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  • Jonathan Een Newton
  • "How do you start a conversation with a soon-to-be friend on the road?"

Jonathan Een Newton

Washington D.C., District of Columbia

How do you start a conversation with a soon-to-be friend on the road?

I have a sort of meta question.

I'm wondering what types of questions people have used to start conversations with locals. I love tapping into that knowledge but often I go totally blank in those situations even if I have a passable to good grasp of the language. What kinds of questions have worked that don't make you out to be a complete stalker or idiot -- though I'd prefer to come across as the latter!

This might also be a good spot to share any hilarious or awkward moments that have occurred while asking strangers for advice or recommendations.

Thanks in advance!

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11 Answers

  • Emily Nye

    top answer by

    I say embrace your idiocy! Every traveler is a bit of an idiot, that's what separates you from the locals! If people can see that you are comfortable with the fact that you don't know what you're doing and still having a good time, they'll be more likely to open up to you.

    That being said, food is the true international language. Be enthusiastic about your mission to find a good spot for lunch or dinner. If you know a specific dish that is a regional specialty, use it. Ask people where you can find some good, not too expensive goulash or haggis or whatever. But definitely don't accept the shrug and point answer. Get excited! And let your enthusiasm be contagious.

    Another tip - do something locals do. If you're only at the tourist sites, you'll only meet tourists and people working in the tourist industry. I've gotten my hair cut in lots of places around the world, and it is always interesting to converse (or try to) with the hairdresser.

    Finally, talk with the not-so-local locals. Almost everywhere you go has immigrants from other parts of the world. Some of the best local conversations I've had were with first generation locals who had traveled there to open a restaurant or shop. So go to that Malaysian restaurant in Serbia. You both know what it's like to be a fish out of water! It's something you have in common, so ask them about their experience and their views.

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  • Cherie Y

    answered by

    I wholeheartedly agree with the answers about using FOOD as a conversation starter! Most people love to eat and are likely have a favorite place in mind.

    One of my most asked questions in general is, "What's your food recommendation in [insert city/country name here]?".

    I'm kind of an introvert, so if a stranger started a conversation with me randomly, I might be semi-suspicious about their motives. However, if food were the topic, it would definitely spark a conversation and allow me to open up. That conversation could lead to other topics, such as "What is your favorite thing about your city?" or "What do you like doing on the weekends?".





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  • Justin Schmid

    answered first by

    It really depends on the country. In Australia, say that you're curious about cricket. It's a sure conversation starter!

    I noticed that Asians are super-helpful if you're looking for directions. Since you're likely to get lost, ask for directions and then continue the conversation.

    New Zealand? Don't worry ... Kiwis will beat you to starting the conversation. Never had any trouble in the Nordic countries, either (being a long-haired heavy metal-looking character, I always had people want to talk to me).

    I was in Brazil for the World Cup, so anything soccer-related was a sure winner there. Or food ... I just had to mention that I wanted to feijoada, and I had a new friend.

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  • Holly King

    answered by

    Since I will talk to a light post and my husband is shy... I do all the talking! I love that you asked, in countries where English is not the first language I try my best to know at least a few lines. Most folks appreciate the gesture. I also try and read if they are comfortable talking to me, did they offer speaking English, helping me with my pronunciations, etc.

    Then depending on where that goes - go anywhere! In Scotland we found the folks there to be open to conversation about everything from weather to dogs to food and sex (and this was just with a man delivering the mail one day - that was a 40 minute conversation and that was how I found out about Downton Abbey, sheering sheep, cheese-making, whiskey...)

    In France, more about where to go, food and the younger crowd seemed interested to discuss where we were from, where we had traveled and what we liked best (Same in Tunesia).

    England...Germany...Austria...you get the point, I think it is more the individual than a country, perhaps it is because talkers seem to find other talkers???

    Some of my best memories are from striking up a conversation with someone I would not normally talk to back home. I now have friends from 93-5 and from Africa to Canada.

    Enjoy the moment(s).


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  • Michelle Dunner

    answered by

    One of my best ice-breakers is to ask what people are reading - I'm assuming you're not adept in other languages, so if the cover of the book looks like English then there's a pretty good bet you'll be able to have a chat with them.

    Of course, it can have repercussions. Once I was sitting by the pool in Honolulu with a book. A guy came up and asked what I was reading and I told him: War and Peace - not your average holiday read. It was a bit much for the poor lad so he slunk off. Ne'er mind. I wonder what might have happened if he shared my taste for Russian classics.


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  • Melinda Byck

    answered by

    we live in a tourist city and when traveling we try to teach our kids to be careful, observant, but be willing to start conversations.

    one memorable trip to York we were on a public bus to a WWII camp and I had to sit in the back away from my family and friends. By the end of the ride, I had met most of the people in the back half of the bus and we were having Great fun. there was not a language barrier but I think the situation would have been similar else where too.

    The important thing to remember is be observant and careful but if you comment and act interested in others then most people will respond. it doesn't matter what you comment about but it's helpful if it's something relevant to what you are seeing because if it's different languages it gives you a frame of reference. Also asking or commenting on someone's family or kids is always a good ice breaker.

    most importantly, being friendly and polite go a long way.



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  • Jason Ball

    answered by

    Creeper Alert!!!! Just kidding. I think it's depends on your motives and situation. Usually most people have issues more so when it comes to someone they are "attracted" to.

    I'm outgoing so if I find someone I find interesting or am really curious to hear what they have to say, I usually will use the situation to open a conversation. For example, if the person was reading, I'd ask them about the book they have. Of course, you need to move the conversation along so only ask if you're prepared to have a conversation about literature. Nothing worse then asking about a book and then not being sincere by having the conversation if they reply.

    If it's a person you actually want as a friend, there must be something that made you think them friend worthy. For example, you find them talking about volunteering and find that is something you admire so you ask them about it.

    If they in turn like your attitude, viola, a new friend.

    Or, just buy everyone rounds of drinks and you'll have lots of friends :P

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  • Andy Huang

    Trippy Ambassadors are elite members of the community, hand picked to help you travel better! Interested? E-mail us at ambassadors@trippy.com.

    answered by

    In my opinion, some of the best people to talk to in other countries are servers in restaurants or bartenders in bars. There are many reasons for this:

    1. They are locals
    2. They often speak other languages
    3. They are often very friendly and open to conversation
    4. They know the local bar/restaurant scene better than most locals
    5. They work at the same place so you may see them again

    The way I go about it to go to an establishment that's not very busy, and casually chat up the server or bartender. I will simply introduce myself as a traveler, and ask for recommendations for fun places to go or fun things to do. Often times they will take an interest in you and engage you in conversation, and they will give you great recommendations.

    I've done this multiple times and each time it has led to some fun experiences.

    • In Shanghai I spoke to the manager of the bar who turned out to be a former tour guide. She took the next day off from work and took me around the city.
    • In Vancouver I chatted up a bartender which led him to invite me to have after hour drinks downstairs with the bar staff.

    A few things to keep in mind:

    1. Don't monopolize their time, they are working
    2. Tip them well
    3. Chat with other people too while you're at it!

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  • Anna Andreò

    answered by

    I always believe that this is some kind of magic, and for me, it worked asking questions about food. I mean, you ask for any information, then start a conversation from there. Being open minded sure helps a lot... it's strange, I never thought about this before. :D

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  • Tiffany Weber

    answered by

    I'd add that small gestures mean a lot too. When we lived in Spain, the lady who owned my favorite coffee shop fell and broke her arm very badly. We'd smiled at each other, but weren't ever conversive. That evening my girls and I painted a terra cotta flower pot and put a plant in it and brought it to her the next day. She cried, loved it, and our families became family to each other. That was the beginning. Not all gestures have to be big. A cup of coffee, a helping hand, a smile and hello - just reaching out can open doors to amazing, long-lasting relationships.

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  • Ed Balogh

    answered by

    Do you live here? What do you recommend? Do you know what bus to catch, or where to catch it? Do you know where I want to get off this bus? (if you are already on the bus) How long have you been here? What have you seen? Have you been to...? I've got X more days here, what should I not miss? What should I avoid? Is this your first time here? Do you speak English? Habla Espanol? Yo Hablo Espanglish. Do you really think Oswald shot Kennedy? I'm from Salt Lake, does this bar serve Mormons? Almost anything starts a conversation and it's the best way to get local advice as well as find out if a friendship will get started. If your victim isn't in a hurry, you may be the one cutting off the conversation.

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