Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

The 6 WORST Ways to Start a Conversation with an American

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 @ 01:00 PM

6 worst ways to start a conversation with an American, sitting on benchAre you having a hard time striking up conversations with Americans? Are you starting to wonder if you are doing something wrong?

You might be making some major cultural mistakes!

There are a lot of great ways to start a conversation in a friendly and natural way and there are some really bad ways to start a conversation that won't get you past "hello"!

Are you making any of these mistakes when you meet American people?

Read today's guest post by Gabby Wallace from Go Natural English to find out!



The 6 ways NOT to start a conversation with an American



1) Being creepy

don't be creepy when you speaking with AmericansDon’t follow people around and stare at them without saying anything.


Because following someone is stalking them and staring at someone is creepy.

If you want to talk to someone, it is best to make a move immediately, without delay.

Don’t think about it - just do it.

Speak first and think later.

Instead, try saying “Hi, how are you?” Make quick eye contact and smile.



2) Talking about money

 start conversation with americans  don't talk about moneyDon’t ask, “How much did you pay for that coat?”

Why? Because Americans avoid talking about money until we feel closer to each other.

This can be offensive because you get into the subject of social class and spending power.

It is not an appropriate topic to discuss between strangers, unless you are in the context of buying something from someone.

Try “That’s a great coat! Where did you find it?” instead.



3) Using too much slang or informal speech


greetings that are too casualDon’t say, “Yo, whuzzup my homey?”


Because slang like this is usually only used in situations where you already know the person, not the first time you meet.

This also depends on the context and situation.

In general, it’s best to say, “Hi, how’s it going?” for a more informal but appropriate greeting.




4) Insulting the person


you look tiredDon’t say, “You look so tired!”


Telling someone they look tired is kind of an insult if you don’t know them well.

While it may be a statement of caring or concern for some people, “You look tired” will be considered by many people the same as saying they look horrible. No one wants to look tired.

Meeting someone for the first time is a great opportunity to make a white lie - give them a compliment. Try “I like your style!” instead.



5) Asking too many personal questions too quickly


communicating with americans

Don’t ask, “Where do you live?”


Give the other person a moment to decide if they feel comfortable with you.

Asking too many personal questions too quickly can give the impression that you are fishing for information, or that you’re too intense, or that you want something from that person.

Instead, try commenting on something impersonal but obvious, like the weather or your current environment. Or try a more general question instead, for example, “Do you live here in Boston?”




6) Asking for a big favor right away

 don%27t ask for favors too soonWhy?

You need to build a trusting relationship with a person before you can even think about asking for a favor.

As an example, a friend of mine who teaches English abroad tells me stories about men approaching her in the street and asking her to marry them.

And another example would be asking someone for money (as a gift or loan). Finally, if you find out your new friend is, for example, from Mexico, and you ask for free Spanish lessons, that would be another example of asking for too much too soon.

A great way to start a conversation is to ask for a small favor, like for directions. Try, “Excuse me, could you tell me how to get to (place)?”


If you found this article helpful, check out Gabby's latest ESL video course on UDEMY





This article was contributed by Gabby Wallace, Go Natural English owner. Go Natural English takes a new approach to language learning, training students for real life conversation skills for work and study. Go Natural English offers an online ESL Troubleshooting Course and online one-to-one tutoring for professionals and university students who want to learn English as a Second Language.


Photo credits: go ask alice, kiwanja, the Cleveland Kid,

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