When did Americans lose the art of conversation? Or did we ever have it? I thought of this a while ago while exchanging pleasantries over a meal at a restaurant with an English colleague of my husband. He watched my facial expression for signs of assent or disagreement. He modified his subjects according to what he thought I would know or be interested in. Always, he was seeking to pitch his voice pleasantly. He was never striving to teach me anything, to make a point, but would charmingly tease out what our commonalities were. Being in that groove with him, remembering how it was to have these fun and clever exchanges with Brits (and the Irish too) I was able to reciprocate, and it was the most satisfying conversation I have had in ages. Not that I remember much about it; it was just a treat. Civilized conversation for its own sake.
Most of the people I know, including dear friends, simply can't converse this way. They believe that we use words to get others to do things, to exchange important information, and so on. Also, there is the unfortunate habit of some American men to believe that their sitting there saying nothing is a treat for others. Or they set up a joke that you have to hear to the end and then must laugh at, whether or not you think it's funny. All too often, women pitch their voices in funny registers and fail to make eye contact, or can't quite decide on what mode they are in: flirtatious, serious, down to earth, etc. etc. There is a lack of self-assurance.
We just don't get the kind of schooling in the give and take of conversation that the British get.