It’s ok and socially expected to initiate conversations with strangers at certain kinds of gatherings. If a lot of people who don’t know each other are at the same gathering, and there is a social element to the gathering, it’s considered normal to initiate conversations with strangers.
Some examples of this type of environment:
- Freshman orientation
- Kiddush after services at a synagogue
A script that usually works well for initiating conversation with a stranger:
- You: Hi, I’m [Your name].
- They will usually reply: I’m [their name].
- Then the next thing you do is ask them a question that is slightly, but not very, personal based on the context
- Then they usually answer and ask you the same question
- This tends to result in you discovering something of mutual interest and having a conversation
Some examples of contextually appropriate questions:
- If you’re at a party someone is throwing: “How do you know [host’s name]” usually works
- (Even if they don’t actually know the host, this still usually works because they can answer something like “Actually, I came here with my friend.”)
- If you’re at a conference: “What brings you here?” usually works. (And will usually get to an area of mutual interest quickly, since being at the same conference with someone implies that you care about some of the same things).
- This is a better question than “What do you do?” because asking about someone’s job as an initial question is often interpreted as you asking them “Are you high status enough that I should bother talking to you?”. “What brings you here?” is more neutral
- If you’re at a kiddush at a synagogue: “Are you a member here?” usually works, so long as you’re not asking it in an accusatory tone.
- If there’s a bat or bat mitzvah, “Are you relatives of the bar/bat mitzvah?” usually works (even if you’re not and they’re not. The question works no matter what the answer is
- At freshman orientation or similar: “Where are you from?” usually works well as an initial question.
If you’re not sure whether you’ve met before, you can still introduce yourself. This is a script that works:
- “I’m not sure if we’ve met before - I’m kind of bad with faces. I’m [Your name]”.
- Then, if they don’t know you, you can use the usual script.
- And if they do know you, then they’ll usually explain the context you know them in.
- And then you can talk about that.
tl;dr It’s ok (and can be fun) to initiate conversations with strangers at parties and conferences and suchlike. Scroll up for some scripts.
Anyone else want to weigh in? What are some initial questions that work in other contexts?