April 19th, 2005

Postbox Fairy

Having interesting conversations with strangers

When I talk to middle-class strangers of my age or older (as, for example, at a friends' daughter's christening this weekend) something in my brain goes 'ah. these are grownups. they will want to talk about grownup things' and I start making small talk about house prices and commuting.

And this frustrates me, because I'm sure the people I'm talking to are far more interesting than this sort of conversation will ever reveal.

On the other hand, I know that if someone simply came up to me and said "So. What are you interested in?" I wouldn't necessarily come up with a very good answer. And I'd also feel rather selfconscious, and not really know what they were after, and worry that if I didn't come up with anything interesting enough I'd have failed in some way. Which is obviously not something I want to inflict on others.

So I need to find some ways of moving from a standard gentle opening about the weather or people's journey or how they know the host into interesting conversational territory in a way that doesn't freak anyone out in the process.

Just wondered if any of the rest of you have similar problems, and whether you've developed any tricks or techniques that yield good results.

(One person who is excellent at this (and who I'm treating as something of a role-model in this regard) is my father-in-law. He picks up on random snippets of information that come out in the early part of a dialogue and is consistently able to devise interesting and yet readily answerable questions based on these - for example one of his common approaches is, when he finds out someone's job, to ask their opinion on current events that relate to that area.)