Based on a real story, this excerpt examines the psychological process of an international student's adjustment to the American "small talk" culture.
I - HONEYMOON
(suddenly) "Good morning! How are you?"
"Hi. I am fine, thanks, and you?"
"I'm great. Thank you!"
Strange... Do I know this person? It's only my second day here though.
Wow. Are all Americans like this? Such friendly people! Unlike in my city - we always act so cold in the public.
II - FRUSTRATION
"Good morning! How is it going?"
"Hello. Good. How are..." (halted)
Hey wait up!! I am talking to you here. Excuse me! HEYYY. What's your problem, anyways??
No. What's the problem with AMERICANS?! Walking away in the middle of a conversation like that. So rudeee.
Stop acting like you care if you actually don't. Spare me from the irritation, will you?
III - ADJUSTMENT AND ACCEPTANCE
Well, I acknowledge that small talk is part of the American culture. I will just have to go with it. That does not mean I like it though. Still no idea why they have such a frivolous thing.
I can definitely empathize with the new international students. Poor them, being all confused and irritated.
"Sometimes I feel obligated to pretend that I am doing fine."
"I agree. I don't feel like explaining my concerns to everyone I walk by."
It's not like they actually care anyways, so why waste everyone's time?
IV - PREMISE
"Well. What if we did not have the small talk culture?"
Now that I have been in the States for a couple of years, such an idea seems rather unthinkable.
"...I guess it would be harder to initiate conversations?"
And so would it be harder to leave an impression and make people remember. The small talk culture enables us to open up to each other... and at the same time not be obligated to hold such conversations. Conversely, without such social acceptance, it would be impolite (and even creepy!) to approach strangers with such casual manners.
In a sense, I guess small talks help ease the formation of new relationships.
V - CONCLUSION
It is safe to say that the American "small talk" will come to my mind first and foremost, should anyone ask me of a culture shock experience. Fortunately, I have come to accept and at times appreciate this culture. Small talks have let me make new friends whom I would otherwise fail to notice. Time after time, it livened up my stressful days - when I needed anything other than another gloomy face.
I like how some think of the United States as having a "peach" culture: the initial contact may be "soft" and smooth, but only until re reach the hard shell. Its counterpart, the "coconut" culture suggests the opposite, as you may guess. Neither one is better than the other. It always takes time and effort to get to know someone. Personally, I have come to believe that small talk does not reflect how Americans are nor how they see others. Instead, it reflects how Americans think about social interaction - that it should be kind and casual.
Once we cope with how small talk works, it stops troubling us and starts making room for genuine connections.
“Stranger on a train” - small talk makes it easier to connect
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