Today's blogpost is a special edition: Maybe some of you already noticed that together with Lisa, we are in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign for #letsdothisNY, a guide for everyone who wants to relocate to the US for business purposes. To give you a bit of an overview of what you can expect from the guide, here's an excerpt from one of our chapters focusing on "Where to Connect and Network".
Oh, the much-dreaded small talk. For some, it is worse than waterboarding - the fear of not knowing what to say, not answering correctly, or not being interesting or funny enough is definitely a real one. The good thing is, you can definitely prepare for any kind of small talk situation and this takes away a lot of nervousness.
US vs. Austrian small talk
In the US, small talk is more of an expertise than in Austria. It’s absolutely common to ask strangers what they do for a living or where they are from. If you’re outside of the US, chances are your counterpart will be very interested in hearing more about your life and/or listing the few facts he knows about your city/country. While this might surprise you, there are a lot of Americans who have rarely travelled outside their country and might not know a lot about where you come from. Don’t just chalk it up to ignorance or stupidity; keep in mind that the USA is not only a very large country with a population of over 310 mio. people and Austria is roughly the size of Maine (which is the 39th-biggest state out of 50), but also the fact that US citizens usually only get about 10 days of paid holiday which makes it even harder for them to travel to Europe and getting to know the countries. For example: if your conversational partner mentions he’s from Delaware you might not know that much about that place, either. Also, make sure you always ask the questions in return and never be afraid to ask them to go into more detail. As opposed to most Austrians, Americans are used to these kind of questions and can spend a lot of time (maybe sometimes even a little too much) talking about themselves.
Additionally - and this should be a given, but we’re stating the obvious here too - do not bring up any controversial topics such as weapons, politics or the fact that they managed to elect George W. Bush not only once, but TWICE unless you feel the event / surroundings / people you are talking to are okay with it. Again, this is a large country: There is no way to generalize the American people, but one thing can be said for sure: There are opinions on every end of the spectrum, and not everyone is shy about voicing them. Things that may seem very clear and straightforward to you (like the abolishment of the death penalty) are not as logical to others, and it somewhat of an unspoken rule to not discuss things that could lead to serious discussions with strangers. You’ll exchange pleasantries, ask about their wife and children, find out more about their chihuahua than you ever wanted - but you will not find out whether they are pro-life or against the war in Iraq.
You’ll see soon that the more you actually do it the more you get the hang of it and you’ll be feeling less and less uncomfortable every time. Most New Yorkers are easy to talk to and overall both friendly and helpful.
If you want to find out more practical advice including a few tried and trusted specific conversation starters, get our guide here. Please also don't hesitate to forward it to anyone else who could benefit from #letsdothisNY!