Why Do Americans Talk So Much about Nothing?

Many people don’t understand why Americans like to talk about unimportant things. We’ll talk to complete strangers about nothing of consequence such as the weather or how long they’ve been standing in line. Why?

While many cultures engage in friendly conversation, the reason Americans do it is a little different. For the most part, Americans tend to look on the bright side, assume that people like us, and believe that everything is either okay or is going to be okay very soon. One of the ways we make sure that everyone likes each other is through conversation on inconsequential topics or what we call “small talk.”

If I start a friendly, inconsequential conversation with you and you respond in kind, we’ve just established a rapport. We’ve connected. We’ve conveyed to each other, “I find you acceptable. I’m comfortable with you.” Our connection might last only a minute or two, and it might not sustain if one of us were to try to make physical contact or ask the other for something. But for the moment, our small talk has created a comfortable atmosphere for us and that’s enough.

Although the current political climate is rough these days, Americans like to like to each other. We really do. In fact, it’s our strong, underlying cultural desire to like each other that makes us so uncomfortable when we don’t like each other. For all of our racism, bigotry and xenophobia, Americans like to think of ourselves as a “melting pot” where our differences are erased and we all get along great.

Small talk is part of our attempt to like and be liked by each other. It’s part of how we figure out who seems trustworthy, which is an important thing to determine when dealing with strangers. We also do it with friends, again, to re-establish rapport and gauge mood and where we stand with each other.

Of course, all these things are subconcious and if you ask an American why they make small talk, they might say, “I’m just being friendly” or “It’s just what you do.” If you want to get along well with Americans, whether strangers or people who are already your friends, you would do well to learn how to make such inconsequential conversation or small talk.