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How To Make Polite Small Talk

Updated on September 1, 2011
Anne Hathaway finds your observations on the canapes terribly droll.
Anne Hathaway finds your observations on the canapes terribly droll.

It is a matter of utmost importance to have a good command of the art of small talk. Small talk, whilst scorned by the socially inept as meaningless twaddle, performs several very important functions. It forms preliminary social bonds, it encourages relaxation and comfort in others and it makes one seem very congenial and friendly.

Those who are often given to deeper thoughts about the nature of the universe, the great political struggles that divide nations and the ever increasing price of milk may find small talk a challenge at first. To aid those thinkers, here are some suitably small conversational gambits that should work every time.

But first, a little general advice:

Aside from the weather, which can be lambasted at length, try to keep small talk generally positive and impersonal. The more you speak positively about inanimate objects, the more others will consider you to be an affable human being. Speaking negatively is a riskier proposition and is more likely to create an adversarial environment in which the Minister for Foreign Affairs inevitably challenges you to a duel at dawn, and that never ends well.

The Weather

The weather is always an appropriate conversational topic. Yes, this is a cliche, but most cliches, as my father used to say, are cliches for a reason. He was a very wise man, fond of tweed. But enough about him for the moment. Conversing on the weather is a safe conversational topic because it is almost impossible to have someone accidentally take offense when mentioning the uncommon clemency of the weather. Unless of course, one happens to mention 'global' and 'warming' in the same sentence, in which case one might very well find oneself unintentionally wading into a conversational minefield.

The Food

Complimenting the food is another easy way to make conversation with those around you. If your host has gone to the trouble of presenting the food in a notable way, thank them silently, but profusely in your mind. Scallops might not strictly need to be served on gilt lettuce leaves stuffed inside blown glass funnels, but a party where the hors d'oeuvres are are served that way will never run out of conversation.

The Host or Hostess

If you are placed in the confounded position of making conversation with a set of total strangers, the only person at a party known to you being the host or hostess, do not be afraid to make them the topic of conversation. 'How do you know Charlie?' or 'I know Charlie through our Water Buffalo tracking club' are both gambits that have a decent chance of getting a conversation started.


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