I recently returned from a trip to Central America. I am fluent in Spanish and traveled at first alone, managing foreign border crossings on foot, and later with a local female. During my trip I made an important discovery: most Americans talk about the most boring, inane topics.
It’s Not Me, It’s You
I often tire of small talk amongst acquaintances, and even sometimes amongst friends. I had ascribed this to a combination of an introverted personality and above average IQ. But after spending a month abroad, observing and conversing with locals and American tourists, I decided that it’s not small talk that I dislike—it’s boring people.
American tourists are easy to spot when traveling. They are dressed the worst, and are loud and overconfident. They are conspicuous, and typically have little to no foreign language skills. They love to converse about mind-numbing topics like how much something costs, what it was like traveling on the airplane that got them here, what medical afflictions they have, or how they are missing their favorite Frankenfood that isn’t available abroad.
I don’t really enjoy small talk, especially with strangers, and am easily bored with the typical banter strangers say to one another. However, I found myself having plenty of interesting chats with locals—taxi drivers, hotel clerks, restaurant waiters, tour guides, boat captains, and street vendors. We would talk about their families, food specialties of the area, interesting things to see or do, or what they were doing later.
Part of it is simply the joie de vivre that these people have, as opposed to the dead-inside corporate rat race attitude of most Westerners. But it’s more than that. There are certain topics and words that Americans, both home and abroad, tend to use that range from awkward to downright boring to offensive.
This reminded me of a radio episode I heard titled “The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed To Talk About” where the narrator’s mother recalls a list of rules for language, which was passed on to her by a French friend, and which I firmly endorse (route talk, sleep, health, dreams, money, diet, menstruation). With that in mind, here is a basic list of dos and don’ts.
1. DO smile
A warm, friendly smile, particularly when meeting someone or initiating conversation will engage the other person, and will form a strong image in their mind. Body language can be more important than actual language, especially when speaking with women.
2. DO speak slowly and calmly
Close your eyes and picture a confident, masculine man. How do you imagine he speaks? Just listen to the difference between Jay Leno and Sean Connery in this clip. Most males today speak far faster than Leno today. Slow, calm speech is masculine and confident. Perhaps most importantly, it’s easier to hear and understand. Often when I’m rushing my speech, a girl won’t hear what I said, and I must remember to speak slowly and calmly.
3. DO NOT use route talk
Any discussion of transportation, including how you arrived at your current location, what brand of airline, bus route, taxi company, or vehicle you used to get here, what highway you drove along, or the condition of the traffic, is completely boring and useless information. Never, ever use route talk. This is the cardinal rule of conversation.
4. DO NOT use vulgar language
While sitting at a cafe for a bit of dessert with a thin, dark headed Latina, we couldn’t help but overhear the loud American who kept using the word “BULLSHIT.” We laughed every time we heard it, and it turned into a discussion of why I’m not like most gringos, who are stereotypically loud and vulgar. Vulgar language makes one appear uneducated, crass, and common, if not worse.
5. DO NOT complain
Much small talk seems to revolve around perceived mistreatment by others. The airline stewardess didn’t allow my luggage to be placed where I wanted it. The coffee barista took too long preparing my expensive drink. I had to wait for an hour in a waiting room to see a doctor. Don’t complain. No one cares about your personal grievances, and you come across as petty and weak. Particularly if it’s a first world problem.
6. DO NOT discuss your health or diet
No one cares that you used to enjoy poached eggs for brunch but now you no longer order them because you’ve become vegan. Americans also have a bizarre fascination with medical problems, and talking about their surgeries, prescription drugs, and other medical issues. Publicly talking about your health shortcomings is insane—why draw attention to your weaknesses?
No one cares about your knee surgery or what your doctor’s name was, or how pleased you were with the outcome. Really, just shut up about health or diet, especially if it’s a negative statement. Talking in a positive manner (The papaya here is so fresh and delicious!) is perfectly fine.
7. DO NOT discuss work or money
Americans love to discuss money, perhaps more than anyone besides Asians. This is seen as offensive, vulgar, and trashy in most cultures, and it is.
It’s also offensive in many cultures to talk about your career. Don’t do it. I had a buddy who lived in Italy for three years and developed a close group of friends, but never knew anyone’s occupation. Most people don’t really care where your paycheck comes from anyway. Extra negative points if you are a doctor or lawyer and talking about your job, and double negative if you are using medical or legal jargon.
8. DO NOT use your telephone in public
This should go without saying. The telephone is a tool for talking one on one. Use your telephone privately, and if you have a smartphone, use it sparingly.
These rules are important in daily life, when traveling, and especially when approaching new women. Day gaming is much more my cup of tea than hitting clubs full of bad music and sluts. Remember that most guys aren’t going to approach strange women. And the few that do will likely be incredibly boring, offensive, or uninteresting. Be different. Be interesting.
While one can ramble a bit with women, especially at first to get them to open up and talk to you, try to think before you speak and have something of interest to say. Follow these rules, and you’ll be ahead of 99% of the competition.
Read More: The Misery of Modern Day Conversation