When going to a new place, it’s crucial to learn the ways of the people you’ll find there. And that’s true for a lot of reasons.
For your safety, entertainment, rapport with the locals, and ultimately for your purpose of visit.
In this post, we will be looking at a crucial aspect of your visit to the US: How to talk to people you come across.
As you know, American society is a multicultural one. There are people from all spheres of life here. Learning to talk to everyone might be a bit of a challenge. However, the good news is that learning to speak to an American is the same as learning to talk to others, as everyone lives and tells the American way here.
Introducing ESTA: The fastest travel authorization permits for entering the US
Are you traveling to the US? How are you entering the country? I’m guessing you applied for a US visa. That must have taken forever to process. Next time, apply for an ESTA instead. It takes 72 hours to process an ESTA USA, and the permit stays valid for two years, during which time you can visit and stay in the US for up to 90 days.
ESTA is not a part of the subject of discussion for today. I only felt compelled to share this wonderful secret with you. I know many US travellers have no idea of the existence of the ESTA.
So what’s the ESTA?
Known as Electronic System for Travel Authorization, ESTA is an automated system of permits that grants travellers entry into the US for up to 90 days.
A typical ESTA application costs less than $20, which is relatively cheap compared to regular US visa application fees. Also, once approved, you can use an ESTA USA authorization for any of the three purposes below:
The only downside with the ESTA USA is that not everyone can apply. Only citizens of countries on the US Visa Waiver Program can apply. Currently, there are 40 of these countries. You can follow this ESTA status check to see if your country is among them. Once you open the link, check the menu at the top pane of the site. You’ll find a list of options, including Home, Contact, ESTA IN TIMES OF COVID19, and VWP COUNTRIES. Click the VWP COUNTRIES to see the list of countries on the ESTA USA program. If you’re qualified to enter the US with ESTA USA, you’ll know.
How to strike up a conversation with an American
Oooof, that’s one heck of a distraction. I’m sure it was worth it. Now, someone knows about ESTA USA. I’m happy I finally got the chance to pass the knowledge on.
Now, back to the day’s subject: How to strike up conversations with Americans. How do you do that?
- Ask about their day. “So, how was your day today” is always a great conversation starter anywhere. And even more so in the US, where the people respond positively to the question.
Whether you bump into someone at the store, walk into a colleague at work, or board a bus with your neighbour from home, asking about their day is always a great way to get them to loosen up.
This question can be extended to other times of the day. Different variants include how your night was, how’s your day going, how your evening is going, how your day is like so far, etc.
In other parts of the world, asking someone how their day went may be met with a response like, ‘Fine. My day was fine.’ However, in the US, that’s not so. When you ask someone how their day was, they want to believe you’re genuinely interested in the details. So, they begin to spill. From the time they logged out from work to the little boy staring weirdly at them at the café, Americans will share every detail of their day with you. Please don’t blame them. That’s just who they are.
- Seek help or appear to need help
Americans love nothing more than a chance to help, especially when they realize you’re new. It appears they derive joy and satisfaction from assisting others.
When you get to a place in the country, and it appears like you don’t know how to strike up a conversation, walk up to someone and ask them something that shows you need their help. You could say, ‘Hey, sorry to bother you. Where can I find a decent restaurant around here?’ You could also ask someone about the direction to a place, the location of a spot, or help with something trivial (e.g., take a photo of you).
- Ask about their origin
The beautiful thing about the US is almost everyone isn’t what they seem. Just because someone looks like an American citizen doesn’t mean they’re genuinely a citizen. The United States is a multicultural space. And as such, there’s been a lot of blood mix over the years.
When in doubt about what to say to someone, ask about their background. Everybody knows the US is brimming with people from different cultures, so people don’t usually take offense to people asking about their background.
What part of the US are you from?” you can say, “So, where are you from?” “Are you descended from here [name of the city you are in]?”
Indeed, if a person is interested in talking to you, you can expect this simple question to open a floodgate of conversation.
You: So, harry, are you from here (As in, Santa Clara)?
Harry: Oh, no. My grandpa moved to the US from Ireland back in the ‘70s. That’s how my family came to be here.
- Take the role of the weatherman briefly
Snowy, windy, cloudy, and stormy conditions feel normal to Americans. It’s what they’ve grown up to know.
Talking about the strangeness of the weather can be a good conversation starter for you. However, as a foreigner, you may feel differently about it. And that’s ok.
You can ask simple questions like: “I felt freezing when having my bath this morning. Was it that cold on your end, too? “Is it right to snow this time of the year?” “It doesn’t snow where I’m from; how long does the snow season last here in the US?
- Ask to know about weekend plans
Americans almost always have weekend plans. Ask someone about their plans for Saturday or Sunday and watch how much they have to say to you.
“So, what’s there to do around here on Saturdays?” “Hey Violet, got any plans for the weekend?”
- Mode of transportation
You can strike up a convo with an American by talking about their means or mode of transport. “So, Brady, what did you come by to work/school? “Did you take Trax to work?” “I took Uber last week, really loved their service. Will you try them, too?
How you shouldn’t start a conversation with an American
- Don’t appear creepy
Being creepy is when you stare at people for long without talking to them. Don’t stare at people for long if you know you aren’t prepared to greet or speak to them. Don’t do that in the US.
- Don’t ask about items’ worth
Americans may find it offensive that someone is asking about their spending power. Don’t say, “how much do your shoe costs” unless you’re so close to the person.
- Talking in slangs
Forget the things you see in Hollywood. Americans frown at people talking to them in slang (unless you’re familiars).
“Yo, Whazzup my G?” That may not go down well with everyone.
- Using the wrong words
Familiarize yourself with words Americans consider offensive before getting there. For example, telling someone, ‘you look tired’ may be an insult. To them, that’s more or less like you’re saying they don’t look great or look terrible.
- Asking for a favor from someone you’ve just met
You can ask for tiny favors like directions (as we earlier pointed out), but asking for money from someone you’ve just met is a big No-No.
- Asking someone you’ve just met personal questions
When you meet someone for the first time, keep the rapport casual/formal, and don’t start asking, “so, where do you work?”