Try These Ideas Instead
Just commenting to say how much I like your writing. It's like a "unicorn chaser" to the political and culture war stuff I normally read.
That girl with the fish and drunk cat is one of my all-time favorite memes!
For conversation starters I’m not too creative. At potlucks I lavishly praise the food (and it’s easy to find things to praise, because people bring their “greatest hits” to potlucks) and often get into talking recipes with the cooks.
The thing about “asking what someone does is classist” BEING classist is so true. I’m glad to hear someone say it!!!
There are few things more irksome than the snobbery of someone assuming that you’re ashamed of your job (or car or anything else) because theirs is fancier.
Just this week I was talking to a mom whose kid goes to a “fancier name” college than my kid -- and she was almost ... consoling me? Assuming my daughter had been rejected there? What I felt like saying, but didn’t, was that my kid wanted to go to one of two universities for their very specific programs, and she’s now attending one of them and couldn’t be happier. She didn’t apply or have any interest in the school this woman’s daughter attends, even if it’s a fancier name.
But... to have said that would have been to play along with the snobbery -- responding to snobbery with my own snobbish anti-snobbery -- so I kept that to myself. I just said she’s really happy at her school, which is the only thing that should matter to anyone anyway.
I love the off-beat questions and answers. If you're brave enough to ask or answer something unexpected and a little silly, it can put the interlocutor at ease. If I'm willing to make myself a tiny bit ridiculous, they don't have to worry that they'll do or say something embarrassing.
Thank you for saying, or writing, it outloud. The idea that we're nothing but workers is ridiculous and damaging.
Your alternate conversation starters are spot on too. My husband came up with one that works really well: "What do you do for fun?" People usually enjoy talking about that and you can learn a lot about them.
I 100% agree with you, Mari. When people ask what I do, sometimes I answer "I'm a nurse," and sometimes I answer "I'm a writer"--usually depending on how I'm feeling or what I'm up to. The conversations that ensue from each of those responses could not be more different, which is interesting in and of itself. And as you can imagine, the few times Arthur has described himself as a "theoretical astrophysicist" the responses vary from stunned silence to awestruck amazement. Usually he says, "I'm a physicist," which is hard enough for people to respond to. Great column! Workism indeed. Let's hear it for Lifeism and Happyism.
I went to a Thanksgiving once and a man brought his elderly mother. I noticed she wasn't interacting with anyone. I sat next to her and asked her about her son and she told me she'd come from China with her husband and set up a laundry to put son through school. She talked and talked. She was wonderful. At the end of the evening the man thanked me for putting up with the old lady. I told him it was fun talking with her (it was). Everyone is interesting even if their kids don't think so.
I'm so glad you tackled this article. Wife wonders why I subscribe to New York Magazine and when this issue arrived, I was starting to see her point. Eyes rolled to back of my head fo 43, 44 , 52. Feel like the print issue had even different ones than the online version but not worth effort to cross check.
Biggest disappointment was still no right answer to #120 "Even when a kids’ party says “no gifts,” you’re supposed to bring a gift."
Still trying to solve the puzzle of how to throw a party for my kids without being inundated with more crap.
Love all of these suggestions, when I was asked about what my son's were doing and I explained that Matt was an actor and Ian worked at a major airport as a supervisor, the response was " I bet you are disappointed" I asked what joy they experience with their kids... Then explained that my kids happiness on their journey brings me joy. They were able to see there is nothing but joy for my boys, and we're able to express joy about their kids. I try extremely hard to not talk to much about my kids, they went on for quite some time, thinking of joy within their family, which has turned into a great friend with whom I get to share wonderful stories about our kids.
Love this! Since most people have no clue what to say when I tell them I’m a stay at home mom or say something along the lines of -- oh cool so you get to watch a lot of tv!? 🤪 Thanks for this piece!
Thank you! As usual, you’ve inspired two new things I will start doing, like asking different and fun questions at the start of my webinars vs same old, same old.