Since moving to China to teach English two months ago, one noticeable difference I’ve found is how people break the ice in conversations. “Isn’t the weather nice today?” is a typical question and form of small talk commonly heard in daily life in the UK. More often than not, this question is said with a sarcastic tone as it is rare to get good weather in Britain. In any case, British people have a well-known reputation for being obsessed with talking about the weather. Whether there has been a recent heatwave, weeks of heavy rain or the prospect of snow in the winter, talking about the weather forecast is a truly British trait. As the winter quickly approaches and it gets colder in China, I have often found myself continuing my habit of commenting on the weather in day-to-day conversations with my new friends and students. But, it occurs to me that perhaps this is a strange topic to talk about so often in daily conversation.
In contrast, something that I am yet to get used to is how people here in China have a tendency to begin conversations by asking questions like, “Have you eaten yet?”. Some might misconstrue this type of question as an invitation to go for lunch but actually, this is more of a greeting used to express fond concern for the person you’re talking to. It’s also a question which encapsulates the importance of food in Chinese culture in terms of hospitality, health and manners. Although it’s a question I’m still not used to being asked all the time, I think it’s a really pleasant way to start conversations because it shows you care about the person you’re talking to.
Although these two ways to start conversations may be different, the one thing they have in common is that they involve topics that affect everybody on a daily basis. Everyone can relate to things like the weather or food at different mealtimes. One of the best ways to break the ice in a conversation with someone new is to talk about things you and another person might have in common. I’m not sure I’ll be able to break the habit of talking about the weather, but I think I could definitely get used to talking more about food, especially as it’s particularly delicious in China!