The Schpiel

I’m thinking about when I go home. If you come up to me when I’m back in the States and ask me, “How was your summer/trip?” I will answer you with my schpiel, whatever it turns out to me.

I’m not sure if you use the word “schpiel” at your house; we do at ours. If you haven’t heard it, it’s pronounced “shh-peel” and it refers to a repeated speech, as in “Dad’s doing his Congo schpiel for a group from X church” or, more derogatorily, “that car salesman is giving his schpiel, and it’s obnoxious.”

I subconsciously develop schpiels whenever I am asked the same question multiple times or have to convey information repeatedly.

So if you asked me how my first year of college was, you probably got my schpiel. I probably said, “It was…a lot. It was a lot of work, a lot of changes, and a lot of fun. I mean, there were a lot of hard parts and it was the most work I’ve ever done, but I have some great friends and it was as great as I could have asked for.” If you asked me that question or one like it, think back. Was my answer something like that? I bet it was.

Now, you might be offended that you got “the stock answer,” the schpiel. But you shouldn’t be. It was all true, and it became the schpiel because I thought it captured my year concisely and honestly. What is different about the schpiel is that I am not at that moment connected to the experience. I was not remembering the experience. I was not at that moment evaluating and summing up my school year. I was instead relating my previous summary.

I end up developing schpiels for everything that people ask me a lot: what my job this summer was going to be (turned out I was almost totally wrong), what my majors are, how I’ve been doing lately (if it’s complicated), instructions for teams, etc. And it’s not some weird thing where I plan out my schpiel; it just happens once I’ve stumbled on a good way to say something.

So what does this all mean? It means that when I go back home and to school, everyone’s question to each other will be “How was your summer?” and I will answer with whatever my schpiel has become.

But I worry, am I oversimplifying the hugeness and ugliness and complexity of my summer, the people, the struggles, the growth that might not even be growth, the joy, the messiness inside of me, the relationships, into something that doesn’t have anything to do with them?

I mean, yeah, when I’m relating it, at that moment, it doesn’t have much to do with the experience itself in my head, but if it’s a good schpiel, the content still communicates about the experience. So the person hears about my time and connects with it, but I don’t connect with the story and with them as they connect with the story. ?Me entiendes? (Are you understanding me? Am I making sense?) And yet, it’s hard to find new ways to communicate it, new evaluations and summaries of an experience, when I already have one that works.

So. I would be glad to give people The Schpiel to give them an overview and summary, but then I would like people to ask me questions. When people ask me questions, I really reconnect, remember, and evaluate my experiences in light of their questions.

So don’t be offended if I answer “How was your summer?” with an answer I’ve used with other people. And please ask me questions.

It’s something I’m doing with my friends and their summers, too. In my experience, “What was the best 17 minutes of your summer?” or “Who was one person who impacted you this summer?” or “What was your biggest struggle?” or even “Give me two highlights and a lowlight of your summer” get me better answers, with more details than “How was your summer?”

So try it. See what you get. If you ask a common question, though, you might get The Schpiel.

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3 Comments on “The Schpiel”

  1. Mom says:

    Insightful.

  2. Yes, well those shpeels (I couldn’t think how to spell it without looking above; of course typing a dozen extra words is no bother,) though limited. It takes care of several items:
    (1) how long do they really want to listen, or are they being polite? (I found many people just can’t relate to missionary stuff, so are willing to listen to a brief summary but would like to move on to more “important” things,like who’s going with whom now.

    (2) It limits hesitation and time while you are thinking, on your feet, how to express yourself. The shpeel is like an article which has been thoroughly edited and ready for publishing.

    (3) It keeps the “less close” people from knowing the “bads” about you. Just how far do I want my less than ideal thoughts spread around.

    (4) It give my dearest friends the gift of the the “inside” story. There’s a time and place for everything.

  3. Your Dad says:

    Come on give it to me. Lets start with the shpeels and just keep on talking. Maybe you can also give some hint about other good thought proving, heart revealing questions. (I would never guess how to spell this word but thankfully the inverters of the Apple Macintosh and Apple Computers – Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak made it easy to cut and paste betweens parts of the computer.)(Also FYI shpeel does not come up in my spell checker and dictionary.com has spiel and speel as alternate spellings.)


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