I meet one on one in stores, waiting in line, at restaurants, those are easy too. I think it's crowd situations that put me off, not small talk situations. Now that's odd, because like Hank, I'm fine in front of the crowd, just not in the crowd.

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  5. Despite my natural reticence in dealing with people, I am usually pretty good at making small talk. At least, once I get started. I might need a bit of a warmup to get going but after that I'm okay.

    Having been to a few pop culture conventions, Bouchercon wouldn't be that big a deal for me in regards to striking up conversations with people.

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  6. I used to humiliate my kids in the supermarket... where I chat with strangers in the produce department (aren't these peaches hard as rocks?) or the fish counter (what do you do with bluefish?) My kids are now grownups and even when I skip in the mall they're not embarrassed.

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    1. You can skip? I'm impressed.

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    2. My kids used to get embarrassed, too. I think they've learned to appreciate my friendliness over the years, though. My mother is the same way; she has never met a stranger!

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    3. Love conversations like that. It feels like being in the world.

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    4. Hallie, you skip in the mall? I LOVE that!

      And Karen, my mom was the same way. She never met a stranger, so I guess I come by that naturally. And my dad was a salesman--one of the good kind--who was good at what he did because he really liked people and was interested in their lives.

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  7. Hank, I am shy too, painfully sometimes. It's the one-on-one that gets me. I can happily stand up in front of a crowd and hold forth. Public speaking has no fears for me.

    Also, like some of the others, I am having trouble with background noise. So hearing might be coming an issue for me but I hope not.

    None the less, I can't wait until this afternoon when I can drool over all of you with elan!

    I do have one amusing story. At Left Coast Crime I managed to lose my purse. It was found before long, but I ended up in the lobby, heart still beating in syncopated time, and just wanted to collapse and count the credit cards. I looked up to see this woman coming toward me and said YOU'RE ANN CLEEVES! She laughed and said AND YOU'RE ANN FROM FACEBOOK! She sat down with me and we had the most marvelous conversation, no one else around as it was during panels.

    This was more like meeting up with an old friend than making small talk. And that is what I hope it will be with all of you, including Deb whom I've had drinks with several times now. Am I still that human photo amongst all the dogs on her web page or has Wren upstaged me by now?

    Leaving in a few hours for "Canadia" as my son-in-law calls it. So excited

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    1. Safe travels!xoxoo And see you soon!

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    2. Yay, Ann!!! See you soon! I'll be doing a library event in Whitby tonight, but will swing by the bar when I'm back at the hotel and see if I can spot you. Can't wait to see you!!!

      Oh, and thanks for reminding me I need to update my webpage... The problem is the new photos go last, not first.

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    3. I love that I used to be the only person besides you on your webpage. All the rest were GSDs

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    4. See you in the bar tonight. Any idea what time you'll be back?

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  8. I was in NOLA last year caring for a family member, so I put on my game face and straw hat and hopped the Canal streetcar down to the Quarter. I introduced myself to writers I had interacted with through Sisters in Crime Guppy classes and projects. One said she'd never heard of me and turned her back. Moving on...One evening as I waited for an event to start, I sat on a bench on the lobby side of the bar and watched the action. Which authors were recognizable from their book jacket photos? Who had takeout and from where? Who looked happy to be alone? Which groups acted like a bunch of middle schoolers? Who wore a practical and chic outfit?

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    1. Margaret, now you have to dish on the answers:-)

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    2. "One said she'd never heard of me and turned her back."

      That's so awful. I'd say I couldn't believe someone could do that but I had something similar (different snide line, same back turning) happen to me when I was meeting the some of the moms at a get together for the parents of the new kindergartners. It was 11 years ago and I still haven't forgotten the burning shame and anger.

      Luckily that woman has the same first name as someone I adore or she'd be dead in a book right now. ;)

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  9. Hank, I cannot believe you are shy. No way.

    I'm okay talking to a person or two. But a big crowd...intimidates me. So I'll go to the bar, but I'll float around the edges unless I see someone I know. And if that someone is with a stranger, well, I might wave, but I'll be afraid to interrupt.

    I know. I have to get over this.

    Mary/Liz

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  10. Just about to board my flight. Looking forward to making small talk with you all in the coming days!

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    1. Safe travels! And yes, we can practice on each other!

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  11. I've attended Malice and Bouchercon once each. In general I've had a fairly easy time meeting authors and enjoyed chatting. As a non-drinker I didn't hang out at the bar, but next time I guess I can go and drink diet soda. At Malice I found myself in an elevator with Caroline Todd and was tongue-tied for some reason. She looked at my name tag and said, "Ah, you're from God's country," and we had a nice brief conversation. What a gracious lady.

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    1. Oh, she is perfection. The loveliest and most charming... lucky you! (and her...)

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    2. Jim, no need to drink alcohol at the bar. You'd be surprised at home many people are drinking ice water or tea or soda. The conversation is the thing.

      And Caroline Todd is one of my favorite people in the whole world.

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  12. This is funny. If I see you at a conference, not only will I chat you up, I'll probably hug you. You've been warned.

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  13. Julia, you and Ross were so kind to me when I was sitting at the bar alone at Malice a few years ago. It's still one of my favorite conference memories.

    At that same bar, I met two women, at different times, who are good friends now. Being open to conversation makes such a difference. Just plunge in! Name tags are great jumping-off places for conversation. Although I confess to hating everyone staring at my chest.

    So wishing I could be there this week! But then I would miss attending the wedding of a dear friend of my daughter's with her, and it's going to be a very fun day.

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    1. We will miss you.

      And name tags. Gotta tell you. I cannot live without them. Have a wonderful wedding! xx

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  14. I'm on the extrovert side of the line, quite far over, actually, and am looking forward to Bouchercon. That said, there is one sad note. The panel I'm moderating (The Reporters: Enemies of the People or Champion of the Oppressed?)is at the same time as the Reds' sure-to-be-fabulous panel, Do You Want To Know a Secret?

    You all will be in the Grand Centre, I'll be in Sheraton E. But Hallie, Julia Dahl is on my panel . . .

    I look forward to seeing all of you in Toronto.

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    1. Oh, such a great panel! Wish we could all be in two places at one time... See you soon!

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  15. I got in last night and have a lovely view of the Space Needle or whatever that is. This afternoon and tonight I'll be in Whitby for a library event, but looking forward to seeing everyone after!!!

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  16. As long as the conversation is going, I'm fine. But I'm horrible at coming up with new things to say if the conversation has died.

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  17. One of my best memories of "small talk" as you put it, Hank, is at a Left Coast Crime convention in San Diego. Not sure what year, but Rhys' EVANS ABOVE had been published recently. Rhys and I sat on a low wall, in the warm sun, and talked for about 20 minutes. It was delightful! I asked lots of questions about her book (which I had purchased that day but had not read), her interests in the genre, and shared some of my favorites, and we just talked of the convention and the weather. Wonderful memory (I bet she has no recollection of it, but that's no matter.

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  18. In honor of meeting you all, I just spit out a temporary crown. Sheesh

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    1. Extra points for the unique game plan, Ann! Now, if only you had managed to spit it out during an actual conversation with an author you didn't know, but admired greatly . . . Well, now, that would have been memorable, and would have functioned as a truly original conversation starter. Hope you get it fixed quickly and painlessly.

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    2. Ohhh....of course. Thank you for having the emergency for all of us. YOu can get it fixed, right? Or is it DenTemp time??

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    3. It is ok. Kudos to the first Red who spots it tho. Is relatively out of sight. And guess who forgot to bring the emergency dental glue

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  19. Boucheron sounds wonderful! I love panels and lectures, and table conversations. But "cocktail parties" are not my friends. I have significant hearing loss. Even with hearing aids, the ambient noise makes it almost impossible for me to converse. Plus -- I am HORRIBLE with names. Have fun, everyone. Talk to one another!!

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    1. Oh, names. That's why the universe invented name tags! xxxx

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  20. I try to latch on to someone who is gregarious and follow them around.

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  21. I avoid parties like the plague now. I just don't like crowds. The last time I went I knew only the hostess. Everyone else there was in a runners' club and they hung out together. Now I can happily talk with total strangers when waiting in line somewhere. Or while waiting to hear an author speak at the book store. In fact we were exchanging favorite author names while waiting for "our" author to arrive. It was fun. However when it comes time to meet said author I am tonguetied. Can't think of one intelligent question to ask or remark to make. And I have what I call social deafness. I can't hear people speaking when it is noisy around us. Like at a party. Maybe I'll give Bouchercon a try when it comes to Dallas. That would be just a 4 hour or so drive from here.

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  22. Oh, gee, I am terrible at small talk. If I were attending Bouchercon I would be off in a quiet corner for sure. I was raised to believe that it's not polite to ask personal questions of strangers, so I would definitely not ask questions of any of you! But because I'm shy, I'm a pretty darn good listener, something I've been told many times over the years. I figure that we listeners serve a place in social gatherings; we're the people that the chatty people can talk to -- if only we can look up from our quiet corners and make eye contact!

    By the way, my dad was one of those super gabby chatty people who never met a stranger. I guess there's one in every family!

    DebRo

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    1. I forgot to add that I'm pretty good with sales people and wait staff. In a neighborhood restaurant that I go to quite often, wait staff come over to say hi to me even if they're not serving in my area of the restaurant that day. I feel like they're part of my family.

      DebRo

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    2. This is SO good to know. And revealing, right, because it may be that the other person is shy, too!

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  23. My first Bouchercon was Albany in 2013, and I was one star-struck fan of so many, but especially of the Reds' authors. I met all of you as we were going into the Jungle Reds Game Panel, and you were so warm and kind, putting me at ease for the start of my wonderful relationship with you and for other encounters with other authors.

    I'm not known as shy, as I will go up to someone and introduce myself and start talking to someone. But, I am often a worrier about what to say after introductions. It usually turns out okay, but my basic problem is that I don't think I am interesting enough to take up too much of someone's time. I'm working on that. As I often end up laughing and having the time of my life, I need to kick my self-doubts to the curb. I do need some down time in the rush of it all, and, Rhys, the high level of noise gets to me, too. In New Orleans one night I was going to go join in at the bar, and the hum was so loud, so intense that I had to back away from it. Maybe if I'd just jumped in, I wouldn't have noticed the buzzing after a while, but it was something to behold. Oh, and Debs, I am rather deaf, too, so it does present a challenge trying to talk in high volume areas. But, I do love talking to people, and being with people who have the same passions as I do.

    I am so sad that I will miss the Reds in Toronto. I won't be there and I'm sick about it. I know that the panel will be another addition to the legend of the Reds' panels, and it's hard to miss that. I am looking forward to hearing all about it though and seeing pictures. And, it helps that Julia will be comforting those of us on Saturday who won't be in Toronto.

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    1. Okay, Lets think of one thing to say post-introduction. Kathy, and you and I will use it forever. And we will miss you, too! (I remember Albany! That was hilarious!) xx

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  24. Hank, you're shy? I have to say that some of the quiet conversations I've had with you at Malice are some of my favorites. You are so warm and gracious.

    There's no question that Jenn is a people person. So at any big event I'd just follow her around. ;)

    So, I guess that's my tip - latch on to an extrovert and watch how they do the Talk to People thing. :)

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  25. Aw,Aimee--that's so lovely of you! xoxoo

    And yup. Exactly. I am latching like mad.

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  26. I'm a little late to the party today, but I do have a question for you all who are at Bouchercon. What do you do when you're the famous author AND you're shy AND everyone wants to talk to you??

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  27. We are here, got an upgrade to a huge room on the 35th floor. Soon we shall make our way down to the basement and seen who else is around. This is going to be fun!

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    1. Whoa! Sounds fab. You must be livin' right. Can't wait to see you!

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    2. My friend and I arrive Thursday early afternoon. I'm game for conversation, small talk, philosophical discussions...any and all. I'll even start with a question to get us going! See you all soon...

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  28. Saw this bit of t-shirt wisdom today (October 14) that is on point: "Books, helping introverts avoid conversations since 1454." Thank you, dear Reds, for your continuing help in avoiding conversations. :-)

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