Chatting with Strangers: A Post-CNY Guide

Chinese New Year can be really awkward for introverts. Or extrovertly introverts. Or extroverts who are occasionally introverts. You get the drift.

Over the past few years, I’ve emerged from the teenage phase when everything adults do seem silly, annoying or embarrassing and started to appreciate these mandatory social gatherings in a much more positive way.

With a few years of experience (of failing and succeeding), here’s my guide on chatting with strangers without dying of awkwardness/dryness.

1. Smile and Greet

Adults, especially the elders, can be super sensitive sometimes. As a teen/young adult, pay attention to whoever is making an entrance or approaching you. Smile and greet them. Because it’s polite and realistically speaking, you want to be in their good books and avoid becoming a target. Form allies.

“Hello uncle! Hello auntie! Happy CNY!”

“Hello! How should I address you ah? Ma~?”
(Friendly relatives/friends usually take that as a cue and would tell you what greaaat friends or relationship they had with your parents N years ago.

“Your mum and I? We used to be partners in crime you know? We used to…….”

Tada~ Start to a positive conversation where you participate but are not forced into the limelight. If you appear awkward, I swear their next question would be “Are you studying or working now?” #uh-oh)

2. Non-Constructive Patronizing aka positive signal

It’s not a Chinese thing – non-constructive patronizing conversations help ease us into the conversing part and to let us get a sense of how the other party feel about us.

So as uncool as it may seem, DO IT.

“Haven’t seen you in ages!”

“Eh that’s a really nice dress!!”

“What a coincidence to meet you here!”

Sadly though, some adults tend to try and bring the conversations towards the negative side. For example,

“Haven’t seen you in ages!”
‘Yeah lor, same pay but more work, damn sian and want to die.’

“Eh that’s a really nice dress!!”
‘Aiya it’s the only one that would fit lei. Damn hard to find clothes la.’

“What a coincidence to meet you here!”
‘No time la, unlike you guys so fortunate to lead a good life, can come often.’

Whatever it is, stay positive, light-hearted and shower them with sincere praises. Tell them life is already better than kampong days (haha, non-constructive FTW!) and they look great/young/fabulous. As soon as you condition the conversation right, it’s hard for them to find a problem with you.

3. Reading their language

Sadly, not all adults are done with the growing up. Some of them simply love the silence. Or they have no interest in you. So you got to learn to read their body language.

If they walk in, say hi and turn towards others, that means they aren’t interested in you. Get some rest. If you sense that they are not focusing on what you are saying, then just slowly fade out.

“…..aiyah. Like that lor. Anything bah I guess.”

If they are interested, they’ll sense the awkwardness and pick up the ball from there. If not, break time! Time to get back to Candy Crush/social media binging! Woots.

4. Taichi and Vagueness

And then there’s this group of… over-friendly/over-concerned relatives.

“How much are you earning at ____?”

“Got boyfriend or not?!”

“What you get for OLevels huh??”

There are a few reasons why some of them are so inquisitive.
A) They have nothing better to say
B) Competitive parents
C) They genuinely want to know you better

So feed them what they want! If you know their children are better than you, then you’re probably not the real reason behind their questions. So… do Taichi, and put them in the spotlight. Even if it means lying slightly, just take it as humility for peace la.

#Taichi

“How much are you earning at ____?”
“Aiyah, small company/new at job, not nearly as much as your daughter la. I heard she’s doing really well right? Where ah?”
*cue for them to talk*

Another solution is to remain vague, or as the Chinese call it, “bring them for a detour in the park”.

“Got boyfriend or not?!”
“No eh. The standard of living in Singapore so high and there’s so much I want to do… You know that day my dad drive past that ERP how much not? ”

#Mundane #TeamVague #LetsComplainAboutLife

And for those who genuinely want to know you better…

5. Finding Common Neutral Topics

It’s always nice to come across people who genuinely want to know you better. Especially amidst all the senseless socializing in the modern age. You can tell when some of them observe you from afar (not the creepy way) and then slowly (but respectfully/amicably) approach you.

“I saw your Facebook post the other day. _______”

When I was younger, this group of relatives and friends make me feel uncomfortable. Like, why you stalk me on social media? Woah you were observing me binge on that tin of biscuits??

Then in recent years, I learn to find some common ground with them. I mean, why not, if they are genuinely nice people? Would be nice to get a good relationship out of the festive season, no?

So it’s nice and polite to continue the conversation. If you don’t like that particular topic they are embarking on, #Taichi it to them.

“I also saw your FB that day, did you manage to solve that problem?”

Or put your smartphone to good use – show them, especially the elders, what smartphones can do. Many of them are really curious about Facebook and whatnot, it’s nice to give them a glimpse into the world.

IF you can tell that they are the kind who would struggle in cyberspace, then just end the conversation like, aiyah but it’s troublesome to keep up/ there’s a lot of fraud cases la. That would make them feel better, like they are not missing out that much. 😉

OR if they are not into smartphones, talk about people. Randomly pinpoint someone in the room and say,

Do you know her in the past? What were your growing up years/job like?

Or the environment.

I like the color they painted their house! Do you?
Do you watch TV? Or YouTube? Or drama?

Not only would the conversation flow, you may also find something in common with them, with opinions or interests. If you genuinely like them too, it’s nice to ask them for their contact numbers or social media info. Kinda sending a positive signal to #KeepInTouch because #IHadAGreatTimeChattingWithYou.

6. A bigger party

For those of us extroverted introverts, it’s nice to socialize but we don’t have the stamina. So bring more people into the conversation!

“Eh gor, do you remember what you did at aunt’s house back when we were kids?”
“Ma, is it true you and ___ pranked your teacher in school??”

The more the merrier. Because that means there’s more time between each time you have to speak up. And if some others click, voila! You can fade out of the conversation again!

#ImNotUnfriendly #JustPolite #LeaveYouGuysToChat

7. Relax

The final tip is to relax – it’s a human dialogue, not an entrance interview to university! Learn to listen and read their body language. Ultimately, it’s better to make friends than enemies.

Don’t take everything people say personally. Just because they praise their son doesn’t mean they look down on you. Set a bottom line for yourself and learn to digest other people’s behaviour and words until they touch that ultimate bottom line.

Soon enough your “bottom line” would become “bottomless” and you find yourself becoming the Master of Conversations – majoring in networking and senseless communication.

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