“So what do you do?”
“Where are you from?”
“What’s your background?”
I’ve often dreaded conversation starters. Often times my mood will lead the way. If I’m in a good mood, then I’m an interesting, successful, well-rounded individual with a little bit of mystery behind the four eyes. If I’ve had a crap day, I may sport a perma-frown and have nothing interesting to report. Move on to the next victim because I’m not feeling it today.
When we moved to the ‘burbs after a dozen years living in big cities, the idea of having a neighbor who actually spoke to us was a phenomenon. Trips to the grocery store involved a few swipes of make-up and a clean shirt in case I ran into anyone recognizable. We no longer lived in an anonymous culture where everyone minded their own business. We were living in a community where people wanted to know who we were – nosy or not.
It took a few casual chats for me to get the hang of small talk.
Questions to co-workers on a Monday “how was your weekend?” or fellow parents “what’s your kiddo into these days?” or neighbors “what are your plans for the summer?” were easy enough. They broke the ice and evolved into signs of recognition. By acknowledging someone’s presence in your life, even if it’s routine and ordinary, makes for a connection with someone. Pretty soon we were inviting neighbors over for a meal, making plans with other parents to get together (#happyhour) while the kiddos ran around and meeting up with colleagues for dinners out. Wouldn’t you know, our own little collective of peeps was forming. Most people call them friends. Not just the Facebook kind, but IRL.
Seeing Beyond Sameness
I’ve said it before, but people tend to identify with like. I can imagine there was a lot more homogeneity in neighborhoods back in the day – sharing the same religion, race, socioeconomic status. Today you never know who may move in across the street or who may be new to town. You may never know if the person behind you at the checkout line has the same hobbies as you do or is going on vacation to the same place. You may not realize the person sitting next to you in the doctor’s waiting room has the same illness or worse. Empathy often induces humanity when we consider another’s point of view or situation.
It turns out I was wrong about small talk. What typically starts as a casual question may result in a thoughtful and genuine conversation. Those generic conversation starters could end up in a new perspective or if you dare, a new friendship.
Tell me, are you someone who talks to strangers? Do you tend to meet people and make friends easily or do you stick with your own crowd?
Read about another post I wrote on friendship.