The beauty of small talk

Hey, did you hear? The groundhog saw its shadow. 6 more weeks of winter, what a drag...
I know...I hate the winter, I can't wait for summer...

Sounds like the typical elevator conversation between two people who feel obliged to talk to each other. In English, we call this small talk. Easy, superficial conversation topics about nothing really important, generally between people that don't really know each other. Every culture has its favorite small talk topics, and let's face it, in March of 2020 a new international topic was born - so next time you're with someone you don't know, thank Covid that you have something internationally acknowledged to talk about. But if you're like me and would rather talk about literally ANYTHING other than Covid, here are a few top small talk topics and some "go to" phrases you can use in any awkward situation.

 

My personal favorite - the weather

Why is it so easy to talk about the weather? Because it's something everyone experiences, whether they want to or not. Generally, weather small talk is some sort of complaining about the current weather situations, here are some examples:

  • Is it ever going to stop raining?

  • We're going to have a drought this summer if it doesn't rain/snow.

  • So much for global warming, it's freezing!

  • It's soooo cold/hot, I can't wait for summer/winter!

  • "complaining about something"...but at least it's sunny today!

  • Zoom meeting chit chat: "what's the weather like where you are today?"

 

Entertainment

Most people watch TV, and even if they don't, they probably have social media, and can at least pretend to know what you're talking about. Talking about music and TV can also generally lead into a more in depth conversation about someone's interests (check out this post if you want more ways to talk about your interests). Need some examples?

  • "Did you see the latest episode of [insert popular Netflix series here]?"

  • if they respond with "no", at least you can ask what they do enjoy watching.

  • "I'm so tired, I stayed up watching the final of Sanremo/X factor/The Voice! Did you see it?"

  • this can lead to a conversation about musical tastes

  • I'm starving! I've been watching too much MasterChef lately. Can you imagine quitting your job to try out for it?

  • this can lead to a conversation about food, cooking, work, you name it!

 

News and Current Events

As I said before, Covid has dominated the scene now for quite some time, but other things are actually happening in the world while the newspapers are telling us about the new variants, rules and what other countries are doing better than ours...anyways...this category gives you a lot of freedom, just try not to bring up anything too controversial if you don't know the other person.

 

Controversial topics to avoid at all costs

  • Political views: it's fine to talk about general knowledge topics, but avoid saying anything that could eventually lead to conflict.

  • Football: the famous European question - "who's your team?". Yeah, just avoid it. Heated discussions about whose team is better is just as bad, if not worse, than discussing whose political party is best.

  • Religion: you may be an atheist, but you never know what the other person believes in, so unless you are aware of their beliefs, it's best to avoid saying anything that could be offensive.

  • Family: this may seem strange, but the typical questions like, "have you got kids?", "are you married?", etc. etc. can be hurtful for someone who perhaps wants kids but can't have them, or just went through a divorce, hence killing your conversation and making you feel horrible.

 

So there you have it, my two cents on how to talk to strangers in English. If you really just don't know what to say or how to say it, at least you can pretend to be answering a super important email on your phone, and of course, you'll be more than 1 meter apart thanks to social distancing, so next time you want to complain about 5G or Covid, think again😉.

 

Glossary

  • what a drag: when something is really annoying

  • small talk: the polite (and sometimes superficial) conversations you have during social interactions.

  • "go to": something prepared in advance, always ready

  • drought: lack of water

  • it's freezing: it's really, really cold

  • stayed up: stayed awake

  • I'm starving: I'm really, really hungry

  • bring up: to talk about, to mention

  • at all costs: whatever the circumstances

  • two cents: personal opinion



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