One very cynical concept I carry with me throughout my everyday life is that nobody is who they appear to be. People might hold the door open for you, say “thanks” habitually, and chew with their mouth closed, but that certainly doesn’t make them good people. I find solace in the perceived notion that we’re all alike because we’re all dead inside, and the majority of our waking lives are spent staging our behavior to make ourselves seem like we’re morally capable people.
But of course, THAT’S JUST ME, YA KNOW? As our pal Uncle Blazer once said as a young undergraduate, “life is a stage; smoke weed until ya die,” and that first part couldn’t be more accurate in the context of college. We spend four years trying to make ourselves seem interesting so people of both sexes won’t think we’re a bunch of breadsticks. What better way to do that than having a ready-made repertoire of small talk topics? Not the weather or current events—I mean genuinely stimulating subjects that result in elevated conversations.
Here are 10 topics to help cultivate your conversational skills and make yourself appear intriguing, even though, deep down, you really aren’t:
Origins of Popular Songs
When the lead singer of Semisonic was writing our favorite bar song, “Closing Time,” he originally meant for it to be about childbirth and the anticipation of fatherhood. You know, “time for you to go out to the places you will be from”? Or that “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary was LITERALLY about a magical kingdom inhabited by a dragon and not about getting blitzed out of your skull. It’s these little fun facts that will make you seem like a boundless resource of useless information, yet they’ll lead the conversation into revealing areas like musical tastes or concerts attended. And more importantly, the places they’ve been or want to go to…
This is a great way to probe someone and figure out who they really are. You’re essentially asking them two very personal questions: where do you wish you were, and from that, who do you wish you were? Asking people where they’ve traveled and where they want to travel speaks volumes about the goals, failures, and experiences that have culminated into who they are. This is clearly for those interested in the intimate approach, which I’m not usually about. I like to reflex into eccentric subjects like this…
You can have a lot of fun with this because you can utilize the hilarious clichés surrounding different styles. For example, if you’re one of those men brimming with testosterone, grow your beard out as long as you can. Once it’s at peak length, walk to your nearest watering hole, sit down, and confusedly, but very seriously, say to the person next to you, “Please, don’t be alarmed, but I need to know what year it is.” If you happen to catch a person humorous enough to be worth talking to, he or she will laugh and initiate a discussion from there. Speaking of clichés…
This is my personal favorite. As a pessimist, I instinctively detect clichés on a regular basis and immediately despise whoever uses them. However, talking about them can create the funniest conversations because they’re the most self-aware ones. You’re literally talking about what not to talk about, which can easily alleviate awkwardness and incorporate humor into the discussion. It’s almost become a cliché to talk about clichés, in which case the argument outlined in this paragraph is inevitably collapsing on itself.
Use this for when you’re at a graduation party or thrust into some environment where there are a lot of older parents who don’t know you. Obviously in these settings, you have to talk to adults in order to come off as a sociable, educated individual rather than an inept, disrespectful weirdo. If you’re stuck talking to a dad or older gentleman on your way to grab a beer, start talking about movies then lead into asking him whom the best James Bond has been. This always works because this particular demographic has enjoyed many generations of Bond actors. They’ll surely have a strong argument ready to reinforce how Sean Connery will forever be the “besht bloody Bond actor ever.”
Whether it’s a sad one or hilarious one, all ink has a story behind it. You may have gotten it to remember someone close to you, or you may not have remembered getting it at all due to a digestive system torn apart by Kentucky Gentleman and Domino’s Pizza. It’s the easiest story to tell because it’s literally and figuratively the most noticeable thing about you. Which leads to the next area of interest…
“Tell Me A Story”
You’re sitting around casually drinking with a group of people, some of which you’re friends with and others you don’t know at all. Your friends introduce you to these randoms and you commence the cliché introductory questions. Where are you from? What’s your major? Do you work on campus? Are you such and such and such and such? Once you’ve both run the gauntlet of that initial greeting phase, say to that person, “So name here, tell me a story.” Forward? Yes. Uncomfortable? Depending on the person. They can talk about themselves, a funny drunk anecdote, or a story that ends up really being a joke. If that person is clever enough to think on his or her feet in response, then he or she is definitely someone worth drinking with.
It is very important to tread lightly with this one because it can give off a stinky cologne of pretentiousness if discussed excessively. For instance, if someone replies “OK” to something, you don’t want to say, “Did you know that ‘OK’ originated during Martin Van Buren’s presidency because it was his nickname during the 1840 election?” You look like a douchecanoe here because (a) people use “OK” all the time so no one expects you to speculate on such a thoughtlessly used term, and (b) you definitely stole that fact from Silver Linings Playbook. If someone casually inquires about what a strange yet widely used phrase means, such as “cut to the chase,” you can surprise them by briefly explaining how it originated from the silent-film era. Make yourself look smart without making yourself look arrogant. It is possible.
Your Interesting Job
IF and ONLY IF you’re job is actually unique, peculiar, or prestigious. Like if you’re a sommelier who moonlights as a bingo manager. If you push pencils for a living then stay the fuck away from this one.
“You have very beautiful eyes, can I please lick your ankles?” Actually, don’t ever say this. Unless you get lucky and she has an ankle fetish, which I’d venture to say constitutes less than two percent of American females.
[Image via Shutterstock]