Where you from?: Conversation Starters

It’s the first day in a new class, or at a new job. You don’t know anybody, and have two choices: either hide in the back-left corner, take out your laptop, and pretend you can’t see or hear anyone, or strike up a conversation with someone nearby.

You know the class/job will likely be easier if you have someone to talk to. And look! There’s someone who doesn’t seem so loud or annoying. You start talking a bit, and it’s going well, but you realize you’re running out of things to say. You can only discuss classes and majors and previous jobs for so long, and you don’t know anything else about this person. Where’s the best place to go from here?

Place…that’s it!

It may sound lame, but asking where someone’s from is one of the oldest and best tricks in the book. No matter where they’re from, it can inform and further the conversation.

Are they from your hometown? What a coincidence! Ask about their high school experience, if they ever went to that great Indian restaurant, if they know so-and-so.

Are they from your home state? Great! You can talk about how you have/have not been to their town. You can talk about your ventures to the capital city, or the other big attractions. You can talk about how you’ve always wanted to go there.

Are they from a well-known place, like New York City? Now you can ask if it’s really like how it is in the movies. Is it as crowded/expensive? What stereotypes are true? You can ask this about really any place you don’t know well. They’re from England/Morocco/Alabama/Kuwait? What’s it like there? I’ve heard this, is that true? What’s the best part about it? This is a great way to learn about them and a new place at the same time.

Are they from a place you’ve never heard of? Like a strange farming town or a country you couldn’t point to on a map? Even better. Admit that you’ve never heard of it—they probably won’t be surprised that you haven’t—and ask questions.

The best thing about this question is that it’s easy and harmless. Plus, it gets turned back to you with no pressure. Someone will almost always ask the question back to you, but you have the answer prepared. You know where you’re from, and you know plenty about it.

Much like the “weather” conversation starter, this may seem obvious and maybe even cliché. But it’s a tool you can keep in your tool belt when conversation begins to run dry. You can always find another question to ask after you know where someone’s from.

However! This only really works with people you just met. Don’t ask it if you already know the answer! That would just be awkward. Good luck!

So…crazy weather we’re having, huh?: Conversation Starters

The weather. The epitome of an awkward conversation. It’s a trope in comedies that whenever our main character is left alone in a room with an attractive person or a stern father in law or an ex wife or an estranged son, the conversation falls to silence and then turns to…”Been chilly, lately.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Chilly, chilly, chilly…”

However, weather can actually be a great conversation starter. You can turn a short phrase into a conversation pretty quickly, especially if you live in an area with some extreme weather. 

For example, I was lucky enough to be in Florida when hurricane Irene caused NYC to evacuate. Unfortunately, our flight was cancelled, and my sister just had to get home for the first day of school.

We decided to drive from Orlando, Florida to Massachusetts.

It was terrible. We sped the whole way, down the longest empty road ever. We hit DC and then NYC  in about an hour. 

The worst part? We get on the highway, and the gps says, “Turn left in 678 miles.”

We all accepted it at first, then did a double take. 

“SIX HUNDRED WHAT?!”
Everyone has a crazy hurricane or earthquake or blizzard story. Tell yours when the conversation dies down, and have the pressure taken off rather quickly when the focus changes to someone else’s wacky weather adventure.
So much of a successful conversation is just finding a way to make your personal experiences relate. With a little practice, even the weather won’t be awkward. Try it out! 

 

Going on autopilot: Conversation Starters

I get so lost in thought I sometimes go on autopilot. It’s amazing what I’m capable of doing without noticing, but also pretty funny when my mind messes up.

I’m sure we all have had brief mess ups like throwing away a plate and putting the pizza crust in the sink, or squirting out body wash and using it as shampoo. Those happen all the time, a strange short-circuit in the brain where it confuses your hands and pieces things together wrong.

Sometimes I’m five minutes into driving to work when I realize I had meant to drive to the supermarket. Sometimes I just mix objects up all together. I was reading a book and didn’t know the definition of a word, so I pressed it with my finger, waiting for the Kindle definition to pop up. I actually tapped it a few times before I remembered that books don’t do that.

Other times, I just get so in the zone that I don’t stop. I once cut the leaves off a whole carton of strawberries when I had only wanted a few for a snack, for example. Similarly, haven’t we all been so engrossed in a movie we ate the whole extra-large popcorn?

It’s not a bad thing, I don’t think. I usually end up laughing at myself—like when my phone buzzes because I got an email and I assume it’s my alarm. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been halfway through doing my makeup before realizing that it was 2 a.m.

I think the best is the time I was so engaged in a conversation with my friend and offered him something to drink. I was concentrating hard on what they were saying as I took out the glass from the cupboard. My body then automatically washed the glass with soap and water, and placed it on the drying rack. My friend gave me a strange look then laughed, asking me what the heck I was doing, taking clean cups out of the cupboard and washing them, and could he have his drink already?

These are fun conversation starters that allow everyone to relax and laugh a little bit at themselves. Were you ever a kid and accidentally called your teacher mom? Did you ever work as a receptionist and answer your home phone with your scripted greeting? Ever get angry when your dog won’t respond when you accidentally call it your daughter’s name? The stories are easy to tell and entertaining to hear. Share yours!

Human Culture Shock

Today my friend from high school is coming to stay the night, since he’s on spring break and I don’t have class on Fridays. I’m a little nervous about it. Sure, we’re friends, but we’re usually in a group. Also, I haven’t seen him since December. Are we the kind of friends than can click back in place after so long, without anyone else? I guess we’re about to find out.

Human culture shock is a term I use to describe the feeling of seeing someone again for the first time in a long time. If you’re super familiar with their “culture” as a person, like with your parent or sibling, no shock happens, but the less familiar you are with them, coupled with how long you’ve spent apart, the more shock you get. When I run into someone I haven’t seen in awhile who falls under the “shockable” threshold, I usually find myself in a constant state of awe. I like hearing their voice again, seeing their little mannerisms, remembering where their freckles are and how they walk and laugh. But it’s always a bit nerve wracking, too.

The small talk factor is always terrible, naturally. But also, I can’t help but feel like I’m being sized up. Who won? Since we saw each other last, who is doing better? Who’s gotten hotter, or less attractive? Who got their hair cut, who’s in a relationship? Who still dresses like they’re in middle school? We’re both judging each other to a point, whether consciously or not.

Woes of an introvert…

I don’t know how much of this is going to happen with my friend tonight. Probably not much. It’s the awkwardness I’m more afraid of. Going from never seeing him for three months to seeing him for nearly 24 hours straight might be a lot to handle.

I also feel this way about family gatherings. Who knows how to act around people you don’t know that well, even if you once knew them perfectly?

I think I just have to relax. After all, we used to be such good friends, and all culture shock, human or otherwise, fades away eventually. We’re adaptable creatures, and nothing stays awkward for too long.