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April 15, 2011

Meeting People: The Chili Cheese Omelet Opener

Meeting people as I travel is, without doubt, one of the greatest pleasures of traveling solo.

Amazingly, conversations with people we will never meet again often go deeper than talks with friends. Time, place, your traveler’s energy and the fact that the information exchanged will never reach home, all conspire for really free conversation – as well as insights you might not expect about the place and about life.
Conversation starters and expanders for solo travelers.

There are many ways to start conversations: ask for directions; exchange simple pleasantries about the weather; ask a person to take your photo… but I have a conversation starter and a conversation expander that tend to really get things going.

My conversation starter. This is for restaurants or pubs. I typically eat at the bar or find a restaurant with communal tables. This presents the perfect opportunity for what I now call the Chili Cheese Omelet Opener. I simply ask the person beside me: are you local? (This immediately tells them that I am not which makes me a bit exotic.) Then: have you been to this restaurant before? If the answer is yes (and you can usually tell a regular) you are set for the last question: Why don’t you order for me?”

The first response is usually a laugh. People often don’t believe that I would do such a thing. Then they get into it. They take pride in sharing what they think is special about the restaurant, their neighborhood, the city… I must admit, there are risks associated with this approach. While I’m not really a picky eater, I don’t like food covered with stuff that oozes grease. This is what I got with the Chili Cheese Omlet that was ordered for me in New Orleans. But I have often received really great food and the conversations that follow are well worth the risk.
Camellia Grill New Orleans A popular spot, there was a line up outside the Camellia Grill.

My conversation expander. This is for when it is clear that you’ll spend some time together – either on a tour or sharing a meal. I say: “tell me your story”. What an opener. How often do people get to tell their version of themselves so openly.

People love it and, as they tell me their stories, I learn about where they live, their culture, the economy of their country, people’s expectations from life, their value system, the politics… I learn so much and they, in turn, learn as they teach me.

Sometimes there is time for them to turn the tables and ask me about my story. And, when I tell them, I try to be as honest as possible, sharing my joys as well as my struggles in life.

These tactics work for me. The first time I used each was just by chance. When I realized their value, I tucked them into my repertoire.

What unique conversation starters / expanders have worked for you?

Special thanks to our contributor, Janice, from Solo Traveler Blog. Visit her blog for more great info about traveling solo.

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