What do you do? Where are you from? How long have you been living here? Hey, wait, where are you going?
March 24, 2010 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Women of AskMe : A guy starts a conversation with you in a bar or social gathering. Assume for the moment that you are available and find him physically attractive. What kinds of things would you like him to talk to you about or ask you about? NOTE : I am NOT looking for pickup lines.

I mean, yeah, there's the standard "what do you do, where are you from" kind of questions, which seem to bore women to tears.

There's all the stuff in the "pickup artist" books, but I think all that shit is cheesy and can't actually see myself saying any of that.

I'm not looking for pickup lines or "openers" here. I'm looking for things to actually converse about.

I'm an intelligent person, capable of having intelligent - and sometimes even enjoyable! - conversations. But sometimes I'm at a loss for what to talk about with a woman who I just met in a bar/gathering, and I wind up falling back on "what do you do, where are you from" stuff, which seems like a quick ticket to nowheresville. "I have to go talk to my friends now," and that kind of thing.

Any specific ideas or subjects that you suggest will be helpful. However, I'm also looking to get a larger sense of what kinds of things lead to good conversations with attractive strangers.
posted by coelacanth! to Human Relations (33 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
What are you reading? I love to talk about my latest favorite or hated books, and you can branch off from books into all kinds of topics.
posted by headspace at 11:25 AM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Married chick, but I always preferred when a person could think on their feet while chatting with me. Don't go in with static ideas, try picking up on something interesting in the environment. It shows you can think.
posted by kellyblah at 11:26 AM on March 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

Food. Did you try the X? I love this place but I wish they made better fries; ABC down the street has great fries but they don't have draught, blah blah blah.
posted by kmennie at 11:26 AM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

The same kinds of things that lead to good conversation with unattractive strangers? Seriously, what do you talk about when you approach a stranger for reasons other than wanting to pick her up?

(If you don't ever approach strangers except to pick them up, that might be your problem. In fact, if you don't ever approach strangers except to pick them up, I'm going to say that you may not be the sort of person who is constitutionally suited to picking up strangers in this way.)
posted by decathecting at 11:26 AM on March 24, 2010 [16 favorites]

You ask the boring question, then - and this is the important part - you listen to the answers. Then you ask more questions based on the answers. You need to engage with the answers, they may be boring in themselves but they can be a jumping off point to something more interesting. Avoid bringing the conversation straight back to you. This works with people in lots of different situations.
posted by biffa at 11:30 AM on March 24, 2010 [25 favorites]

biffa is right, but I'm the kind of person who needs some go-to small talk, so, depending on the kind of woman you're looking to meet, you could try things like:

"What's the best book you've read in the past year?" (Or, in a different direction, "Did you see many of the Oscar nominees? Did you think there was a notable standout?")

After finding out her job and how long she's been doing it, "What's the biggest change you've seen in Industry X since you began working there?" (This one is SUCH conversational gold, I've discovered, especially with people who've been working for a while. I'm married, but I use it a lot at cocktail parties and political events and things where I'm talking to people I don't know very well.) A variation is, "What one thing would you change about your job/industry to make it better?"

I prefer talking to people who really listen to me, and listening to people who have a genuine passion for something ... but who can express that in not-totally-boring ways. When your enthusiasm for underwater basket weaving gives me a 20-minute lecture on the development of the competitive sport of underwater basket weaving in South America, booorrrrrring. But when you give me a couple of minutes of "OMG, it's so fun, I really like to work with my hands, and I love having a finished product ...." where I can ask some questions (instead of being lectured) and where after a few minutes unless I seem obsessively fascinated you move the conversation on to something else ("But everyone has a weird hobby -- what's yours?"). That leaves me thinking you are interesting but not self-obsessed or oblivious to others.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:40 AM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Another idea-- maybe try going about this in a different way. Some people go to a bar/party primarily to pick people up, but a lot of people are there to hang out with their friends, and meet some other people too.

Maybe try having shorter conversations at a time when that's natural-- say, a conversation while the two of you are waiting for drinks that only lasts the length of that wait. And then, just having conversations with people as a group. So that the whole thing is more social instead of just isolating one person to the side. And then if side conversations do form, it'll be a lot more natural. They'll form because you both are genuinely interested in the topic.
posted by Ashley801 at 11:42 AM on March 24, 2010

"What do you do, where are you from" are only boring questions when the answers are boring. For those of us that have awesome jobs we love to talk about, it's the preferred opener. :)
posted by booknerd at 11:44 AM on March 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

If she finds you physically attractive...generally...you could hit on virtually any topic and it won't bore her to tears, heck, even corny things will be "cute". I guess what I'm saying is that you'd be better off in a pick-up or pick-up-like environment establishing that there's a physical attraction (easier said than done) than going up to a random hottie and hoping that you're skills as a conversationalist will woo her.
posted by teg4rvn at 11:51 AM on March 24, 2010

Seconding booknerd. It's not a boring question; I like to talk about myself, as do many women and men.
posted by Melismata at 11:52 AM on March 24, 2010

What kellyblah said.
posted by birdherder at 12:01 PM on March 24, 2010

As others have said, questions about me only get boring if you don't seem interested in the answers.

I would also like to add that as a person that like to try on different thing and who are studying a heavily male dominated subject I get bored to tears by all comments along the line of: "Wow, you did that despite being a woman", or "What do you, as a woman, think of this subject that has noting to do with being a woman". But that might just be my personal preference.
posted by furisto at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Um, coelecanths. Coelecanths are awesome. I would totally fall for a guy who came up to me and just started talking about coelecanths.

Married, easier on the eyes than a sharp stick.
posted by stinker at 12:18 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Disclaimer- Not into bars.

Generally speaking, reading/radio/internet would be a good starting point for intelligent conversations. Music (live or otherwise) as well as stand-up comedy (other artsy performances?) would also be good starters. Needless to say, you would have to tailor these to your current situation. The advantage is that if you are really into things related to all these starters, you can gauge whether the person you are conversing with would be interesting/compatible or not.
posted by xm at 12:27 PM on March 24, 2010

*all or any of these starters
posted by xm at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2010

I always liked talking about some of the more fluffy stuff from current events. Maybe throw in a comedy question.

"My friend told me that it's in the thirties down in Dallas this week. Did everybody leave their fridge doors open at once down there?"

Perhaps my attempt at humor sucked hard, but it gets the point across. You basically want to break the ice a little, and talk about something that can start the conversation response cycle. Eventually, one of you will bring in a topic that you can both have multiple things to add to.

It's an inexact art, at best.
posted by Citrus at 12:28 PM on March 24, 2010

I find the best conversations between strangers are usually context-specific, "we were quick on our feet and there was a flow of witty banter" stuff. So what kellyblah said. Plus, I don't see how you can't get a satisfactory universal answer here--the whole point of something being interesting to someone is it's tailored to them and the moment, not one-size-fits-all. Frankly if someone came up to me with some super general, calculated, feels-like-out-of-a-"20-questions-to-ask-your-partner"-book query, even something otherwise interesting like "what's the best book you've read this year" out of nowhere it'd seem stupid and vaguely silly to me. You have to let the terms and rhythm of the circumstances guide you.
posted by ifjuly at 12:42 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'll second fluffy current events, but not so fluffy that it's something that would ever appear on, like Perez Hilton. Maybe even some slightly non-fluffy current events, like just enough to find out if you'd be remotely compatible with the lady and the lady with you? Or not, if you wouldn't necessarily be seeking, uh, compatibility.

I am a big nerd (but ymmv as not all women are big nerds) so if a guy said something like "Hey, do you ever listen to/watch the This American Life/Radiolab/PBS/Discovery show? Did you happen to catch the last episode?" I'm hooked.
posted by hegemone at 12:45 PM on March 24, 2010

My best success at meeting woman and progressing to a relationship has been when I listened to their answers to my initial boring question and took a cue and followed up asking for more details. For the woman who became my wife, she was testing my listening and throwing in some bs about a subject it turns out I knew about but should not have and I called her on it.

I also have given them an out. After a few minutes I would say something like, "I see you came here with some friends. I don't want to keep you. Maybe we could finish this conversation another night without interruption?"

Sometimes they say they want to stay and continue talking, sometimes they say that is a great idea and give me their number and sometimes they say great idea and walk away without giving me contact info. It does sort of force finding out about their first impression.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:48 PM on March 24, 2010

IANA "woman of MeFi," but I am a former maker of women's shoes, and so "Nice shoes." has often been a good opening for me. Aw, sure, it's old school double entendre, too, but if you're able to go on, at some length, about insoles, top grain leather splits, and the value of the Brannock Device in finding a good standard of fit in factory made footwear, it's a decent jumping off point, which ever direction a response goes...

Interest creates interesting conversation. Conversation for conversation's sake is just small talk.
posted by paulsc at 12:59 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Practice talking with people you're not interested in. Chat to that guy next to you and see if you can keep up a conversation. Listen to what he says, ask questions based on that (has he lived there for a while? Then what are the best places that took him years to find? Not lived there long? Then why did he come?). Each answer gives you more to talk about, and if you can share an anecdote that he would relate to, then you're doing well.

The benefit of trying this with someone you're not interested in is that there's no pressue on you to 'perform'. It's just a conversation, it doesn't matter a jot if it's a hilarious half hour or an awkward minute. And once you're comfortable talking with strangers you're not interested in, then it won't be such a jump to do it with people you are interested in.

There's no single topic that women, as a whole, want to talk about (except, perhaps, 'themselves', which applies to everyone, male and female). It's approaching it backwards to think there's a 'right' topic to talk about. Just talk - you could end up discusing childhood teachers, or how cavemen invented spears, or if cherries taste better than cherry flavour sweets. Whatever. Don't think you need a particular topic, just get used to talking with people.
posted by twirlypen at 1:07 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I am no longer on the market, but the biggest tip I can give you is not topics, but this: in my experience, most - okay, a LOT - of guys who are trying to engage in conversation with women fall back on talking about themselves within 90 seconds. Nothing is more of a turnoff than a guy who asks me a question, gets my answer, and then, instead of asking me more questions, turns it into a way to talk about himself.

Sometimes it's honestly nervousness, other times the guy is just a douche. If it seems like genuine nervousness, and I like the guy, I'll try to gently get in a word and see what his reaction is. If he does the exact same thing - douche, and I suddenly have friends at the bar I need to go talk to.
posted by micawber at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

micawber's answer goes for me also. Do NOT talk about yourself.
Pal, I don't know you from Adam but I guarantee you that the least interesting, most mundane detail of my day is, in fact, worlds more interesting than you are at this moment (in the imaginary bar.)
In conversation, do not try to top me, do not correct me, do not use so much as a microscopic hint of sarcasm. Listen to my answers and learn, if you can, how an intelligent person thinks and speaks.
Full disclosure: I'm no longer on the meat market, but the first time Mr. Boston Terrier disagreed with me (on an early date!) the sonic boom of my wrath was heard 'round the world.
There's plenty of time later in the relationship (if that's where you're heading) to tell me I'm full o' shit, as Mr. B.T. fondly does on an hourly basis.
posted by BostonTerrier at 1:31 PM on March 24, 2010

Current events and such can fall really flat if the person isn't into it. If someone wanted to talk to me about the Oscars, I'd politely tell them that I'm pretty much a movie snob and barely saw any of those movies. Of course the next question is "oh, what movies have you seen lately?" And then we've got conversation! Maybe. Unless the niceguy doesn't have any familiarity with emotionally torturous foreign films, in which case he's in the same boat I was in with his opener.

So, I find that establishing some kind of common ground from your immediate surroundings, even a tiny thing, is a good groundwork before the conversation-starting. An shared eye-roll at a particularly loud bar patron, a comment on a commercial or amusingly mistyped closed-caption on the TV, smalltalk about the relative crowdedness or emptiness of the bar, whatever.

Then, if your subject of smalltalk falters, you've got something to which to refer.
posted by desuetude at 1:42 PM on March 24, 2010

seconding the DO NOT talk about yourself. make it about them, no matter how boring. my personal favorite, which goes beyond the "what do you do" is "what would you like to do when you grow up?" granted this depends on age, but most people have a job which is not the career they had envisioned for themselves (or what they have student loan debt for) and that usually begins a whole bucket of conversation to REALLY talk about. i am never one for small talk, so talking about life, and having someone who would get me to open up in the beginning, is always a good thing (at least for me).
posted by penguingrl at 1:42 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is more of the anti-line, but I really don't like when the guy I'm talking to starts negging. And not even in The Game kind of way, just in a conversational way. Example:

Me: ... but I didn't wash the dishes and watched the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice instead.

Bad response: God, that sounds terrible. All those characters just talking and not doing anything! Yawn!

Good response: You know, I have never been able to finish the book but I know it's almost universally beloved by everyone who reads it. What do you like so much about it? Do you have any literary classics that you feel guilty about not reading?

It just feels like such conversational arsenic to disparage the other's taste in music or movies or anything. Even if the other person didn't like whatever I did (like, bowling), I would much rather discuss it in a positive way than get summarily shut down. What does she like about bowling that you don't like? How did she get into it? What would she buy if she won the lottery? What's the ideal bowling team size? What do most people assume incorrectly about bowling? What's the most unfair rule in bowling? What rule would she like to see enforced? Does she have a lucky pair of shoes? Ad infinitum.

These are all kind of dumb example questions, but the answers are probably very interesting. I think that's the key to looking interested, is to actually be interested.

Also: do NOT, EVER EVER EVER start looking around the room like you want to find someone better to talk to. I know that's not your question but it is the number one thing that makes me say "pass!" when talking to someone. God, it's so disrespectful. But I'm sure that someone could do it innocently.
posted by amicamentis at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think Eyebrows McGee has it right on, in that it's not what you talk about, it's how you talk about it. Anything that you ask is going to get an answer, and it's up to you what you do with that answer.

The trick is finding non-obvious directions to take your questions. If you ask "so, where are you from?" and the person says "I moved out here from Chicago last year, and I really like it, we just bought a house about a mile fom here.", you can talk about moving, real estate, weather, that one time you visited your aunt in Oak Park (so far, all pretty blah), the presence/absence of good Mexican/Persian food (getting better), whether the average midwesterner thinks that the East coast is unfriendly (oh, and other regional stereotypes, this is getting interesting), etc. - and it's entirely up to you to think fast enough to come up with where you want to take the conversation. "Yeah, so how do you like the winters here?" is pretty boring, but "Chicago is pretty serious for snow, yeah? If you tell a New Englander that the weather here is an improvement, they get all dejected - they're really proud of their bad weather around here, have you noticed?" is much better. From any point, there are branches - an interesting conversation takes the road less travelled. The conversation isn't defined by the first question you ask, but more by your second or third question, and if things are going well, will end up someplace entirely unpredictable, which is good.

This is already a bit long, but sorry, I can't shut up yet. To me, some of the suggestions of more open-ended topics ("so what do you think of ___? what's your favorite ___?") from a stranger, can be a bit daunting. Like a pop quiz. If you ask "What's the best book you've read this month?" I'm more likely to say "gosh, look at the time..." than "I'm going back and reading some of the classics with an eye to race imagery" or "The only book I've had a chance to read lately is a stupic chic-lit thing I got at the airport". Because seriously, if I don't know you, that's not the conversation I want to have right now. Yes, it's just a book -or maybe, it's not "just a book", there's no way for you to know. In some sense, wide-open questions like that aren't offering a topic of conversation, but demanding one. "I don't know what to talk about so why don't you tell me your favorite book and then I can decide if that's anything I'm interested in or maybe I'll just go away, or maybe I'll tell you it sucks first." If we start talking about airports, bad book illustrations, or whether book groups are a just a cover for people who are addicted to freshman English, maybe those other statements will come up, but I'm not going to volunteer anything out of the blue.
posted by aimedwander at 2:13 PM on March 24, 2010 [12 favorites]

Ask open-ended questions and questions about her life: what she does, where she's from, etc., and LISTEN to what she says, the conversation can roll from there.
posted by Neekee at 3:06 PM on March 24, 2010

Oh, what aimedwander said, a thousand times. If someone asks me a wide-open question ("what's the best book in the world?"; "what's your greatest regret?"; "if you were an animal, what would you be?") I immediately go on the defensive because I, in my daily life, don't spend hours categorising myself into little boxes like that. I never have an answer and the only good conversation you're going to get out of me is a series of disjointed 'errrrr's. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Good conversational gambits; 'accidentally' falling into conversation ("oh whoops sorry is that your drink hey what is that oh I like cocktails too, don't you think there's been a resurgence in popularity recently?"); talking about something the person is or isn't wearing ("wow, you're the only person here without a pashmina, are you ahead of behind the fashion curve?"); basically asking SMALL questions that can open out into bigger things ("Oh normally I do have a pashmina on, I bought it when I went travelling, but someone stole it last week and I'm still looking for a replacement").
posted by citands at 3:33 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I like it when people pick up the conversational balls I'm throwing at them, also if they laugh at my jokes. So there's that.

I love (and other people seem to love) giving advice, so if you can think of a thing you need advice about, that is a good idea. Nothing gross like removing lice, something like what is the best gin, or where you should go to get a gift card for your niece.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:53 PM on March 24, 2010

Male.. but also have to definitely agree with Kellyblah,... the best conversations are the ones that develop naturally,.. and include unexpected witty banter (the people involved are intelligently parlaying random information or bringing things in/out of context to make the conversation richer). Conversations where you learn something or gain insight about something (or some angle) you've never thought of. Conversations where the people involved are making effort to keep things respectfully balanced,etc. You can't really fake conversations like that,..they either evolve (from the right combination of people and environment and/or possibly alcohol) ... or they dont.

While I agree with what some others have said about minimizing the amount of time you talk about yourself,.. I don't necessarily think talking about your self is "wrong" per se,.. as long as you don't capitalize the conversation or come off like an egotist/narcissist. (meaning = there are plenty of ways to tell entertaining stories about yourself without coming off looking like a douche). BostonTerrier's comment strikes me as very odd... establishing ground rules like "Your stories are boring, don't ever try to top me or disagree with me".. is counterproductive to the dynamic of a balanced/mutually-respectful conversation. (IE= some of the best relationships I've ever had started from disagreeing with a stranger. There are ways to disagree with people and have it still be respectful, fun and engaging/productive.)
posted by jmnugent at 4:52 PM on March 24, 2010

Just remembered something:... one of the tools I keep in my conversation-bag is this: "Teach me something." (and then leave it wide open,..meaning I don't care what you teach me, be it card trick, something about airplanes or a martial arts move)

The trick here is being observant enough to know when the right time is to ask. Obviously you can't just walk up to a complete stranger and say "teach me something" (well,. there are rare situations where this would totally work)... but at some point the conversation should wander into territory where this question is appropriate. I like this question because if its properly used, you can really see someones personality brighten when they realize you are paying attention (and you've discovered/are-interested in something they are passionate about). Also having someone try to teach you something will tell you LOADS about the type of person they are (are they patient?, can they describe complex subjects and relate them to common ideas?..how well do they communicate?) ..etc
posted by jmnugent at 5:08 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Trips and places they've been is a topic I like to explore with people. It's a good segue into other interesting topics as well. Pick something to start off with that can tie into mention of a trip you'd enjoyed, and then ask that person whether they've been on any interesting trips or have fond memories of other places they've lived. It's fun to get them to describe the experience in detail.

"Ah, last time I enjoyed a glass of merlot this much was in a little cafe in Paris. I just had to experience that once, so nice to savor such a clichee. Ever done that? Something terribly clichee while on vacation?" Could be anything, really. Favorite foods, something in the decor, etc. A million variations on how to carry that out too.
posted by lizbunny at 3:56 PM on March 25, 2010

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