Culture File: 9 Awesome Conversation Topics to use with your American colleagues

Starting conversations with American team members and colleagues isn’t easy. It’s one thing to talk about technical and work matters. That’s not difficult. Unfortunately, if you only stick to those kinds of topics, it’s harder to build the connections and rapport you need to feel close to your co-workers. On top of that, without a closer relationship, you might miss out on opportunities and even promotions. Plenty of international professionals find themselves skipping social events at work or avoiding lunch with their teammates just because it’s hard to know what to talk about. This is especially true if you’re not sure what topics are appropriate or interesting. Here are some ideas to help you dive into those conversations with less fear and uncertainty.

Travel

Almost everyone loves to travel. Whether it’s a recent trip or a dream destination or an unusual travel experience they had as a student, this topic can get people talking. And remember to add your own experience – if you haven’t traveled much, talk about new places you’ve been to in the US since you arrived.

Example Questions:

  • “Have you traveled anywhere interesting recently?”
  • “What’s been your favorite travel destination and why?”
  • “What’s the most interesting place you’ve been?”
  • “What was the highlight of that trip?”
  • “Do you have any travel plans for the upcoming holiday season?”

Recent Holidays and Upcoming Holidays

Discussing holidays is a very common way to get to know someone and share to share whatever different cultural traditions you might have. Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions or to add your own insights and experience.

Example Questions:

  • “How did you spend your last holiday?”
  • “Do you have any special plans for the upcoming holidays?”
  • “What’s your favorite holiday and why?”
  • “Are there any holidays you don’t like?”

Hobbies

Most Americans have one hobby or more that they engage in on a regular basis. Not only do hobbies give you insight into a person’s character, their likes and dislikes and even their values, but they’re a perfect way to find common ground. You never know what you’ll have in common with that co-worker and what might bring you closer together. Remember the foundation of good business and productivity is good rapport and even those common interests outside of work. So whether it’s sports, arts, or building model spaceships or whatever, talking about what you enjoy doing in your free time can help build connections.

Example Questions:

  • “What do you enjoy doing in your free time?”
  • “Do you have any hobbies you’re passionate about?”
  • “How did you get into your current hobbies?”

Food and Restaurants

Food is universal. Who doesn’t love food? If you’re not discussing your favorite dishes, recipes, or restaurant recommendations with your co-workers, you’re truly missing out on some quality bonding moments. And if you know how to cook or know of some cool restaurants, you can eventually invite them out and share a fun evening. In addition, your co-workers can recommend some places you might not have tried. And guess what? After you’ve tried them, there’s more there to talk about!

Example Questions:

  • “What’s your favorite type of cuisine?”
  • “Have you tried any new restaurants recently?”
  • “What are your favorite places here in the city?”
  • “Do you enjoy cooking? If so, what’s your signature dish?”

Pets

Pets are a huge source of happiness and enjoyment here in the US. People in this country often feel as close or closer to their pets than they do to their family members. They keep dozens of pictures and videos of their little dog or kitty cat on their phones. Asking an American about a treasured furry friend can open a gold mine of conversation and intimacy. Keep in mind that you don’t have to have a pet of your own to start a discussion about these little friends. Just bringing up the subject can bring you closer to building some helpful rapport and understanding with your colleagues.

Example Questions:

  • “Do you have any pets?”
  • “What’s your favorite thing about your pet?”
  • “Are you more of a dog person or a cat person?”

Seasonal Conversations

The US has a ton of seasonal celebrations and holidays and there’s no doubt that they provide a wealth of potential conversation topics. As you probably already know, each season brings its own suite of activities, memories, expectations, and events. After you’ve familiarized yourself with these holidays and seasons, feel free to bring them up in conversation. Also, share your own favorite times of year and cultural traditions with the group or team member. People in the US often enjoy learning about other cultures and ways of celebrating. Discussing seasonal holidays, weather, or activities can be a great way to connect, so don’t feel shy about asking.

Example Questions:

  • “What’s your favorite season and why?”
  • “Do you have any special traditions for this time of year?”
  • “How do you like to spend your weekends in the summer/winter?”

Regional Topics and Place of Origin

This might be one of the best topics on this list. It seems odd perhaps but Americans truly delight in speaking about where they’re from, where they were born, how this region, city, or town is different from another, and so on. Remember that the US is a huge country and there are vast differences from place to place – weather, food, accents, activities, landscape, you name it. Discussing places of origin can uncover fascinating stories and experiences; feel free to dig into this topic with your American partners.

Example Questions:

  • “Where are you originally from?”
  • “How is it different from here?”
  • “What’s something unique about your hometown?”

Local Culture and Activities

When trying to strike up a casual conversation with a co-worker, why not think local? Ask them about culture, neighborhoods, bars, parks, museums, and activities. It’s a topic they’ll know very well and like some of these others, it can reveal shared interests. There will be something you can relate to and will help you learn more about and understand your colleagues’ lifestyles.

Example Questions:

  • “What’s your neighborhood like?”
  • “Are there any local events or activities you enjoy?”
  • “What do you love most about living here?”

Sports

If there’s one topics that Americans are fanatical about and hold in high regard above all others, it’s probably sports. This being the case, it’s a good idea to get familiar with your local teams and sports heroes. These will be the topics of many conversations and it behooves you to become familiar with the details. Each team has its story, its ups and downs, rise and fall. You don’t need to be an expert but learning a little bit will help you participate in those frequent sports conversations around the office or at lunch.

Example Questions:

  • “Are you a fan of any sports teams?”
  • “Do you play any sports yourself?”
  • “What do you think about the (local team)?”
  • “What’s the most memorable sports event you’ve attended?”

Conclusion

Engaging in these topics can help break the ice and build stronger relationships with your American colleagues. Remember, the key is to show genuine interest in their responses and share a bit about yourself as well. Remember also to ask open-ended questions and try to be curious.

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