Are you comfortable with conversational pauses? I find them horribly awkward. At dinner with someone, I can last like three seconds before busting out with a desperate “So how’s your sister?” or “Any fun plans for the weekend?!”

Maybe it’s a cultural thing. Tim Walker, an American teacher living in Helsinki, wrote an Atlantic post about five bad habits he kicked in Finland. This part jumped out:

I have yet to meet an American who doesn’t dread the awkward silence. A lull in any conversation is to be avoided at all costs…The Finns I’ve met, on the other hand, embrace the awkward silence. They understand that it’s a part of the natural rhythm of human interaction. Sure, Finns know how to have conversations, but they’re not driven by a compulsion to fill time and space with needless chatter.

On a recent school day, as I dug into a lunch of fish sticks and steamed potatoes at the teachers’ table in the cafeteria, I was joined by a Finnish colleague. We exchanged hellos…and then ate our meals in complete silence. We had been teaching all morning, and those fleeting moments of quiet were like a rest for our souls. After 10 minutes, I glanced up at the clock and, seeing that my next lesson was about to begin, broke the calm by saying goodbye. Even though we had just given each other “the silent treatment,” no harm was done. Quite the opposite, actually. I pushed in my chair feeling refreshed.

My friend and her husband have conversation pauses when they’re out to dinner. “We’re fine just enjoying our food,” she told me. “We secretly listen to the people around us and guess if they’re having good or bad dates.”

Thoughts? Can you stay quiet comfortably? Or do you have to jump in with something? (ANYTHING?)

P.S. Parenting around the world, and why Danish babies sleep outside.

(Helsinki photo via Travel & Leisure)