Small talk happens all the time in our lives. At home, we speak at random with members of our family about the food we ate the night before at grandmas’ house or the vacation we had had together. It always start with, “I have something to say or ask about………” or “Do you remember the time when……..?” Small talk may not necessarily lead to conversations, because the purpose of small talk is to break the ice between two parties who are meeting for the first time at a social gathering or offer to engage in short conversations for future discussions and meetings.
People who are confident mingling with others in a social gathering did not arrive at that level without practice and experience. Like learning languages, the art of small talk can be taught, learnt and practised by everyone. And the best gift you can offer to someone you have not met before is the gift of smile and your name. “Hello, how do you do? My name is Annie. I am new here.” As you say this, tilt your head slightly and look at the person you are addressing, because if you look straight across at them with a head upright on your neck, it does appear as if you are about to lead into something more serious than casual talk.
Here’s a website I have reading on this subject, about greeting gestures.
I do want highlight what has been written about the Singaporean way of saying ‘hello’. It says:
Singapore – greeters slide their palms together back toward their own chests, then end with the hand over heart. Smooth.
Thanks for the compliments but that applies only with Muslims (not necessarily Malays, can be Chinese, Indians or Caucasians). For the other members of the society in Singapore who are non-Muslims, the traditional way of saying hello is a nod of the head, and then “Have you eaten?” in their local dialect. (quite common amongst the Chinese folks.)
My old folks who had survived World War I and II, told me that in those days, food was so scarce that asking “Have you eaten?” was the most humane thing to say when you meet anyone. It has evolved as a cultural practice through these hardships. Even the Malays do the same, “Apa kabar? Dah makan? Masak apa hari ini?” “How are you? Have you eaten? What are you cooking today?”
How would you assimilate foreign ways of greeting with what you are already practising? Indeed, there is nothing cultural or foreign about the way small talk is carried out. We have small talk all the time, mostly the ones that are successful are not purposeful or deliberate. Small talk opens the door for further engagements and conversations.
1. Are you prepared to be seen saying something different other than “How do you do?”? If you are the only person in the room that comes from a different culture, it is best not to appear or act different.
2. Pay close attention to the person you are about to greet. Do you think it is appropriate to shake hands or give a friendly kiss on the cheek? A Muslim, wearing a headscarf, was at her son’s soccer practice. His friends father approached her and without thought, gave her two kisses on either side of her cheeks! She was stunned but denied the expression from showing. She told me, “I am wearing my headscarf. I couldn’t move for a few seconds.” Perhaps he was acting out of habit because it would not be right for him otherwise, especially when the boys each other.
3. You need to be introduced or introduce yourself so others can learn to understand where you are coming from when you start talking.
4. Notice that “How do you do?” is an open question. “How” means asking someone to explain something. Prepare 3 more open questions like “How did you know about this party?” “It is pleasure to meet you. Have you been here before? What do you think about this monthly gathering?”
5. Do not ask these questions at once. Allow the person time to ask his questions and answer yours. This way you engage in a chat.
6. If you are given a business card, be sure to let him see you are keeping it in a safe place in your hand. Don’t leave it on the table or under the glass you are holding as you carry on chatting.
7. Prepare to stop chatting. Before you step away, pause to ask questions to help you leave the chat. “That’s a good idea. I’ll have to check on that. Would you know anyone else who can explain about……?” Look at your watch. “I think I should catch up with……I have to leave in ……. “