Picture this: you're at the supermarket, in line to pay for your cereal, veggies, and toilet paper. Everything's fine until you get to the checker. He looks you in the eye while scanning your carrots and asks "How's it going?" Your response is cool and casual, you know what to say: "It's good, and you?" "Good" he replies...
But then, silence.
Nothing but the 'beep' of the scanner as he passes another pot of yogurt down to be bagged. You want to say something else, but now you've waited too long. You try to avoid eye contact and look in your wallet for exact change, but you know you're going to pay by card anyway.
Finally, after an eternity of silence, he asks "Any cash back?" "No thanks. Have a good day." You grab your bag and run out of the store as quickly as possible before anyone notices the sweat on your forehead. Back in your car you sigh with relief. Why is it so hard to be social?
As any foreigner living in the US knows, Americans LOVE small talk. In a previous post, we gave you some suggestions for improving your social conversation skills. Today, we're going to explain why we here at My English Coaches love the weather as a conversation starter.
"Do Americans and Brits really like talking about the weather that much?"
In my classes, I often get the question "Do Americans and Brits really like talking about the weather that much?" And the simple answer in my opinion is "No. Of course not." Unless you're a meteorologist, the weather is probably not a topic of conversation that you're passionate about.
But it is one of the most common ways to start a conversation with strangers and people you don't know too well (like someone waiting in line at the grocery store, your dentist, or the cute girl at the dog park).
Here are the reasons we love it so much:
1. It's a common opener. This means everyone can talk about it. No one has to be an expert to say "Wow! what crazy/fantastic/terrible weather we're having!"
2. It's a safe topic. No one is going to get offended by talking about the sun or the rain. Some other common openers like: news events, sports, or politics, might offend people. You never know what someone's opinion is going to be, or which side they're on. It's best to play it safe and start off with something everyone can talk about.
3. It opens the door to more interesting topics. Think of this opener as a 'gateway' into your conversation. No one is really going to stand outside a house and admire the gate and say "Wow, that's a nice gate!" What we're interested in is what's on the inside. This just helps us get there.
So you've managed to get them talking, what next? You want to steer the conversation away from the weather pretty quickly (unless you're conversation partner is a meteorologist or there's a tornado coming at you). Here are some transitions you can use to move on to something more interesting:
You want to steer the conversation away from the weather pretty quickly
"Where I'm from, the weather isn't nearly as nice this time of year." This is great because it shows the other person you're not from here, so they can ask questions about your home country or why you're in America.
"I love the rain/snow/heat, it reminds me of [a place I lived/visited]." This allows you talk about something you're interested in. Maybe the rain reminds you of your honeymoon in Iceland; or of your hometown in Thailand. Either way, it gives the other person something to ask you questions about. Maybe they've been there too, or would like to visit...
"Yes, isn't the weather great? We're off to the beach Saturday, what about you?" or, more simply "Do you have any plans?" This question gives the other speaker a chance to tell you about themselves (though it might not be appropriate with complete strangers, unless they seem really friendly).
"Well, we can't really complain, we need the rain." If you live in California, you've probably heard this one before! Some interesting responses could be: "I know! Isn't the drought terrible?" "I know, my garden looks so sad." "I know, we drove past the lake on our way to Yosemite and the water level was so low."
Whatever your response is, make sure you move the conversation towards something you actually want to talk about. Small talk is about finding something you share in common and can have a real conversation about!