SMALL TALK in German: What and how to talk to a stranger about? What are the best topics for a small talk in German? How do you start and end a casual conversation with a stranger in German? Is small talk even acceptable in Germany? Read about all of this in our article!
Whether you meet your neighbour by chance, or a colleague in the lunch queue, or even with a total stranger standing at the bus stop, it is sometimes very important to know how to strike up a conversation in German. At first, you might think it is easier than just exchanging a few simple phrases in German. But it’s not that easy, because it’s very difficult to find a topic that you can discuss everything and nothing at once, and naturally, even the simplest phrases in German get out of your head very quickly. What do you do in this case?
What does “small talk” mean?
Small talk is an easy conversation on a distracted, neutral topic. It’s usually between people you don’t know well and in a relaxed atmosphere. These small talks are also good in cases where it is necessary to fill awkward pauses in communication, to dispel an unpleasant silence. So the need for such conversations arises at times when you find yourself alone with a person and want to avoid awkward silences and downcast glances.
In such a conversation, the parties will not become heated and enter into an open polemic with the sole aim of establishing the immutable truth and, in the process, of defending their point of view and proving a breadth of opinion. They will inevitably try to politely avoid a painful silence on the one hand, but will not discuss sensitive or sensitive issues on the other.
Such conversations are popular in many countries and cultures, and Germany is no exception. Despite the fact that Germans are a rather closed people, such small talks can be found even here at every turn. So, of course, you have to be prepared!
What to talk about?
1. Choosing the topic
Discussions about current events in world politics and economics are best left for round tables and various forums. It is also best to leave out wages and personal life events. By the way, forbidden and unacceptable topics in Germany were written about in our article, so read on and take note!
Discussions about the weather, traffic or smaller, but important local events will, however, prevent the conversation from descending into heated debates.
In Germany you can start a conversation by catching a glimpse of your conversation partner and it is usually immediately obvious whether the other person is in the mood to talk to you or not. Don’t force a dialogue if the person turns away from you or is chatting on the phone.
But if you receive a non-verbal sign from a German, it will definitely be followed by some casual phrase, or you can also take the initiative yourself. Let’s look at some examples of how to start a small talk:
- Heute regnet es in Strömen, gestern aber hat die Sonne so hell geschienen. Denken Sie nicht, das Wetter in dieser Jahreszeit ist ein bisschen zu wechselhaft? – It’s pouring like a bucket today, and yesterday the sun was shining so brightly. Don’t you think the weather at this time of year is a bit changeable?
- Vorige Woche noch haben die versprochen, den Weg zum Rathaus zu pflastern… Na und? Noch mal bloße Worte! Wie gefällt es Ihnen denn? – Only last week they promised to pave the road to the hall… And? More empty words! How do you like that?
- So eine wahnsinnige Verspätung der Straßenbahn und zwar mitten im Arbeitstag! Ist doch nicht zu glauben! Wie lange warten Sie schon, wenn ich fragen darf? – For a tram to be so late, and in the middle of the working day! It’s unbelievable! How long have you been waiting, if I may ask?
Remember to structure your speech so that it doesn’t turn into a monologue and so that your conversation partner has a chance to answer the question!
2. Politeness is an intellectual weapon
It is not only the choice of topic of conversation that will give a relaxed tone to the conversation, but also the grammatical and stylistic design of the speech. In order to avoid sounding categorical, you can and should use the grammatical form Konjunktiv I. Remember, one of its main functions is to convey indirect speech, which we use to convey other people’s words without subjective evaluation.
In this way, you have at your fingertips everything you need to avoid evaluating your interlocutor’s opinions directly or indirectly. Isn’t that a beauty?
Let’s look at a couple of examples:
- Sie haben gesagt, das Wetter in dieser Jahreszeit sei ein bisschen zu wechselhaft. Das stimmt schon, aber es ist immer so im Frühling, meinen Sie nicht? – You have said that the weather at this time of year is too changeable. I agree with that, but it is always like that in spring, isn’t it?
- Ja, der Weg zum Rathaus müsse gepflastert werden, so die Lokale Zeitung, aber keiner hat uns die Zeitrahmen versprochen. Die sind klug bei der Regierung, nicht? – Yes, the local newspaper said that the road to the town hall has to be paved, but nobody promised us any concrete date. They’re clever in the government there, aren’t they?
- Laut Nachrichten die Straßenbahn könne heute den ganzen Tag mit großer Verspätung verkehren. Die Schienen werden diese Woche an manchen Stellen verbessert. Aber das hätten Sie uns früher sagen können, nicht wahr? – The news said that trams could be running very late all day today. There are track repairs in some areas this week. But we could have been told about that earlier, couldn’t we?
Of course, your answers as well as your questions shouldn’t sound too pretentious, but sometimes you should politely show interest (even if not) in your interlocutor’s opinion, because small talks are meant to fill pauses or simply distract from some boring waiting in line at the shop, for example.
3. Kind words please everyone
If you can, start and end the conversation by complimenting your conversation partner. Remember that a compliment must be sincere, so if you don’t enjoy the conversation, don’t make up words that are pleasant to the person you’re talking to.
Sometimes an expression of gratitude for the conversation is enough. The following are examples of phrases:
- Ich danke Ihnen für das Gespräch! – Thank you for the conversation!
- Das Gespräch mit Ihnen hat mir Spaß gebracht/Lust gemacht! – The conversation with you has given me pleasure!
- Das, was Sie erzählt haben, bereitet mir großes Interesse! – What you have told me is very interesting!
- Beim Thema, das Sie gewählt haben, fühle ich mich durchaus angesprochen. – The topic you have chosen really/wholeheartedly occupies me/excites/excites me.