- In the South, the cities have had a similar culture to New England so far, with everyone going about their business and not being interested in small talk; whereas the country and suburbs have been closer to the Midwest, with the shunning of small talk seeming worse than engaging in it.
A very good Southerner would tell you that the reason for this is that the cities are filled with Yanks.
Where I'm from (a burb of Atlanta), small talk is not just how you spend your time - it's how you make your connections with people.
"Your last name is Smith? Are you any kin to John Smith?" is a very, very, very common way for a "small talk" conversation to turn.
This has been my experience in the South as well. People down here seem to talk about anything and everything!!
Exactly - when we were visiting Chicago, no one would do the - very normal for Atlanta - "Gee, it's awfully rainy this week, who would have guessed at this time of year?" kind of conversation with stranger. I spent almost ten minutes with a strange woman waiting for, and riding, an elevator (hotel was full and bustling, we had to bypass several full cars), and while she made eye contact and smiled, she seemed intent on examining the floor tiles (though she did say "have a nice day" on her way out, with flawless English, so I'm 99+% sure it wasn't a language barrier).
I think if he's sticking to an inane "wow, that was some football match last night!" or "the grill next door smells wonderful!" or whatever, and is good at taking no response with grace, he's fine. Some parts of the world have different norms. However, if he's pushy, or approaching folks like he's running for town council (the "Hi, my name is...." greeting) then he's rude and needs to understand that what he's doing is offputting.