Ok, so I feel like 50% or more of what I do here is talk to people. We are mostly talking about small talk here, and let's be realistic--there are lots of ways that small talk can go wrong. I feel like I am getting a crash course in conversation-making (though I plan to step it up by going to the Conversation Club--yeah that's right, there's a club for that. In the club you sit down over a meal and have conversations over a subscribed topic. Why would you want to be in such a club, you ask? Well, because you get to skip small-talk, and I am all about avoiding talking about my college, what I am studying, where I am from, etc.), and there have been many lessons learned (which I will share below). But there is one thing that certainly clamps down on the learning process.
You see, when you are having conversations with lots of new people, there is a ratio of good conversations to bad ones. Some might suggest that good conversationalists have higher ratios of good to bad convos versus poor conversationalists. But how do you really know? I mean, we all have those conversations where at the end we thing, "Wow. That was awkward." If we follow gender norms, girls probably think, "I am so uninteresting. Why couldn't I come up with anything better to say?" and boys might think, "Geez, he/she was boring." (This is just what I have heard.) So, I have decided the best way to really make the most of the many conversational learning opportunities would be to film and scout your conversations (Drake Women's Basketball style). If you could have a recording of each conversation, an unbiased third party could weigh in on who deserves to bear the responsibility of the awkwardness. Perhaps it is a two party lack of conversation, or maybe there is one person who really shouldered the brunt of the responsibility. Maybe awkwardness was created by what wasn't said, or maybe something you said caused the tension.
I know for me, there comes a point where I think to myself, "Self, I have asked him what he studies, where he is from, what he did before Oxford, and what college he is in. Let's be realistic, we have NOTHING else in common. And, that guy may just be boring/awkward." But I could use an unbiased, third-party opinion. In the absence of such a scheme, I will share with you some helpful tips that I have learned in my weeks here so far. I am sure that there will be many more revelations.
1. When a person introduces him/herself, listen for his/her name. Don't be so busy thinking about what you are going to say next. (This is what I do, and let's be realistic--I am going to ask what college you are in and what you are studying, so I should just put that on autopilot.)
2. When you fail at the first piece of advice, and you don't know anyone's name, ASK them the next time you see the person. Yes, it will seem worthwhile to wait it out, but you will probably never find out the person's name and the next time you see him/her it will only be more awkward and shameful to ask. Bite the bullet.
3. If you (like me) choose to play off the fact that you don't know someone's name, you will soon be several weeks in with lots of faces to recognize and no names. Hope that no one speaks to you by your first name so that you don't feel pressure to reciprocate. Better yet, greet everyone aggressively with a "Heeeeeyyyy" or "Hey you!" or British "Hiya".
4. If you have to talk to someone who is not facing you and you don't know the person's name, just walk closer and closer to the person until they notice that you are speaking to them...then you can pretend like you said their name at the beginning but they just didn't hear you.
5. At any sort of mix and mingle event, HAVE AN EXIT strategy. The hardest thing about this is definitely the mingle part. You don't want to be in one group too long because other people may be burdened by your company. The key is moving before everyone else is bored--keep them wanting more. However, there are a few important strategies (listed below).
6. Lines for moving on politely (in mix and mingle situations):
a. I am going to go find the toilet.
b. Oh, I need to go fill up my drink (this is why it is important to always have a glass of water. If you want to return, offer to fill theirs up.)
c. And others
7. Also, be aware of the size of your cluster. Once you get down to three or smaller, it is difficult to have a clean break. You cannot leave someone standing by him/herself, so you are best to stick to larger groups. If your group dwindles (a sign that you should be moving on), look for people to introduce to your group...and then bail.
8. Once you get down to three people, MAKE YOUR MOVE. If someone else leaves before you do, you have no more options.
9. If you are ever in a small group (3 or fewer) and one of the other members "makes a move" let them do it gracefully. Do not come in with a "Oh, I see how it is. I must just be really boring." line. First, maybe it is true--you may be really boring, in which case the line isn't funny. Two, whether you are joking or not, it will be immediately awkward--particularly if it is true. (This may seem strangely detailed, but that might be because it might have happened to me.)
I think this is more than any one person can absorb at one time, so that should probably be all for now. Expect an addendum.