Author Topic: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others  (Read 7809 times)

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perpetua

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #15 on: August 19, 2013, 09:14:00 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?"

You're right, but from the info in the OP that isn't what he's doing. He's saying "I don't like it that people in this country don't talk to each other, so I'm going to talk to them whether they like it or not".

Just talking to someone isn't rude in and of itself. But he *is* being rude in his insistence that he will continue to do it even after he's had it pointed out to him that it isn't the cultural norm and a lot of people find it uncomfortable in the place he's doing it.

He's also implying that it's OK to impose his cultural values on those from another country just because he's an American. That's astoundingly arrogant.

Thipu1

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #16 on: August 19, 2013, 09:28:14 AM »
I never thought about it before but Americans DO seem to be somewhat obsessed with geography.  On cruises, before exchanging names, a common question is,'Where are you good folks from?'. 

Like 'Hi.  I'm Joe from Alabama.', it can be an opener for interesting conversation if both parties are aware of it as such.  Otherwise, it can seem intrusive even though it's meant in the most innocent way. 

LadyL

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #17 on: August 19, 2013, 09:32:09 AM »
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 !

I wonder how much of this is lack of awareness of just how big the U.S. actually is. England is approximately the size of Ohio. In a country as large as ours there are serious regional differences in culture, nearly as striking as the differences between some countries in Europe. Would a Brit find it odd to ask what country someone was from? Because that's more akin to asking what state someone is from in my book.

As to the OP - I think we need more info on whether this person is doing the "Hi I'm Bob" routine or something more like "Drizzly weather this week, huh?" The latter seems like it would be a lot less imposing than the former.

Cami

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #18 on: August 19, 2013, 09:41:24 AM »
In terms of Americans announcing their location, I'd agree  with this:

I wonder how much of this is lack of awareness of just how big the U.S. actually is. England is approximately the size of Ohio. In a country as large as ours there are serious regional differences in culture, nearly as striking as the differences between some countries in Europe. Would a Brit find it odd to ask what country someone was from? Because that's more akin to asking what state someone is from in my book.

  I live in the midwest, but do not have a midwest accent and when we first moved out here, I did not look like what midwesterners thought midwesterners looked like (the latter has changed somewhat over time as there is greater influx from other areas/countries to the midwest). I was and am often asked within speaking one sentence where I am from "originally".

 Americans don't consider that question rude (or I've never met an American who considers that rude.) It's a way to grasp something important about the person very quickly, a way to start an easy conversation.  It may also be a way for people to try and make connections.

As an example, my dh and I were recently at a state historic site. A couple seated on the transport wagon heard me talking and asked where I was from. I told them I was from NY and the woman asked me where. Turns out she read a book set in my hometown recently and I've never heard of that book. She asked me questions about the town and learned something about it and I found out about a new book. Win-win.

Teenyweeny

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2013, 09:42:40 AM »
As to the OP - I think we need more info on whether this person is doing the "Hi I'm Bob" routine or something more like "Drizzly weather this week, huh?" The latter seems like it would be a lot less imposing than the former.

I got the impression that it was more of the latter than the former. However, IME (of several major UK cities, both north and south), people who start conversations apropos of nothing (I mean, they aren't even asking if I know if the bus to the train station has left yet) are very rare (to the point where I have hardly met with any).

Usually, if somebody starts talking to me for no reason, they are one of the following:

1) Not sober.
2) Hitting on me.
3) Foreign.
4) Have some kind of developmental/cognitive problem.
5) Old and lonely.

Numbers 1 and 2 I feel free to ignore.

Numbers 4, and 5 I don't really mind (although I still may feel uncomfortable).

It's number 3 that intrigues me!




jaxsue

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #20 on: August 19, 2013, 09:49:00 AM »
I live in the US and I would find it odd if a stranger came up to me and said, "Hi, I'm Bob from Alabama." That said, yes, striking up a casual conversation in some regions is normal. I grew up in small midwestern towns. It was odd if you didn't do that. Now I live near NYC, and the rules are different.
The only place I've been in the UK was N. Ireland. What was interesting was that several people approached me, asking if I was American or Canadian (I am both), and asking questions about my home.

Eden

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #21 on: August 19, 2013, 09:58:18 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?"

You're right, but from the info in the OP that isn't what he's doing. He's saying "I don't like it that people in this country don't talk to each other, so I'm going to talk to them whether they like it or not".

Just talking to someone isn't rude in and of itself. But he *is* being rude in his insistence that he will continue to do it even after he's had it pointed out to him that it isn't the cultural norm and a lot of people find it uncomfortable in the place he's doing it.

He's also implying that it's OK to impose his cultural values on those from another country just because he's an American. That's astoundingly arrogant.

I agree with this.

I think it's okay to feel out whether or not someone is up for conversation but if they are not particularly receptive, you need to back off. I'd say that no matter where you are in the world. Sometimes even if it's the cultural norm, a person is not in the mood that day or whatever. You have to be sensitive to how others react to you.

sunnygirl

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #22 on: August 19, 2013, 10:00:34 AM »
I'm a native Londoner. If an American did that, I would assume they were a tourist who didn't know any better and I probably would chat with them, only for the unique experience. I find it weirdly endearing (though the tourist I talked to recently who just couldn't understand why I couldn't tell her how to get to "downtown"? Bah!). If a Brit did it, I'd find it very weird. Unless maybe they were a Northerner or Scottish or very obviously a tourist in London.
Trying to force conversation on people if you know they don't want/are uncomfortable with it is rude, though.
« Last Edit: August 19, 2013, 10:02:24 AM by sunnygirl »

cabbageweevil

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #23 on: August 19, 2013, 10:05:58 AM »
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 !

I wonder how much of this is lack of awareness of just how big the U.S. actually is. England is approximately the size of Ohio. In a country as large as ours there are serious regional differences in culture, nearly as striking as the differences between some countries in Europe. Would a Brit find it odd to ask what country someone was from? Because that's more akin to asking what state someone is from in my book.
"Americans and geographical enquiries" (as also addressed by other PPs) -- I'm British, and the "where is one from?" routine, seems to me a fine conversational gambit; and I'm genuinely interested to know where a new acquaintance hails from. Also; within the UK's much smaller area on the map, than that of the USA: there are plenty of cultural differences -- both between, and within, the UK's several component countries.  In my World War 2 instance, I tend to feel that my compatriots were the ones acting strangely -- a rather extreme example of the British (and especially English) trait of great reserve and self-containment, to the point of reticence.  But we do incline to a national strong aversion from anything smacking of prying or "nosiness"; and correspondingly, from the volunteering of "too much information, too soon".

menley

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #24 on: August 19, 2013, 10:06:42 AM »
I think no matter where you are, you should be looking at others' social cues and act accordingly. I'm a native Texan, currently living in central Europe. I've had to tell my Texan visitors that no, that man on the subway is not angry or mean, but people here just don't walk around grinning at each other like they do in the southern US ;)


I generally don't think it's rude for him to say something to a stranger, but if the stranger makes clear (through body language, through short or curt answers, etc) that they don't wish to carry on a conversation, he should respect that. I recently had an experience in an airport where a girl just plopped down in the seat next to me and started interrogating me ("What's your name? Where are you going? Why are you going there? Where are you from originally?"... etc) while I had on headphones and was clearly reading a book. To me, both the headphones and the book are signs that say "Please don't talk to me right now."


Summary... if your friend is respectful when others make it clear they don't wish to make conversation, I see no harm in him trying to start one.

cabbageweevil

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #25 on: August 19, 2013, 10:13:52 AM »
The only place I've been in the UK was N. Ireland. What was interesting was that several people approached me, asking if I was American or Canadian (I am both), and asking questions about my home.

Wild, sweeping generalisation by me here; but the Irish ("all shapes and makes") tend to be more outgoing than the English.

There's a big connection between Northern Ireland, and North America -- there has long been much emigration from the former to the latter, by folk seeking, in various ways, a better quality of life. The "religious divide" which seems to impact on almost everything in Northern Ireland, applies in this also: Protestants have tended to emigrate to Canada, Catholics to the USA.

Gyburc

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #26 on: August 19, 2013, 11:17:37 AM »
I'm in the UK, and am English. I'm not sure that people would find the gentleman in the OP rude, but a lot of people would certainly find him somewhat disconcerting.  :) I think it's because he is being very direct in his approach by introducing himself straight away. In the UK, if two strangers do fall into conversation, they tend to keep things very general and indirect, and don't tend to exchange names straight away, if at all.

As an example, I used to travel to and from university by train, and the general practice was not to speak to fellow passengers - except if the train was delayed or broke down (not uncommon...). In those circumstances, everyone started commiserating about the delay and offering to let fellow-passengers make calls on their mobile phones, and this usually led to longer conversations. I remember I once ended up talking to a very nice lady for about an hour about my university studies and about how she was directing an all-female production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. We had a really interesting discussion, which I remember quite clearly - and this was years ago - but we never exchanged names. It just wouldn't have felt right.

As an after-thought, I also think the gentleman in the OP is mistaking reserve for unfriendliness. It's perfectly possible to have friendly exchanges with people in the UK, even complete strangers, and a lot of people are more than happy to chat briefly. I do myself quite often. Stick to 'safe' subjects like the weather, the public transport system, service in shops etc. and make some wry jokes, and people are usually very happy to respond in kind.
   
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Sharnita

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #27 on: August 19, 2013, 11:22:00 AM »
Actually, doesn't the OP say he starts a conversation and makes small talk? Do we know he insists on starting with his name and hometown? He could be chatting about the weather and such.

Teenyweeny

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #28 on: August 19, 2013, 11:25:20 AM »
I think it's because he is being very direct in his approach by introducing himself straight away.

Actually, I don't think he is doing that, although to be fair, I'm not super clear on what he is doing.

You're spot on about not taking names! My first year of uni, I was very glad that we had a board up next to the lifts with everyone's names and photos, or I wouldn't know some of my friends' names to this day!



ladyknight1

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Re: Talking to Strangers: Imposing your values onto others
« Reply #29 on: August 19, 2013, 11:50:56 AM »
Very interesting thread, I don't see anything wrong with idle chatter. To me, it is just being social.