By Yako and Krystal

May 15, 2015, 10:34 am

 

When I first came to America, I always thought that Americans were so eloquent in their encounters with complete strangers. Making small talk on the subway about the weather, in the grocery store deliberating on the best laundry detergent, or in the doctor’s office exchanging vacation destinations.

I have had many of these experiences since I moved here in 2005. Most of the time the initiative came from the United States citizen and seldom have I found the motivation to address someone unfamiliar to me. And that makes totally sense being the true Dutchman that I am.

In the Netherlands we do not engage in frivolous conversations. What’s the point? You will probably never see the person again. Or they might think that you are a crazy person. The Dutch first want to find out which way the wind blows.

Not in America. America is the land of opportunity, and every conversation can lead to a possibility that you were not aware of before. For example, you might learn that your conversation partner is working for an airline company and can help you with discount tickets to Hawaii. Or she or he unwillingly gives you the winning numbers of the next Mega Million Lottery (be careful, there are a lot of scammers out there).

Now after nine and a half years here, I have found the value of small talk and exchanging dialogue with those unbeknownst to me. And it works! Not that I got any hot tip on where to buy deep discounted designer clothes. But it makes me feel good! Surprisingly most people appreciate it when you address them out of the blue. Not at 8AM in the morning though, when no one wants to be bothered on their way to work.

I did that once on a Monday, the start of the work week — bad decision. Me “I really like those shoes, where did you get those?” Moody morning person: “None of your fucking business.” End of conversation.

So, better to try in the afternoon or on the weekend. It only has to last a minute or two, but you can make someone’s day. It can start very simple with a compliment on a great outfit or a comment on another hot day ahead.

Here’s my afternoon attempt with a couple that looked Dutch to me:
Me: “Hey, do you happen to be from the Netherlands?”
Couple: “Yes, how did you know.”
Me: “Not sure, you looked Dutch to me, but if you ask, I would not know how to describe that.”
Couple: “Ah, that is interesting! … Do you live around here?”
Me: “Yes, I do, right here around the corner.”
Couple: “So are we! That’s strange, that we have never bumped into each other before.”
Me: “Yes, I’ve been living here for a number of years now and this is the first time I see other Dutch people in the neighborhood.”
Couple: “You’re in luck then. We are actually having a little get together with some friends this upcoming weekend; some of them are from the Netherlands too. Would you care to come by?”
Me: “Yes, I’d love to!”

It doesn’t cost anything either, which is particularly amazing in a city like New York. I feel good, because I made someone feel good about themselves. I think it requires a some level of self appreciation. If you already think that the world is against you, it might be harder to engage in appreciative inquiry with a stranger.

But that aside, the notion still stands. By starting a conversation with a stranger, you acknowledge her or his existence. On top of that, you show that the person is of such interest that it is worthwhile to enter in discourse. Hence, he or she feels valued and appreciated.Ask-DrC-Conversation-feature

I have to say though that the picture I painted on Americans versus the Dutch, in regards to initiating small talk, is a bit more nuanced. There are many Dutch that will start a conversation and many Americans will only speak when spoken to (and some might not even respond at all).

So to all extravert Americans: keep doing what you do. To all introvert Americans (and Dutch people living in Brooklyn): Go out there and talk to someone! You’ll feel amazing!

Yako


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About The Author

Yako: Born on a farm in The Netherlands, Europe, I was always on quest for adventure. As a small boy, I was already interested in learning about other cultures and pretended I was fluent in American (I later learned that Americans speak English). At the age of 23, I traveled to South Africa where I lived for seven months to finalize my thesis for my master's in Business Administration. After that, I worked for eight years for a bank in Amsterdam, but I became restless and decided to quit my job and make the big leap across the ocean to New York. Studying arts and culture management at Pratt Institute helped me eradicate some of the prejudices I had of Americans. I never thought I would stay this long. But now eight years later, I'm still here. I live in Central Brooklyn and work for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with great satisfaction. So far, my life feels as if I’m on one big adventure. | Krystal: As a native of Michigan, I moved to New York with a limited perspective of the depth and importance of social differences. Having a passion for creativity, I accepted the various ideas behind expression and equality that poured out from this beautiful, diverse place called Brooklyn. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2006 with a degree in Communications Design and barely surviving the effects of forced independence, I started an open relationship with the nonprofit world and began to willingly become my own person. Since then, I have been employed and freelance as a graphic designer, with tons of exposure to the things that fascinated me as a child. Living in two culturally different environments has granted me a faceted understanding of social norms and injustices that I feel compelled to speak on. Though visual art and design have been my concentrations since grade school, writing and sharing thoughts socially has been my core calling. In keeping my promise to my parents, I have finally decided to write for social impact. Standing up for my truth while seeking and discovering the truths of others is the way in which I've chosen to take that on. So far, I've discovered that the most direct route to societal improvements begins with the coupling of self-awareness and humility.

Yako: Born on a farm in The Netherlands, Europe, I was always on quest for adventure. As a small boy, I was already interested in learning about other cultures and pretended I was fluent in American (I later learned that Americans speak English). At the age of 23, I traveled to South Africa where I lived for seven months to finalize my thesis for my master's in Business Administration. After that, I worked for eight years for a bank in Amsterdam, but I became restless and decided to quit my job and make the big leap across the ocean to New York. Studying arts and culture management at Pratt Institute helped me eradicate some of the prejudices I had of Americans. I never thought I would stay this long. But now eight years later, I'm still here. I live in Central Brooklyn and work for Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with great satisfaction. So far, my life feels as if I’m on one big adventure. | Krystal: As a native of Michigan, I moved to New York with a limited perspective of the depth and importance of social differences. Having a passion for creativity, I accepted the various ideas behind expression and equality that poured out from this beautiful, diverse place called Brooklyn. After graduating from Pratt Institute in 2006 with a degree in Communications Design and barely surviving the effects of forced independence, I started an open relationship with the nonprofit world and began to willingly become my own person. Since then, I have been employed and freelance as a graphic designer, with tons of exposure to the things that fascinated me as a child. Living in two culturally different environments has granted me a faceted understanding of social norms and injustices that I feel compelled to speak on. Though visual art and design have been my concentrations since grade school, writing and sharing thoughts socially has been my core calling. In keeping my promise to my parents, I have finally decided to write for social impact. Standing up for my truth while seeking and discovering the truths of others is the way in which I've chosen to take that on. So far, I've discovered that the most direct route to societal improvements begins with the coupling of self-awareness and humility.

One Response

  1. Willie sanchez

    So true Mr. Jako. Conversations is a great way to meet new people and also create a network that will assist you with employment, education and so much more. Small talk can go a long way. CONGRATS.

    Reply

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