Cross-Cultural Conversation
February 16, 2005 2:07 PM   Subscribe

What are some good conversations starters for a first date with someone from a completely different culture (and therefore not likely to have many common reference points re: pop culture, entertainments, sports, the usual chit chat stuff.)?
posted by Kololo to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
the art/film/etc. of yet a third culture which is unlike either of yours?
posted by dorian at 2:15 PM on February 16, 2005

Get them to talk about themselves. Most people love to talk about themselves and you can use what you find out from them to spark other topics of conversations. You'll often find that many a person has some passion/hobby that they indulge in and will talk nonstop about it if asked.

Of course, that could be a painful proposition if you decide at that point that you don't want a second date. In that case I suggest feigning death by spontaneous spleen implosion and/or just jumping out of your chair and running far, far away. :)
posted by crankydoodle at 2:19 PM on February 16, 2005

Talk about their brothers/sisters. Ask about their goals. Inquire what they like and do not like about the food you're eating, the movie you're watching, etc. Basically, keep with those norms that are akin to all human beings. Don't get too much into the differences, at the end of the day you're probably a lot like them.
posted by sled at 2:20 PM on February 16, 2005

Expressing genuine interest in someone's background, culture, attitudes and opinions is a surefire conversation starter regardless of where they are from. Google or wikipedia around, learn a few interesting nuggets about their culture, and ask about it.

But note the word "genuine". If you can fake that, you've got it made.
posted by mono blanco at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2005

A good way to start a conversation may be to actually do something on your date that familiarizes you with their culture or vice versa.

For example, go out to dinner at a restaurant that has food from your date's culture or ethnicity. You could probably spend the majority of time talking about the cuisine and all the customs associated with eating (i.e., special holidays, etc.). After dinner, perhaps you can attend an event or performance that reflects something from your culture. Immerse yourselves in situations that make you comfortable and the conversations will follow.
posted by quadog at 2:22 PM on February 16, 2005

For example, go out to dinner at a restaurant that has food from your date's culture or ethnicity.

But usually the quality of this restaurant will disappoint the date when compared to the "real thing," so I'm not sure I recommend this.
posted by grouse at 2:44 PM on February 16, 2005

Ask him or her their thoughts on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. That seems to be a topic that transcends cultures and gets many people up in their seats. But take the middle road if their views end up differing from yours otherwise it could be a short date. I have never agreed with the advice to avoid religion and politics in discussion.
posted by terrier319 at 2:54 PM on February 16, 2005

I've always been a fan of the "I was reading a great article about X today and found this theory really interesting..." (Metafilter handily provides much fodder for this sort of thing). Gets you talking about something presumably new to you both.

Actually, thinking about it, that's kind of like a Metafilter FPP in general. "Here's some info that I found that find interesting. Let's discuss!"

I don't know where your date's from, but I find most Europeans tend to respond well to this sort of issues-focused discussion.
posted by occhiblu at 3:15 PM on February 16, 2005

I always think travel is a really good topic for these kind of situations. It's not an especially personal topic and people are usually very willing to talk about it, but it can uncover some great stories.
posted by milkrate at 3:21 PM on February 16, 2005

I dated a girl from France once and I had to break it off because she didn't know who the Muppets were. It was the last straw in a doomed relationship that had no common ground at all.

Point? There has to be some commonality between the two of you, and I would work to find these. As occiblu says, current events are good, but if that doesn't work, ask questions about your date's culture, experiences transitioning to this culture etc.
posted by Quartermass at 3:31 PM on February 16, 2005

Just to clarify: I wasn't talking only about current events. Scientific articles, essays on various issues, book reviews, whatever. I find those work better than just the news of the day.
posted by occhiblu at 3:35 PM on February 16, 2005


"So what's it like in [where you're from]"
posted by delmoi at 4:30 PM on February 16, 2005

What things have you seen in my culture make you laugh.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:32 PM on February 16, 2005

Also, if they are a guy, just talk about sex. That will get their attention.
posted by delmoi at 4:32 PM on February 16, 2005

If you're talking about someone about your age from another part of the world, the possibilities are endless. A good starter is "so what surprises you most about my culture?" or "what would surprise me most about your culture?"

If you're talking about someone 50 years older/younger than you who lives right around the block, geographically, then I don't think it's quite so easy. Ask elders about the past. Ask youngsters about the future. Or cartoons.
posted by scarabic at 4:46 PM on February 16, 2005

"What do you do?" Although this is often a thinly veiled way of asking "how much do you make?" it can be a great conversation starter. In America it is common to define oneself by one's employment or career choice, so the person's answer may reveal much about them and their character. Some folks will say "I am an 'X'" while others may say " I do research" or something equally interesting. Is that better?
posted by fixedgear at 4:50 PM on February 16, 2005

posted by Neiltupper at 5:09 PM on February 16, 2005

Ask him or her their thoughts on the Bush administration and the war in Iraq.

FWIW, I think this is a terrible idea. Politics =/= romance.

Talk about your family, tell your life story, travel is a great topic (as said above). And on preview food is a GREAT idea.
posted by josh at 5:09 PM on February 16, 2005

What do you like best/worst about America? Why?
What stereotypes do Americans have about your culture that drive you crazy?
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:15 PM on February 16, 2005

I don't see why a Canadian living in Uganda has to talk to someone from a different culture about America, so I say just take it from the top down. Start with the weather.
posted by mr.marx at 5:25 PM on February 16, 2005

I assumed the OP was an American and in America. Thanks to mr.marx, I realize now that could be completely wrong. So, replace America with Whatever Country your in. And Americans with WhateverCountrians.
posted by nooneyouknow at 5:46 PM on February 16, 2005

Given the choice between the two superpowers of flight or invisibility, which would you choose?

Credit where credit is due: Ira Glass & TAL
posted by The White Hat at 7:25 PM on February 16, 2005

Response by poster: lots of great ideas here!

(Noooneyouknow, I actually am a Canadian living in Uganda - that wasn't a random example by Mr Marx, he read my profile!)
posted by Kololo at 9:55 PM on February 16, 2005

Earlier in this thread gramcracker recommended talking about animal sounds, but the comment was deleted. This is actually a great idea, though. (in Indonesian, for example the sound the dog makes is "gonggong" while in Icelandic it's "voff".) I've had some pretty funny conversations discussing this with people from other countries.
posted by taz at 12:22 AM on February 17, 2005

Kololo, I will assume that you are from North America and probably American. Speaking as someone "from another culture" it really irks me when Americans assume that I might not know who the muppets are, for example. ;) Or when Americans want to know the difference between their culture and mine, which isn't something that can be easily explained without resorting to the usual stereotypes about cultures so common in the world and that topic can get extremly tedious so avoid that one.
I'd say, stick to what everyone knows, what did your date do as an after school activity when they were young? Sports? Music? Debate club? Drama classes? Dance? Do they have siblings? Do they like music, poetry, movies, arts and if so which artists, writers etc. Does the date like animals? Have any? Ride any? What kind of animals?
By outlining so clearly that they are from a completely different culture here, but not telling us which one, it really makes it sound like you are going to date someone from planet Claire.
Despite all our differences we are all alike, concentrate on that.

ps - language wise I find it really amusing to ask people who speak other languages what their curses are based on. For example, Swedish curses are based on the devil and hell, while Spanish curses revolve a lot around shit in the wrong places, like "I shit in your milk". This can be hilarious conversation with the right person.
posted by dabitch at 2:56 AM on February 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Another funny linguist topic is "how do you say "ouch" and make that noise for a sneeze in your language?".
posted by dabitch at 3:17 AM on February 17, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: dabitch, I liked your funny suggestions! But I must say that I have a bit of an issue with the first part of your post.

First of all, it states clearly in my profile that I am in fact Canadian, not American, and that i live in Uganda. (It was also mentioned just a couple answers above yours.) I see you are from Copenhagen and so would be understandably irratated to be bombarded with assumptions that Europeans are from Mars. Now, I'm going to guess that you haven't been to Africa, because it is entirely a different culture, and not just a different country with a different language. Not many commonalities exist. Do you seriously believe that Ugandans schools have music lessons? debate club? Or that movie theatres were an available form of entertainment pre 1999 (they weren't)? Or that Ugandans own animals for anything other than labour or food (they don't)?

I know you were just trying to prevent me from using faulty stereotypes, but really aren't you simply just projecting your own experience on to mine (or my date's)? And isn't that the same thing?

That being said, should things get to date 2, 3, or 4, and I've gauged the acceptability of open discussion of curse words, I will definitely pull your suggestion our of my back pocket!
posted by Kololo at 4:45 AM on February 17, 2005

regarding dabitch's suggestion of disccussing how to say the noise for a sneeze, any onomatopoeia-centric discussion is sure to lighten the mood for you and your date.
posted by ThePants at 12:34 PM on February 17, 2005

Apologies Kololo, I had completly missed that you explained the Canada/Uganda part earlier in the thread. I don't assume to much from peoples profiles, as it states "Location" and my reply is Copenhagen right now (It used to read Amsterdam). While I am born to Swedish parents and carry a Swedish passport. My parents left Ghana before I was born though, so you're guessing somewhat correctly in that I haven't been to the heart of Africa. I have been to Northern Africa, but that was quite a while ago, and the culture of Marocco, Tunisa and Egypt is not quite like Uganda. :)

The "ouch" thing is still funny though. ;)
posted by dabitch at 12:43 PM on February 17, 2005

Bah, much too fast on hitting post there. I don't wouldn't assume to too much as it states "Location" in mine.... Anyway, you get the jist even though that was messy, I hope.
posted by dabitch at 12:46 PM on February 17, 2005

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