Small talk made easy.


A young female friend tells me it’s hard to get to know the boys at high school parties because “they just talk about themselves”. Naturally, I was shocked. Clearly the old men of the tribe have failed to pass on the ancient secrets of meeting the opposite sex.

Rule one is always ask about her. This goes back many millenniums when the first caveman stumbled on the first cavewoman and sympathetically inquired about her efforts to achieve a work-life balance. She had a wildebeest that needed gutting, he had the evening free and that’s how the human race began.

It’s been the same ever since. Properly informed teenage boys, in service of their biological destiny, have politely inquired about matters in which they have no possible interest, including, in extreme cases:

1. Lovely dress! Is it from that new shop Zara?

2. I love Justin Bieber, too! When did you first discover him?

3. Tell me more about veganism. It sounds like it could be right for me.

I admit it’s tough to find something to talk about. When I was 16, a friend used to take an interesting-shaped bolt to teenage parties. When he found himself in front of a girl, he’d be red-faced and tongue-tied but, in an effort of self-mastery, would pull the bolt from his pocket and display it on his outstretched yet shaking hands. She’d say: “What’s that?” He’d say: “It’s a bolt,” and the conversation would be off and running.

Crucially, there’d always be a point in which he’d turn the conversation back to the girl, as in the inquiry: “So do you have a collection of bolts, too?”

This sort of smooth, debonair style is clearly missing in this generation of young men. Luckily, this column is in a position to help them achieve the seductive mastery of my own generation.

What’s crucial is to express interest in whatever is being said, however much of a stretch. For example:

4.  It’s just so great to meet someone as concerned as I am about tropical deforestation.

5. Actually, I’m a feminist myself.

6. So, which is your very favourite Kardashian?

Of course, it used to be easier for young people to meet. When I was growing up, we’d spend long evenings gathered around the piano wishing one of us could play. Into the deathly silence, we’d always try to stammer out a question:

7. I just adore Germaine Greer. My only criticism: she’s not tough enough on the men. What’s your view?

More importantly, we’d try to turn ourselves into the sort of young men who’d interest these particular young women.


Preparation was everything, with your teenage bedroom kitted out to give the false impression you were a sensitive intellectual. Copies of Rugby League Week were hidden away and replaced by a well-thumbed edition of Montaigne’s Essays. Neil Diamond’s Hot August Night was banished from its usual place on the turntable and replaced with an ECM jazz record from a minimalist Norwegian called, as I remember it, Terje Rypdal. And Greer’s The Female Eunuch, the world’s least likely erotic aid, was placed on the bedside table.

This was the late ’70s and we all shared an optimistic belief that we were intellectuals. Thus most girls of my acquaintance demanded a familiarity with the latest edition of The Guardian Weekly. Indeed, from the ages of 16 to 21, nearly all my romantic assignations occurred with the direct involvement of The Guardian Weekly, so much so that I still feel a small erotic charge from the mere mention of that distinctive and ancient masthead.

Whatever the preparation, your behaviour at the party is still important. On this score, don’t be too nervous. As a young man, it’s important to realise that, just as you have come to a party to meet girls, so the girls have come with the intention of meeting boys: just ones who are older, smarter and better-looking than you.

This is not the point to give up. This is the point at which you engage them in conversation, each question perfectly tailored to suit the person:

8. Baby dolphins? Really? What a surprise, because I love them, too.

9.  What did you think of the Booker shortlist?

10. Thank god they’ve finally put vodka and orange in a goon sack.

Ask her name. Ask about her hobbies. Ask about her job. And then express interest:

11. Claudine … wow, are you French?

12. Tenpin bowling? Daggy? No way!

13. So, let me get this straight: your part-time job is to remove the guts from the chicken and then spray out the carcass with water? How fascinating. Perhaps you could tell me more over a drink?”

Remember, the future of the human species depends on you. In the past century alone, at least 7 billion conversations such as this must at some point have occurred. Surely, for the sake of humanity, you can manage one more.

If not, try going to the party with a bolt in your pocket.

What is the best conversation starter you’ve ever been hit with or used yourself?

This was originally published  here and has been republished with full permission.

Richard Glover is the author of 12 books, most recently Why Men are Necessary and More News from Nowhere, a collection of his comic pieces for radio’s Thank God It’s Friday.