Moving to a new country has forced me to step outside my introverted comfort zone and do things like attend events alone to try and meet new friends and other expats or locals. I often end up meeting groups of younger expats in their 20s and 30s and I have noticed that at every single event at least one person brings up something from one of the three categories I was always told to NEVER bring up in polite conversation.
Now don’t get me wrong I love and always encourage healthy debates and discussions. However, there is a time, place and proper audience for these things. Academic settings, girls night in with your BFFs, family dinners are all examples of places that are healthy and appropriate to bring up anything. Especially controversial topics. Formal events, professional situations or lighthearted events and gatherings (birthdays, housewarmings, sporting events etc) are not appropriate places to begin debates or bring up controversial topics.
Here are the top 3 Categories:
Some people’s religious beliefs are quite obvious, such as a Catholic wearing a cross necklace or a Muslim woman in a hijab. However, religious beliefs are incredibly personal and many religious topics are highly controversial. When in a social setting like the ones mentioned above it is best not to bring up jokes, unflattering news articles about religious figures or beliefs or to start pushing your own beliefs on to people.
This by far is the most common one that I have noticed lately. We are currently living through a very interesting period in history in regards to politics. However, these issues are very obvious and can be very controversial. Everyone is very aware of certain political figures, our media is full of this topic when in the company of strangers and new acquaintances avoid this topic entirely. No good ever comes of these topics and people end up annoyed or offended.
This one is a bit more convoluted but basically, it comes down to 3 things. Don’t brag about your financial situation, don’t bitch about your financial situation and don’t pry into others financial situations. If you do have to approach the topic of money preface your question with ‘If you don’t mind me asking…’ or ‘Don’t feel the need to answer…’. I only say this because recently and as my initial example showed we have been attending a number of events with expats and a common query is how much rent people are paying. Especially for new expats, it helps to get an idea from people so you can be sure that when you are looking you are getting a fair price or can budget appropriately. For the most part, though people do not want to hear about how rich you are or all the fancy things you can buy or how much debt you are in. It’s uncomfortable and unnecessary.
I know you might be thinking “ok fine so what am I supposed to talk to people about?!”. The answer is simple. ANYTHING ELSE. Here I’ll get you started with some questions:
“Read any good books lately?”
“Have you seen [this new movie]? What did you think?”
“Travelled anywhere interesting lately?”
“Tried any good restaurants? Do you know where I could find good Mexican food?”
Then expand from there. Ask people why, ask them their opinion, ask for recommendations. Ask about their kids or their pets (warning they might not shut up about these two..) but there is no need to bring up Religion Politics or Money.
But what if someone else brings up ones of these topics?
That is very easy. Be blunt and honest. Tell them you would rather not discuss that topic and gently change the subject. Don’t huff or roll your eyes, smile and bring up an interesting article you read or book you recently enjoyed.
Do you have any other topics you like to refrain from discussing with new groups of people? Let me know in the comments below!