The One Question Americans Always Ask Strangers

What do you say to make conversations with strangers?

Columnist LZ Granderson writes about the one question that only Americans ask first when they meet someone new (and it's true, whenever I travel abroad, no one ever asks me this question - not at first, anyhow):

There isn't a question that's more quintessentially American than "What do you do for a living?"
It is just safe enough to start a conversation with a stranger, it is universal enough so anyone can answer, and it strikes right to the core of what our culture values most -- money. [...]

Since the end of the 20th century, "What do you do for a living?" has ceased to be an inquiry about how someone spends their time during normal business hours and instead serves as a slightly grating, socially acceptable manner in which we remind each other of the stuff we don't have or will never get.


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I thought the very first question was usually "How are you doing?" or a variation thereon. Most Americans I've met will ask that before they ask a person's name. Which is good, it's an important question. Certainly more important than what you do for a living.

Actually I think asking any question at all is more about showing an interest in somebody. Which is a good thing. When I was travelling around the states a few years ago I found that in most places the first question after "how are you doing?" was to ask where I was from. Maybe that was prompted by my accent. Usually when I answered I'd be asked for a more specific location, but I remember in Wichita one teenager asked where I was from and when I told him he just nodded in a satisfied way and said "I *knew* you were from out of town!"
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I notice those who have a problem with the question have not offered an alternative (other than "Where do you go to church" and whoo-boy is that a huge can of worms).
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@zeezaxa - that's actually what I've always thought: Americans define themselves as what they do, whereas in other countries, people themselves as what they like to do.
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I think it is a great question. People choose what job they take so asking tells you what they are interested in. Sure there are other questions but what you do for 40+ hours a week is a good start.

My mom grooms dogs clearly she likes animals, my brother in law is and electrician and is great at working with his hands, my best friend works in a bank and as kids she would add the tax before checking out just to see if she could get it right.

You can learn a lot about someone by asking what they do for a living.
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