Slight anxiety started to appear as I sat with a colleague for lunch. A westerner he was. One of us had to start a conversation. What should I talk about? It shouldn’t be about work. There is a killer topic: Indian food vs western. But I have done that a thousand times, this cultural comparison… not again! I wish he came up with a topic instead :). So many things in this world to talk about but right now, I just cannot think of any! And this bread and cheese combination is so dry to eat.
It all came so natural while I was in India. Every lunch was a pleasurable and memorable experience. Now when I think of it, every day we used to have a different wonderful lunch conversation. It didn’t matter who we were with it always was enjoyable. Now after coming to this western world, that has been taken away from me. And I am sure my western colleagues are all enjoying lunch time the same way I used to enjoy back then. I made a plan… a plan to bring the most wonderful time of my day back to life again!
I made a page in OneNote titled “Lunch Conversation Topics” (LCT). A shortcut of the page was put on the smartphone home screen. That day while going to the coffee machine I saw a boarding kept on the floor. A different logo of our company was seen on it and I took a note of it in LCT. And later during the lunch, I secretly flipped the phone and “hey, you know I was surprised to see this logo….”. It was actually our company’s old logo and that conversation caught on and we talked about the history of the company and some old colleagues, some old outings and a lot more. The whole lunch conversation that day was centered around this topic and you can understand how thrilled I was for that contribution 😀
Another time I took a note on LCT about Tour-de-France. The information I got from one lunch conversation was used to start another lunch conversation. Actually long cycle race was a boring affair to me but this is what I learned from all these conversations : Players bike as a team and team members take turn to bike in front of the main player when there is wind to save his energy. Same way the opponents might try to hide behind a player to save energy and it is funny to see them trying to expose them to the wind. So there were a lot of things fascinating about this sport and thanks to my lunches :).
And slowly these interesting things happened to me :-
- I could start a lunch conversation easily even without LCT.
- Every time someone started with Indian food topic to me(which I am fed up answering) I could tactfully deviate to a culture-neutral topic.
- My LCT also grew to accommodate separate topics for elderly men, women, middle aged Dutch men and young colleagues. Yes and they come handy once in a while 🙂
- Knowledge on western culture grew by leaps n bounds.
- Lunch conversation in India sometimes were emotional(laughter not included). But now I can converse with zero emotions.
To us Indian expats it is important to lunch with colleagues from local country or other expat colleagues. Lunching with Indian colleagues will be comfortable but won’t enable us to learn the skill so this should be the last option(be tactful else you will be in politics trouble :P). It is beneficial to us if the conversation topics are not about India or the cultural difference there is. But for a westerner it might be interesting to talk about India and learn about India through us :). Who does not love India!
To be effective in lunch conversations we need to find out the topics locals talk between themselves. Educate ourselves with these topics and try to blend into the conversations. For e.g.: If you are in Netherlands then you should be reading more nu.nl or tweakers.net (with google translate) by sacrificing some of the time we spend on timesofindia or ndtv :). I know an American who used to talk about Indian politics and musical instruments during lunch in her one week stay in India. She chose politics because we used to talk that a lot. She chose musical instruments because she was passionate about that. That is what we call integration!
It might sound unnatural and awkward to prepare for lunch conversations beforehand. But trust me, many things expats do are not traditional at all :). There are many Indians who excel in multi-cultural lunch conversations naturally and you could be one of them. But if you found it difficult like me then such ‘hacks’ might help. Being an expat is one thing and being a successful expat is something else. Successful expats re-invents themselves in difficult situations. Lunch conversations are an important aspect of our life no matter which part of the world we live in. The better lunch conversations we have the more natural we become … it is that simple! 🙂
Finally a cheat sheet for western lunch conversation 🙂
- Mondays: “How was your weekend?”
- Fridays: “What plans for weekend?”
- Tue-Wed-Thu : If near holiday season(winter/summer/spring/autumn)=”Any vacation plans?”
- Tue-Wed-Thu : If not near holiday season = Did you hear about (trending tech news)?
- Any other Wednesday= “Can we remain silent? Because I don’t talk on Wednesdays!” just kidding 😀
We now have very less days remaining with absolute no subjects to speak :D. Westerners are so much fun to be with ..bon appetit!