While small talk is a major component of most of the US culture culture training both for virtual teams in India and also for Indians preparing for expat assignments, it's still a bit of a shock to me to hear that people who have been living in the US have the same fears, and do not have opportunities to make small talk with Americans either, though they are living in the US.
But, I am reminded that this is not the first time I am hearing these stories. The first time I heard a similar story was by a foreign medical researcher working at a major American university hospital more than six years ago. At that time, I was so shocked as the stereotype in my mind was if someone was in the US, wouldn't they be able to interact with Americans? Well, yes and no! This simple question has a complex backdrop which differs greatly depending on the person integrating in the the US culture, how they do it, and how often they actually get to talk to everyday Americans.
Questions Indian and other foreign students in the US asked me are the same ones that Indians in India ask:
- How can I start a conversation with Americans?
- How do I refer to Americans I meet the first time?
- What topics should I avoid in small talk?
- What if I don't know the answer to a question (about football, for instance)?
- How do I get them to talk back to me?
- How can I end a conversation?
- How can I follow up with a networking conversation or an interview lead?
- How can I make a connection with professionals on LinkedIn (or Facebook)?
In the below video, I share some of my reflections from that day helping students at Binghamton University. Enjoy!
Jennifer Kumar advises professionals and students that want to learn more about American culture for personal and professional success. Contact us today about our special program on small talk, professional networking, diversity and inclusion on global teams.
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