Portofino, ItalyJust kidding!
Do you have any go-to conversation starters? Talking points or tricks to keep things interesting or surprising? Do you ever find yourself like me ... interested in people but when conversation runs slim ... babbling needlessly about nothing ... or worse ... about oneself? Oh boy.
In the States, it seems that after basic introductions, the next question always is: "And what do you do?" It's our go-to conversation starter. Does it really start conversations? Sometimes, I guess. But I think it's mostly a habitual question.
In France, it's considered borderline rude to ask this question. The idea is that this question facilitates an instant "sizing someone up" based on their profession. Within seconds there is an assessing of their level of education, salary, esteem, worth, etc. Très gauche. I'd never really thought about this before, but ... it's rather true. It's not a conscious thing for most of us, but we're zeroing in on just one facet of a person as the basis to understand someone.
Certainly French people find out each other's professions ... but not necessarily the first time you meet someone. In a way, you earn access to the "inner layers" as time and conversation continue. So, with "what do you do" out of the picture, what do you ask??
We all need ice-breaker questions. It's weird when someone starts off asking about your innermost feelings five seconds into the introduction. Talking about the weather is benign and acceptable, but it seems the real key is to ask a question that offers opportunity for follow up conversation threads that you can both participate in. That's the real cache, right there.
I run dry and feel dorky just like the next person. But I've been trying to be more thoughtful about my conversations and it takes practice! Here are some of my favorite conversation starters, both my own and swiped from others:
1. Memory: Tell me about the house you grew-up in or associate with your childhood. Or, Where did you live in 3rd grade? Be specific!
2. Location: Do you live around here can actually open up discussion if you follow it up. Suddenly, there is opportunity to talk about where they grew up, if they like living where they do, if they've ever moved or would like to travel. All sorts of options.
3. Funny Fib: I had fun showing people the above photo I took in Portofino and telling them that after France, we were "considering buying this boat and sailing to Cyprus". Heh, heh. But it did lead to to lots of "would ifs" and "can you imagine" conversations.
4. Lasts: What was your last book read/board game played/movie watched/hike/ice cream cone ...
5. Random: What was your last online purchase? If you wrote a book, what would it be about?
6. Compliment: This is tried and true, but always nice. Who doesn't like to be complimented on their shoes or shade of lipstick or even their cute baby.
7. Observation: You seem like a (outgoing/introspective/thoughtful/mindful/well-read/humorous ...) kind of person. How would you describe yourself? This is such a better alternative to "Tell me about yourself." You've started with an observation of your own, a compliment (hopefully), and you are then asking them about their own perspective.
So, after initial niceties, what are the fun, juicy, lively questions you like to ask or have been asked? Do any of these ideas above register with you? I'm genuinely curious!
Converse with me!