Today my city of birth was deduced from a phrase; not my accent, but a specific set of words that I used, without even thinking about it.
As a person with limited skill at making small talk and generally getting to know people, it’s probably inevitable that when I do make conversation, I rely on clichés and patterns. These stock phrases and safe topics are not designed to reveal much about me, only to facilitate a relationship or interaction; only to achieve an aim, which is frequently to make people think I’m not odd or unfriendly. So…
What do British people talk about?
Most famously – weather is always a safe topic for any conversation. It is limited, true, but it can suffice to show that you are friendly and not too weird.
When you’re with colleagues, naturally. Or when you’re in a coffee shop or taxi, for example. It is common to ask taxi drivers about their shift, or sympathise with your barrista about the lunchtime rush.
With your own colleagues you have a safe haven as long as you have a vague idea of what they do. At the very least, your generic conversation should comfortably last a few minutes.
How do we talk?
That’s the other important thing to remember. Generic conversation with strangers or people you don’t know well can benefit immensely from being peppered with humour. A touch of irony, or even sarcasm, can go a long way. Most of my conversations hinge on humour – mine, and that of the person I’m speaking to. If I can’t make a joke or say something witty, I feel I ought to be apologising for being so dull.
I probably even have stock jokes that I adapt and use time and again without even realising.
What I do know, from over-analysing a lot of my conversations, is that I follow the same patterns and repeat the same clichés over and over. They are my road map for most of my social journeys.