Headbloom Blog

Making Small Talk with Americans: An Exercise
Americans are used to making small talk and will frequently strike up a conversation, even with strangers, for example, waiting in a check-out line. It is in your best interest to have brief social exchanges with co-workers, neighbors, and people at parties.

Below is a list of possible conversation topics with American acquaintances. Which ones do you think are appropriate to bring up? Circle the correct answer: yes, no, or it depends. Answers are given below.

The person’s age………………YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Marital status……………………YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Occupation……………………..YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Salary…………………………….YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Education……………………….YES…..NO……DEPENDS
Length of time in this area…….YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Weight……………………………YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Travel interests………………….YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Family…………………………….YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Hobbies and pastimes…………YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Political party membership…….YES….NO…..DEPENDS
Height…………………………….YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
The cost of the person’s watch..YES…..NO…DEPENDS
Religion…………………………..YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Who the person voted for………YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
The person’s ethnic origin…….YES…..NO…..DEPENDS
Hometown………………………..YES…..NO…..DEPENDS

image photo via iStock

Answers to Small Talk Topics

TOPIC: APPROPRIATE? // SAFE QUESTIONS TO ASK

The person’s age:
NO – in general
YES – if the same age // Can I ask how old you are?
YES – if you’re older // How old are you?

Marital status:
NO

Occupation:
YES // So, what do you do? (general) So, what do you do when you’re not attending receptions/parties? (clever)

Salary:
NO

Education:
YES – indirectly // Where did you go to school?

Length of time in this area:
YES // How long have you lived in ___?

Weight:
NO

Travel interests/Vacations:
YES // Did you travel this summer? Have you taken any trips lately? Are you staying in town over the holiday?

Family:
general – YES // Do you have brothers & sisters here?
Have kids? – NO

Hobbies and pastimes:
YES // What do you like to do in your free time?

Political party membership:
NO

Height:
NO

The cost of the person’s watch:
NO

Religion:
NO

Who the person voted for:
NO

The person’s ethnic origin:
NO – African Americans
YES // That’s an interesting name? What’s the origin?

Hometown:
YES // Are you from here originally? Where is “home” for you?

image
Democrat or Republican? A no-no. (iStock photo)

NOTES

  • These topics are considered too personal or “none of your business” to ask about: age/weight/height, family status, religion, politics, income/possessions, sexual orientation
  • Religion and politics relate to personally held beliefs. Challenging them is considered confrontational, and the topics are therefore taboo.
  • Marriage is an uncomfortable topic. Some people are divorced or unmarried but don’t want to be. Others are happily single and don’t appreciate the “normative” judgments about marriage.
  • Parenthood is an uncomfortable topic. Some people are infertile, childless, and sad about this reality. Others are intentionally childless and don’t appreciate the “normative” judgments about parenthood.
  • Ethnicity can be an uncomfortable topic given that most African Americans are descended from slaves who did not come to the U.S. willingly and cannot trace their countries of origin.
  • You can determine some “personal” information by listening carefully. Asking a neutral question like “What did you do over the weekend?” may yield “I went to church with my wife and kids.” Then you know the person (1) is married, (2) has children, and (3) attends church.



Alan Headbloom