Archive for October 24th, 2010

October 24, 2010

Casual Conversation

Americans, especially Californians  can be very casual people as many Europeans – showing up in suit and tie to a meeting in Silicon Valley and met a CEO in jeans and shirts – can attest to.  There is also plenty of casual conversation in business settings, e.g. before the meeting, during a business lunch/dinner, etc.  There are, however, unwritten rules to keep in mind for such conversations.  Importantly, certain topics are completely off-limits and others are touchy and should be avoided.  Others are perfectly safe and those are the ones you should stick with.

Business is more casual in California, © Daniel Sroga |

Topics that should be avoided under all circumstances are anything off-color (meaning with even the slightest sexual connotation) and religion.  The latter I mean in the broadest possible sense.  With so many different religious beliefs in this country you are likely to offend somebody by making a offhanded remark about God, the afterlife, reincarnation,  sin, redemption, religious ceremonies, even evolution.  Many social issues, e.g. abortion or  gay marriage, have religious undertones and it  is best to stay a mile away from those topics even if you can’t think of anything else to say.  It is better to be remembered as dull than offensive.

Politics is almost as touchy as religion, and you want to be very careful  especially with people you don’t know very well.  If you must bring up politics, be positive and high-level and refrain from harsh criticism.

“Many Europeans are very taken by your president” is a good thing to say whether you agree or not.

“Most Europeans think American right wing politicians are completely crazy” is not such a great thing to say, whether you agree or not.

Safe topics: probably the same as everywhere: the weather, family, the beauty of the place you are visiting “California is simply stunning.  What do you recommend in do on my day off in this area?”, sports, if you are so inclined, your hobbies, popular culture, recent trips you taken to wonderful places “Next time you are in Europe you should visit Lake Como.  There is a reason why George Clooney lives there.”

Finally, smile a lot, keep the conversation lighthearted, don’t force your points.