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How to Make Small Talk with the 5 Kinds of Americans You’ll Meet

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

The United States is a melting pot of different cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles.

If you’ve ever been on social media, seen a popular Hollywood movie, or even visited or lived in the United States yourself, you have probably seen or encountered a wide variety of Americans.

It’s true – we come in all shapes, sizes, cultures, and even attitudes. Just like in the American movies!

So it’s understandable that you would want to get as much insider knowledge as possible about the different types of Americans you will encounter and what they want in a conversation.

When making small talk with Americans, it is important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

The United States is huge and extremely diverse, filled to the brim with Americans who have different personalities, interests, and backgrounds – often related to where they were born or grew up within the US… which is a big country!

But don’t worry. I’m here to help you prepare for anything! Let’s talk about the 5 different types of Americans you’ll meet and how to make small talk and have conversations with each one of them.

1. The Outgoing American

One of the most common types of Americans you will meet is the outgoing and friendly type.

You’ve seen them before in movies: the American who is just so excited to meet you with a big grin on their face. These Outgoing Americans are warm, approachable, and love engaging with others.

If you want to engage in small talk with an Outgoing American, be ready to smile and match their energy!

This may feel a little strange at first, but remember the expression…

When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

It is important to be open and responsive. Often, you can spot an Outgoing American by seeing how they respond to a friendly smile or quick nod of your head after first making eye contact.

If they initiate a conversation with you or make a joking comment about the weather or the surroundings, you have probably found an Outgoing American who wants to talk! Feel free to smile and introduce yourself, and don’t forget to ask them for their name as well!

The Outgoing American loves talking to people, even strangers, so a quick way to make small talk or get the conversation started is to compliment something they are wearing, such as their outfit or their shoes.

Try to stick to complimenting things that are personal style choices rather than their physique, since this can be very inappropriate (especially at work) or it can be mistaken as flirting.

Rather than complimenting them on their body or telling them how beautiful or handsome they may be, stick to personal style choices like these:

  • Hairstyle

  • Nail art

  • Clothing choice or color

  • A piece of jewelry

  • A tattoo (if it’s visible)

  • An accessory, like a bag, shoes or tie

(Don’t worry, if this seems scary to you, complimenting them isn’t the only way to make small talk or start a conversation with an Outgoing American. More on that later.)

When giving a compliment, you’ll want to follow it up with an open ended question. The question shows that you are interested in learning more about the Outgoing American. Plus, it will definitely get them talking!

You can use phrases and questions such as the following:

  • “I really like the color of that shirt. Where did you get it?”

  • “I love your tattoo. What does it represent?”

  • “I love your earrings. Are the stones turquoise?”

  • “You have such great taste in clothes. What is your inspiration – I need to learn from you!”

The goal with an Outgoing American is to show positive enthusiasm for something of theirs and to ask a question that gets them talking.

And for those of you who are worried about not being able to keep up with the conversation, don’t worry! Outgoing Americans love to talk, so if you are genuine and show interest in their responses, they will love that and begin to open up to you even more!

If an Outgoing American asks you what you think about something, it’s because they actually want to know, even if it’s about what type of pickle you enjoy best!

No topic is too small for the Outgoing American. They love people and they love talking!

And since we’re talking about food, the Outgoing American is a great person to ask for food recommendations, or to just talk about food in general.

A great topic for a casual conversation with an Outgoing American can be as simple as asking for their favorite restaurants:

“Wow, I can’t believe it’s lunch time already! Do you know of any good places around here for sushi? I don’t know this area too well.”

Unlike other Americans who may not feel comfortable sharing these opinions with a stranger, the Outgoing American will likely leave you with way more information about themselves, their opinions, and their personal habits than you ever wanted to know!

You might even leave the conversation with a new friend.

2. The Reserved American

While some Americans are very outgoing, friendly, and chatty… others may be more reserved, quiet, serious, or private.

The Reserved American may be more difficult to engage in small talk and conversation, but it is still very possible to make a connection with them.

One thing that can help you feel confident when you’re, for example, sitting next to a Reserved American waiting for a meeting to start or otherwise finding yourself in their silent presence is that… they will probably be relieved if you make small talk with them or start up a conversation.

The Reserved American can be shy, and they can feel uncomfortable in social or group settings…but they just don’t know how to break the silence.

So that means they’ll be so relieved when you make small talk and break the silence for them!

When making small talk with a Reserved American…

  • be respectful

  • start with topics that aren’t too deep (stay on the surface)

  • and avoid probing into personal matters

Start by simply introducing yourself and focus on neutral topics such as…

  • The weather

    • “It’s really raining out there! Do you like the rain?”

    • “Hot day today. Makes me wish I were at the beach. Are you a beach person or not really?”

  • The weekend

    • “Did you do anything fun over the weekend?”

    • “Any big plans for this weekend?”

  • Food

    • “Almost lunchtime. I’m craving tacos. Do you know of any good places around here?”

    • “I’m full, lunch was so good. What did you have?”

  • The day/work day

    • “Busy day today. How’s your day going? Got a lot going on?”

  • Hobbies

    • “Almost time to go home for the day. I’m going to try a new recipe. Have you ever tried empanadas?”

    • “Almost time to head home. I’m going to start reading a new book today about meditation. Have you ever tried it?”

  • TV shows, movies

    • “I can’t wait to get home and keep watching my series. Do you like true crime?”

    • “I’m going to see the new Star Wars movie this weekend. Do you like science fiction?”

The conversation topics above and the sample questions can work for any of the Americans you’ll meet!

The reason why they work so well with the Reserved American is because they follow a predictable, comfortable structure of:

1. A simple, personal statement (that’s not too personal), like…

“I can’t wait to get home and keep watching my series.”

2. And, right after, a simple personal question that gives the Reserved American something easy to talk about right away! Such as…

“Do you like true crime?”

This quick and easy structure of simple personal statement + simple personal question can set you up to have a successful small talk conversation with anyone you meet.

You break the ice – or start the talking – and then you hand a question over to your conversation partner so you can chat back-and-forth.

With the Reserved American, remember to keep the conversation light and avoid diving into very personal matters unless the other person seems comfortable or warms up to you as you start conversing.

Listen attentively and react to what they say. If you start the conversation by talking about the weather and the Reserved American mentions their kids, follow that thread and ask them things like:

  • “How many kids do you have?”

  • “How old are your kids?”

If they mention a pet, follow that thread and ask them more about their furry friends.

You might find that, after being the first to start a conversation with a Reserved American, they will warm up and feel more and more comfortable continuing the conversation with you.

By being brave enough to start the conversation with a statement about yourself, handing the Reserved American an easy question to answer, listening to their responses, and finding something you can connect with or ask a few more questions about… you might just become close friends!

3. The Opinionated American

Another type of American you may encounter is the Opinionated American. These Americans enjoy expressing their opinions and may dominate conversations.

You’ll know you’ve met an Opinionated American when anything you bring up – the weather, the food, anything – is brought back to something slightly controversial, political, or otherwise emotionally charged.

You can think you’re making small talk with someone about the weather when – boom! – the Opinionated American you just met starts talking about climate change, our dependence on gas-powered cars, and on and on they go…

When making small talk or conversation with an Opinionated American, it can be important to be respectful and avoid getting into arguments.

Just think – if the Opinionated American is your boss, an in-law, or someone you otherwise need to maintain a good relationship with – would you rather argue with them or would you rather stay on their good side?

If you just met someone and realized, soon after exchanging first names, that you’ve encountered an Opinionated American, use the same strategy you would use with anyone else:

  • ask open-ended questions about their interests and opinions

  • listen attentively to their responses

  • try to connect with something they say if and when you can

If you don’t agree with what they are saying, you can listen without agreeing by not nodding your head as they get their thoughts out.

If you disagree with their opinion, there is a way to do this politely and avoid attacking them personally.

One easy way to do that is to use what are called I statements.

Rather than responding to an opinion of theirs that you don’t agree with by saying things like:

  • “That’s not fair.” “That’s not right.” “You're wrong.” etc.

Using I statements sounds more like this:

  • “I have a different perspective.”

  • “I feel differently about that.”

  • “I have an experience I’d like to share with you.”

  • “I want to know what you think about…”

Using I statements is a great way to tread lightly – or be careful – in conversations that may be emotionally charged without making your conversation partner feel personally attacked.

Some Opinionated Americans don’t react well when someone disagrees with their point of view, unfortunately. If you meet an Opinionated American who just wants you to agree with everything they say, you may not want to become close friends with them.

If you meet an Opinionated American with little tolerance for any opinion other than their own, but you have to maintain the relationship with them (because, for example, you work for them), remember to…

  • listen without agreeing or nodding your head

  • use I statements if you want to propose a different point of view than their own

Other Opinionated Americans can enjoy a little back-and-forth in conversations and they don’t require 100% agreement. These ones are much more fun to talk to!

These Opinionated Americans can become exciting conversation partners, someone you will learn a lot from, someone who will learn a lot from you, and a potential close friend to have.

4. The Multicultural American

The United States is a melting pot of different cultures, and you will meet Americans with very diverse backgrounds, worldviews, and experiences.

One rule of thumb when meeting and speaking with Americans is: never assume.

Never assume someone’s:

  • race

  • ethnicity

  • nationality

  • native language

  • gender

  • who they have romantic relationships with

  • desire or ability to have children

  • political party

  • health or ability/disability

  • age

  • religion

  • …you get the idea!

When making small talk with an American, it’s important to always be respectful and avoid making assumptions.

Aside from the important considerations above, the same advice about how to make small talk or start a conversation with any American applies here:

  • Start by introducing yourself

  • Ask for their name

  • Don’t make any assumptions about their identity

  • Avoid stereotyping

  • Talk to them like a human being

Use the advice you’d use when speaking to anyone else you’ve met in this article so far!

  • Make a simple statement to break the ice…

“Lots of traffic today!”

  • Ask a simple question to allow them to join the conversation…

“How was your commute?”

  • Actively listen to their response…

“Mmhmm. Oh, you said you listened to an audiobook in the car…”

  • Connect with something they say and ask follow-up questions

“I love audiobooks. What’s it about?”

If you have met a multicultural American and they choose to talk to you about something cultural, religious, or anything otherwise closely related to their identity, then you can feel free to ask respectful follow-up questions!

However, keep in mind that it isn’t their job to teach everyone else around them about their culture / race / gender identity / disability / …you name it.

We all have access to the internet and the ability to educate ourselves about different cultures and experiences than our own!

5. The Young American

For some reason, a lot of people are very afraid to have conversations with this kind of American: the Young American.

Especially when it comes to teenagers and Americans in their early twenties, I know grown adults who have a hard time starting a conversation with them and would much rather avoid it!

Yes, Young Americans often have very different interests and preferences than older Americans, but they’re people, just like you and me.

When making small talk or starting a conversation with a Young American, the best course of action is to ask them questions about their interests and get them talking and teaching you about what they like.

If American teenagers like to talk about anything at all, it’s what they may be interested in:

  • sports and extracurricular activities

  • music and musicians

  • movies and actors

  • creative hobbies, the arts

  • etc.

Again, avoid making assumptions about the Young American and their personal identity.

I know it’s common sense, but treat them like any other human and…

  1. Make a simple statement to break the ice.

  2. Ask a simple question to allow them to join the conversation.

  3. Actively listen to their response.

  4. Connect with something they say and ask follow-up questions.

Be open-minded, don’t judge or laugh at their responses (unless they’re trying to be funny!), and show genuine interest in their experiences.

Young Americans can be brutally honest and very funny – if you can have a sense of humor and don’t overreact to the things they say.

Remember, young people have had less life experience overall, and they may or may not have learned some of the harder life lessons and dark truths about the world.

The worst thing you can do with a Young American is crush their idealism. Approach their ideas about life and the world – even if they seem naive or scary to you – with an open mind and a supportive heart.

You might be surprised how much fun it is to converse with Young Americans once you figure out how to really get them talking!

What Is a Conversation Coach?

If you want some help learning and practicing strategies that can help you start – and keep – a conversation going with any kind of American, you could really benefit from a conversation coach.

When making small talk with Americans, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Different Americans have different personalities, interests, and backgrounds.

However, whether you are speaking with an Outgoing American, a Reserved American, an Opinionated American, a Multicultural American or a Young American, there are some tips and strategies that you can learn from and practice with a dedicated conversation coach.

A conversation coach (or communication coach) can help guide you to:

  • communicate better at work

  • communicate better in your personal life

  • ask the right questions

  • avoid the wrong questions

  • listen actively

  • respond thoughtfully

  • avoid offending others

  • and create and deepen relationships through conversations

Ready for 1-on-1 Conversation Coaching?

Here are a few ways you can start now!

  1. Subscribe to get EK Accent Coaching content! You’ll get a free accent training lesson (PDF & audio) sent straight to your inbox, as well as free content with more awesome tips and strategies related to accent & communication improvement!

  2. Feel free to contact me or comment on this blog post if you have any questions about conversation coaching.

  3. You can also book a free 15 minute consultation with me so we can discuss your goals and how I can help you improve your communication.

  4. Ready to get some guidance and feedback as you work to improve your communication? Enroll now in a customized 1-on-1 coaching package so we can get right to work on improving your speech & communication!

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