Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Conversational contrast

by : 
AnnieL

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!

Discussion

How do you break the ice in a conversation?

Comments

gianggiang's picture
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gianggiang 13 November, 2015 - 03:08

Haha, " Have you eaten yet ?" It's very similar to Vietnam. ( Vietnamese culture and Chinese culture are resemble ! ), we often ask " Have you had dinner yet ?' and " Where are you going ?"
Well, starting a conversation with weather topic, it 's not common in Vietnam because the weather is not very special ( always hot and cold), sometimes when the weather changes rapidly, we also mention to it but most of questions and answers used to complain.
In my country,when you have close friends, they often greet and begin talking to you by giving you some complaints ( yes, complaints not compliments) with amiable smiles. :)

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tdclover's picture
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tdclover 23 June, 2016 - 15:05

Hi gianggiang,
I was going to post a comment 'bout how Vietnamese break the ice(I'm Vietnamese, too) then I saw yours. So great to see a countryman:))

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AnnieL's picture
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AnnieL 15 November, 2015 - 16:45

Hi gianggiang!

It's interesting that you mention that with close friends, you greet each other by talking about complaints in a friendly way. In my eyes, it's certainly an unusual way to start a conversation! 

Do people often compliment each other in Vietnamese culture too?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Annie

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gianggiang's picture
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gianggiang 17 November, 2015 - 10:44

Hi Anniel
We greet each other by talking about complaints such as : " This morning,before going to work, I met a women, this is not very lucky!" or " This morning, there was traffic jam on the way to work,"...
Certainly we also often compliment each other but it's not easy to realise the difference when everyone compliments because of politeness and when it's a real compliment. In my eyes, I would rather be complained than polite complement. I like uprightness.

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Ken's picture
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Ken 12 November, 2015 - 03:47

Haha! Have you eaten yet??
I myself lke to break the ice with a weather topic, because it's less likely to intrude someon's 'my business'. But all depends on the relationship between the speakers, I think.
It's comleyely okay if my girlfriend asked me like that all of a sudden, though.
(・ω<)☆

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AnnieL's picture
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AnnieL 12 November, 2015 - 13:56

Hi Ken,
I think you make a very good point. The way you break the ice to start a conversation would definitely depend on how well you know the person and how familiar you are with them. Can you think of any more ways to break the ice in a conversation?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Annie

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Ken 13 November, 2015 - 04:06

Hi Annie, thanks for the comment, i sometimes hear girls complimenting each other, like 'Wow, a nice shirt, bag, shoes....etc.' Oh, is it? Your bag is nice, too!.....' I think these kind of topic works well among girls! Or you vould ask something unimportant things, like excuse me where's the toilet? To break the ice, you don't have to wear an armour...!

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AnnieL's picture
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AnnieL 15 November, 2015 - 16:49

Some really good observations there, Ken! What kinds of topics do you think work best to break the ice with boys then?

Annie

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Ken 15 November, 2015 - 21:20

My classmates often throw rough words like 'Hey, what the hell are you doing??', 'Hey, stop spacing out now!!'… Literally, these words may sound a bit harsh for girls but we know the intention behind the words of the situation, which is showing intimacy trying to get buddy-buddy with someone other than themselves!
Yeah, it seems that there's a conversational contrast between boys and girls, doesn't it?? But as we grow up, we often hear both men and women break the ice by the very impersonal conversation while gauging what the person is like! That may be one of the social skills we'll have to acquire…
⊂( ・∀・) 彡

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DaljinderJ's picture
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DaljinderJ 11 November, 2015 - 17:07

Oh that is really interesting! I hadn't thought of that before as it's so ingrained to talk about the weather in English small talk. In fact I have found myself doing it on occasion here in France but I haven't quite found the French equivalent apart from an automatic 'how are you?' after saying hello.

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AnnieL's picture
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AnnieL 12 November, 2015 - 14:02

Well I hope my blog has given you some food for thought and hopefully you'll start picking up on it, if there is a French equivalent of course :)

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junzi0phan's picture
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junzi0phan 11 November, 2015 - 12:26

I'm from vietnam.
'' where are you you going '' is a typical question and form of small talk commonly heard in daily life in my country :)

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AnnieL's picture
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AnnieL 12 November, 2015 - 13:53

Hi junzi0phan!
That's so interestingl It's quite different to the type of small talk I'm used to because asking about where someone is going might seem too personal. Is talking about the weather as a conversation starter also common in Vietnam?
It's great to hear about the differences in conversations around the world so thanks so much for sharing!
Annie

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