Author Topic: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others  (Read 5767 times)

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Teenyweeny

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Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« on: August 19, 2013, 04:44:21 AM »
I was recently at an event where I got chatting to an American man (I'm in the UK), and he mentioned that he didn't like how people here don't talk to each other as much as he is used to (N.B. I am aware that this is very regional, I have been to NYC :). ).

To this end, he strikes up conversations in pubs, on train platforms, etc, etc. I jokingly said to him, "Hey, you'll get deported if you carry on like that. Don't you know that that sort of thing is practically against the law?"

He replied that he didn't care, he thought these interactions brought a little bit of joy into the world, and he would keep on having them.

The problem is that strangers talking to each other is not a cultural norm in every part of the UK that I have ever lived in (of course, there will be exceptions). I don't mean that people are cold to each other, quite the opposite! But strangers do not typically make small talk with each other. In fact, I (and most people I know) would be made pretty uncomfortable by a stranger talking to me.

This chap reckons he gets away with it because he's American, and everyone knows that Americans are 'like that' (so you guys have a nice ambassador here, that's for sure). He think that it doesn't hurt to try to be friendly.

I think that you don't get to impose your values on other people like that (the caveat being that of course I'm talking about situations where nobody is being hurt or oppressed), and that to try to do so is rude, because you're making others uncomfortable.

Who is right?




squashedfrog

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2013, 04:55:21 AM »
To be honest I live in the uk and the only place I've ever found that people don't talk to others is London. 

I think it's not rude, people don't have to have a conversation with him or anyone else if they don't want to.

Teenyweeny

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2013, 05:01:39 AM »
To be honest I live in the uk and the only place I've ever found that people don't talk to others is London. 

I think it's not rude, people don't have to have a conversation with him or anyone else if they don't want to.

Interesting! I've lived in many parts of the UK, and been to many others, and I've never encountered strangers routinely chatting on public transport etc. I should be clear, those are the types of chats I'm talking about. Small talk, between two people who have absolutely no reason to talk to each other (nobody is asking a question, they aren't making a transaction, etc). I don't mean that everybody shuffles around in silence!

I have had people try to talk to me (once in a blue moon), and it always makes me uncomfortable. I don't have to talk to them, true, but trying to communicate that politely whilst remaining on the bus is a minefield! :)



perpetua

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2013, 05:10:14 AM »

This chap reckons he gets away with it because he's American, and everyone knows that Americans are 'like that' (so you guys have a nice ambassador here, that's for sure). He think that it doesn't hurt to try to be friendly.

Yes, and people like him are why people roll their eyes at American tourists in my part of the world, sadly.

He's being very rude if he's where I think he is (London). If not technically rude, then very definitely extremely annoying. When in Rome, and all that.

There are of course places in the UK where smalltalk is the norm, but there are ways and means of going about it. "Hi, I'm Bob from California!" as your opener isn't one of them. Here's an interesting passage from Passport To The Pub, a guide to British pub etiquette (worth a look here: http://www.sirc.org/publik/pub.html) Some of it is a bit tongue in cheek but the sentiment is spot on.

Quote

How to introduce yourself

Donít ever introduce yourself. The "Hi, Iím Chuck from Alabama" approach does not go down well in British pubs. Natives will cringe and squirm with embarrassment at such brashness. If your introduction is accompanied by a beaming smile and outstretched hand, they will probably find an excuse to get away from you as quickly as possible. Sorry, but thatís how it is. The British quite frankly do not want to know your name, or shake your hand - or at least not until a proper degree of mutual interest has been well established (like maybe when you marry their daughter). You will have to adopt a more subtle, less demonstrative approach.

Start with a comment about the weather, or a simple question about the beer, the pub, the town, other pubs in the area etc. Do not speak too loudly, and keep your tone and manner light and casual rather than serious or intense. The object is to Ďdriftí gradually into conversation, as though by accident. If the person seems happy to chat with you - giving longish answers, asking questions in return, maintaining eye-contact, etc. - you should still curb any urges to introduce yourself. Instead, offer a drink, but avoid using the word Ďbuyí: say "Can I get you a drink?" or "Can I get you another?".

Eventually, there may be an opportunity to exchange names, providing this can be achieved in a casual, unforced manner, although it is best to wait for your new acquaintance to take the initiative. If you come to the end of a long friendly evening without having introduced yourselves, and this makes you very uncomfortable, you may say on parting: "Nice to meet you, er - oh, I didnít catch your name?", as though you have only just noticed the omission. Your companion should then enlighten you, and you may now, at last, introduce yourself: "Iím Chuck, by the way". Yes, this may feel a bit like having the soup at the end of the meal. The subtleties of pub etiquette are an acquired taste.


« Last Edit: August 19, 2013, 05:11:45 AM by perpetua »

Thipu1

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2013, 06:47:38 AM »
We haven't noticed much difference between NYC and London.  We have noticed that, both in the UK and the USA, people living away from major cities tend to be more chatty.  Perhaps it's the novelty of seeing a new face in the neighborhood. 

To be frank, if a stranger walked up to me, stuck out his hand and announced, 'Hi.  I'm Joe Jones', I would be tempted to think he was running for office. 


veryfluffy

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2013, 06:52:25 AM »
He replied that he didn't care, he thought these interactions brought a little bit of joy into the world, and he would keep on having them.

Maybe they bring joy to his world, but if they make other people uncomfortable or irritated, then then he is being rather arrogant and self-indulgent. "Well, they should like talking to complete strangers like me instead of sitting there with their own thoughts!"
   

Cherry91

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2013, 07:13:46 AM »
As another UK citizen (who's moved around a fair bit) I think it really depends on the individuals and the context. If I have my headphones in, I'm not going to want to talk to anyone, but this weekend in London, a friend and I got into a lovely conversation with a family about the football results. But I do agree that in London, many people do just want to get on their way.

Sharnita

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2013, 07:18:34 AM »
I have had tourists from the UK visiting the US make small talk with me. I think you don't force your company on obvoiusly resistant people but don't think it is wrong to put out a feeler.

Hmmmmm

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2013, 07:24:57 AM »

This chap reckons he gets away with it because he's American, and everyone knows that Americans are 'like that' (so you guys have a nice ambassador here, that's for sure). He think that it doesn't hurt to try to be friendly.

Yes, and people like him are why people roll their eyes at American tourists in my part of the world, sadly.

He's being very rude if he's where I think he is (London). If not technically rude, then very definitely extremely annoying. When in Rome, and all that.

There are of course places in the UK where smalltalk is the norm, but there are ways and means of going about it. "Hi, I'm Bob from California!" as your opener isn't one of them. Here's an interesting passage from Passport To The Pub, a guide to British pub etiquette (worth a look here: http://www.sirc.org/publik/pub.html) Some of it is a bit tongue in cheek but the sentiment is spot on.

Quote

How to introduce yourself

Donít ever introduce yourself. The "Hi, Iím Chuck from Alabama" approach does not go down well in British pubs. Natives will cringe and squirm with embarrassment at such brashness. If your introduction is accompanied by a beaming smile and outstretched hand, they will probably find an excuse to get away from you as quickly as possible. Sorry, but thatís how it is. The British quite frankly do not want to know your name, or shake your hand - or at least not until a proper degree of mutual interest has been well established (like maybe when you marry their daughter). You will have to adopt a more subtle, less demonstrative approach.

Start with a comment about the weather, or a simple question about the beer, the pub, the town, other pubs in the area etc. Do not speak too loudly, and keep your tone and manner light and casual rather than serious or intense. The object is to Ďdriftí gradually into conversation, as though by accident. If the person seems happy to chat with you - giving longish answers, asking questions in return, maintaining eye-contact, etc. - you should still curb any urges to introduce yourself. Instead, offer a drink, but avoid using the word Ďbuyí: say "Can I get you a drink?" or "Can I get you another?".

Eventually, there may be an opportunity to exchange names, providing this can be achieved in a casual, unforced manner, although it is best to wait for your new acquaintance to take the initiative. If you come to the end of a long friendly evening without having introduced yourselves, and this makes you very uncomfortable, you may say on parting: "Nice to meet you, er - oh, I didnít catch your name?", as though you have only just noticed the omission. Your companion should then enlighten you, and you may now, at last, introduce yourself: "Iím Chuck, by the way". Yes, this may feel a bit like having the soup at the end of the meal. The subtleties of pub etiquette are an acquired taste.

I've lived in large US cities, small one and small towns all across the states. I've travelled for pleasure (frequently alone) or work to over 40 states and the majority of Canadian provinces. I'm pretty friendly and accepting of chatting in public places and enjoy pleasent exchanges with strangers i may never see again. But I have never had anyone approach me by immediately introducing themselves. That would be a very odd introduction. in my experience the the norm is the gradual drift as described. Even when encountering another American in a foreign country, no one seems to start with their name and state as the first sentence. If they did my response would be "Ok, why do I need to know that?"

I think the only thing this man needs to be aware of is whether the person he is trying to chat with is receptive. If not he should stop.

Piratelvr1121

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #9 on: August 19, 2013, 07:32:46 AM »
Hey I'm an American and even in America there are plenty of times I just prefer to be lost in my own thoughts and am not feeling very chatty.   When I'm in the mood I can be chatty but I'd be annoyed by this guy too, insisting on chatting with people and calling others rude for just not being in the mood to converse.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here. Be cheerful, strive to be happy. -Desiderata

Teenyweeny

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #10 on: August 19, 2013, 07:36:32 AM »
Hey I'm an American and even in America there are plenty of times I just prefer to be lost in my own thoughts and am not feeling very chatty.   When I'm in the mood I can be chatty but I'd be annoyed by this guy too, insisting on chatting with people and calling others rude for just not being in the mood to converse.

I should be clear, he doesn't call them rude. He just mentioned he doesn't like that most people don't act like he does.

I guess I just assume that everyone else's default is 'does not want to chat', since that's mine (and that of most people I know). I almost feel like I should do a survey!

ETA: Created a poll! http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=129539.0
« Last Edit: August 19, 2013, 07:46:33 AM by Teenyweeny »



magician5

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #11 on: August 19, 2013, 08:09:29 AM »
If you put yourself in public, there's no avoiding the possibility that someone will address you or even attempt to strike up an idle conversation. As an adult, it's your choice whether or not to engage in the interchange. But I don't think it's "imposing someone's cultural standards on you" to have a person say "top o' the morning" or even "how 'bout Manchester United?"

I'm sure there must be a thousand polite but effective ways to indicate lack of interest: giving only minimal responses ("mm-hmmm"), turning away, moving ("I have to go freshen my drink"), and so much more.
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cabbageweevil

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #12 on: August 19, 2013, 08:29:21 AM »
There are of course places in the UK where smalltalk is the norm, but there are ways and means of going about it. "Hi, I'm Bob from California!" as your opener isn't one of them. Here's an interesting passage from Passport To The Pub, a guide to British pub etiquette (worth a look here: http://www.sirc.org/publik/pub.html) Some of it is a bit tongue in cheek but the sentiment is spot on.

Quote

How to introduce yourself

Donít ever introduce yourself. The "Hi, Iím Chuck from Alabama" approach does not go down well in British pubs. Natives will cringe and squirm with embarrassment at such brashness. If your introduction is accompanied by a beaming smile and outstretched hand, they will probably find an excuse to get away from you as quickly as possible. Sorry, but thatís how it is. The British quite frankly do not want to know your name, or shake your hand - or at least not until a proper degree of mutual interest has been well established (like maybe when you marry their daughter). You will have to adopt a more subtle, less demonstrative approach.
 

Perhaps going a little bit OT; but, a thought prompted by the (not-recommended) "Bob from California", "Chuck from Alabama" approach. I've read that during World War 2, with the huge number of US armed forces personnel in Britain over several years, the two nations' different ways -- American outgoing-ness, British reserve -- often led to a degree of awkwardness. Something which particularly baffled the Brits, was the Americans' frequent declaring -- and inquiring of each other -- what part of the USA they were from. With the British being (then, perhaps, more markedly than now) a reserved folk, putting a high value on privacy; the American "I'm from... where are you from?" stuff just seemed strange to the islanders. Between Britishers, a strong interest -- on short acquaintance -- in where people hailed from, would have felt inappropriate, and almost offensively inquisitive. Many Brits ended up concluding that Americans had a weird obsession with geography !

Sharnita

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #13 on: August 19, 2013, 08:37:54 AM »
Another observstion - as somebody who.grew up in a smallish tourist town that drew a ton of visitors, it is fine to feel bit reserved but the reality is that visitors who feel welcomed appreciated spend more money which is adventageous to everyone in the long run.

Thipu1

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #14 on: August 19, 2013, 08:44:25 AM »
When we were in the UK last fall, we were approached a number of times by local people for a conversation.  Of course, there were extenuating circumstances.  They had heard us talking to each other, could tell we were American and were curious about Superstorm Sandy. 

Several times in the 1980s, we took holidays on the canals.  Foreigners on a self-catering narrow boat were a real curiosity and the local people were very friendly and helpful.  Since we shared a common interest, conversation was easy and natural. 

The only time I would walk up to a stranger and introduce myself would be at a house party of a friend.  Even there, a decent host would have made the I productions to people I didn't already know.