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How do I "mingle" with the locals?

Hi everyone. I'm not "gifted with gab" and find it difficult to carry a conversation unless the one I'm conversing with is! Rick makes it look so easy on his DVD's, but he's got a camera man & producer and a big professional camera that will make people do one of two things; run away in the other direction, or stick around and put on their best "show" for the camera. I know a pub, local transport, B&B's, etc. is the best WAY to meet and mingle with the locals, but any suggestions for HOW a shy individual like me can do it? How do you start a conversation? What are "safe" topics? What do you actually "do" to mingle and get to know the locals? If it makes any difference in your replies, I hope to travel with my husband, and would be traveling to England/Scotland. Thanks for your help.

Posted by
9363 posts

Ask a question. I've gotten into conversations with locals in Ireland by asking a question about the area, such as where is the best place to eat, to purchase a particular item (sweaters, maybe?), or things like that. Conversations have also started by asking someone to take my picture at a location. Your American accent will be as interesting to them as theirs is to you, and they will ask where you are from....and off you go! If you are staying in B&Bs, your host will probably be happy to chat with you.

Posted by
219 posts

Diane, you’ve picked great countries to practice your conversational skills. They speak English, they’re friendly, and they’re interested in strangers. I will assume you are traveling by yourself. For me, I started off by asking the owner of the B&B that I was staying at to recommend a local pub, not too seedy and age appropriate. I found that the harmless and colorful characters drank there. I always went straight to the bar and situated myself near a group of locals who would hear the conversation I had w/the bartender like what local beer is good around here? Hopefully some of these friendly locals will observe and hear you. They might actually start the conversation: so where are you from? Your answer should be positive, accurate, and colorful. Then talk about the local sights, customs, language differences, weather etc…. If no one starts talking to you, then take a few gulps from your beer, inch over to the nearest group, and w/sincerity ask a friendly question. Have fun!

Posted by
10344 posts

I think Jeannine's post gives good advice, and she makes an especially important point: unlike some other countries, where you're going they speak English--they think WE have an accent! :) -- and that eliminates half the difficulty right there. Happy travels!

Posted by
83 posts

Hey Diane, don't worry too much! I agree that asking any questions is a great way to break the ice. The ticket seller isn't going to have a lot of time to chat but you'll find plenty of reasons to talk, even if it's just about the menu! There's a certain element of politeness that you'll find in the UK that will work to your advantage.. The stereotype of Americans is brash and loud, so I think many Brits will appreciate your reserve.
Before you go on your trip start reading up on issues in the UK (google news, look for UK ver). A comment about, for example, the record rainfall, can bloom into full conversation.
The difference between UK pubs & bars here is another advantage for you. UK pubs are more for a meal, a pint & general socializing (some will even have a play area for children). You won't be giving out wrong signals by talking to a stranger in a pub. Picking up on single women is generally left for the clubs. Any British folks here are free to correct me!

Posted by
31471 posts

Diane,

I also consider myself "shy" to some extent, but this seems to be "improving with age". I never seem to have a problem talking to people when I'm travelling. I've found there are often situations where you'll find you have something in common with the people around you. For example, the train is late and everyone on the platform is a bit annoyed; that can be used to initiate a conversation.

As the others have indicated, you'll probably find a friendly group in the Pubs. As Rick mentions in his books, it's often easier for people travelling "solo" to meet others, as they're more approachable. Also, solo travellers will generally "reach out" a bit more often to start conversations.

It's fairly easy to spot other tourists, so I generally chat with them as I'm interested on where everyone is from. I've found that fellow tourists often like to talk, as we're all in the same situation - a long way from home, and it's nice to find out how others are enjoying their travels.

Cheers!

Posted by
112 posts

Diane, the english and scottish people are very
friendly and helpful. They like our accent as
much as we like theirs.
I visited my brother in Hawaii, he was a musician
and my first night there, he was playing at a
private party and he couldn't take me with him.
He told me it would be o.k. to go to this
one place but to sit at the bar so I wouldn't
have someone sitting down at my table. I sat
next to an older woman and it looked like I was
with her.
This really cute guy came up and started conver-
sation and we found we were both from Southern
California and knew some of the same people.
We dated there and continued at home and this
year we will celebrate our 45th wedding
anniversery.

Posted by
410 posts

As others have said, I assume you are travelling alone. I know it may not seem it but this will make it much easier to speak to the locals and they to you. As a couple, they tend to leave you alone which can sometimes be a bit frustrating! Scottish people are in general a bit more friendly than the Brits. And in general quieter than Americans, Australians etc.

Posted by
852 posts

Hi Diane,

Keep in mind we are all actually pretty much alike. So, believe it or not, this line works almost every time ...

"DO YOU COME HERE OFTEN?"

Then use your best smile. All the best ... P.

Posted by
83 posts

Diane,

One thing I sometimes do is bring my tourbook / guidebook with me to a pub or restaurant etc (even if I'm done touring for the day and don't actually need it until the next morning) and simply place it on the bar or table etc. Don't actually spend much time reading the guidebook at the pub/restaurant or the locals may think you prefer to just read and don't want to be bothered. I find that sometimes someone will see the guidebook, realize I'm a tourist (yes, being a tourist is ok..lol) and this picques their curiousity a bit. When they see the guidebook and realize I'm not a local (of course the accent gives it away also) they may ask where I'm from, where in their country I'm visiting etc.

This is not always successful but it has on occassion been a conversation starter.

Posted by
683 posts

Always breaks the ice if you compliment someone's dog,baby or clothes (hats and shoes especially) or complain about weather if it is obviously bothering them as well

Posted by
23 posts

I just want to gently correct Liz and say that the Scots and the English are both "Brits" so do not make the mistake of referring to the English solely as British. The Welsh are also British but take very great care - the Irish are NOT.

The term comes from the inhabitants of island of Britain.

Posted by
505 posts

A clarification...

Pubs in England tend to have more of a family atmosphere, while Scottish pubs tend towards being adult establishments. Many pubs in Scotland do not admit persons under 18, at least after 8pm, as this requires a particular license. And many are not places you would bring a child anyway - they don't serve food other than crisps etc., and are places for enjoying a beer, a game of pool, the telly & conversation.

That doesn't mean there aren't some great family pubs - more common in the tourist areas and great places to eat with kids. But I think pubs, particularly in Scotland, are really adult locations.

As to 'mingling' - just take the opportunity to chat. You'd be surprised who the 'locals' might be - I often surprise people here with my American accent. I don't mind chatting about politics, but it can be an uncomfortable subject for some people. But sports, history, the local news etc. are fair and fun game.
Ask for directions, chat with someone at the pub bar!

Posted by
221 posts

I would like to weigh in here, I went to Ireland last year alone for 10 days, I am 53, female and traveled alone. I braved the pub scene a few times and although I loved Ireland, I felt pretty shy and awkward in the pubs. I didn't really find opportunities to chat with locals which is what I wanted. The only people I really met at the pubs were other Americans, and once a couple of tour bus drivers that were nice. I am friendly and outgoing but definately didn't quite figure out how to do this comfortably. The next time I go, I plan on inviting my B and B hosts out for a pint and figure if they say yes, I will meet some folks that way. Or if I go to a pub with trad music, buying a round for the musicians, maybe during a break, they would say thanks and I could chat with them. Anybody tried these ideas?

Posted by
251 posts

While I won't claim to do this intentionally one way that never fails to gather people around in any country. Sitting in the cafe or pub I will be reading the paper (usually the IHT) and I will sigh or groan out loud, shake my head, or just roll my eyes and mutter under my breath "how stupid" etc.... (I am naturually a expressive though also shy person). It will always spark a sypathetic comment or two.

Foreigners love to talk politics, and anything can be political. They love it even more when they find Americans who feel the same way they do and can intelliently complain about the American administration. Even when they have different views, I find the arguments to be much more interesting than most oposing views in the U.S.

Also if you have a hobby or a profession, seek out others or a specialty shop.

Also Some of the most interesting people I meet aren't actually locals, but other travelers, European, Austrailian, Asian, and they can be just as interesting.

Posted by
83 posts

Religion & politics are topics that are best left for more well aquainted chatters. Whether it's Thanksgiving dinner or a English pub.Asking someone to explain what a tory is vs. labour shows you have an interest in your host country, I'll admit. But trying to navigate sensitive subjects can be tricky. Americans feel, and rightly so, that their politics are worldly concerns because we affect the rest of the globe so much (bloated egoists that we are). However, I wouldn't go recommending it to someone who admits to being a novice. They are legitimate things to talk about but aren't 'safe' topics for a lot of people.

Posted by
993 posts

Diane, Funnily enuf, sometimes you don't have to be the one to start the conversation. I was in England last October and,upon hearing my accent, several times people wanted to ask about things political. So be prepared for that. We once stopped to admire a house and mentioned how lovely it was to a man working nearby. He was the caretaker for it and the one next door. That conversation snow-balled to enclude the homeowners of one of the houses, plus an invitation to see the inside. The caretaker is now a penpal to both me and my sister.

Posted by
196 posts

I almost always have my journal w/ me, and inside the front cover I have a US map w/ my town marked in red; it's a quick way to show people where you're from.Most Europeans are far more knowledgable about US current events than we are about theirs. They will almost always ask your opinion about George Bush and will usually tailor their comments to your reply---but, know ahead that most Europeans do not like this administration and will be very vocal about it. I agree w/ the poster who said it's sometines easier to meet people when you're alone rather than a couple. Stopping to buy a magazine at a street newstand or toothpaste in a drug store will usually offer a chance to converse because your Yank accent will be so obvious.

Posted by
435 posts

When I travel I get a copy of the local weekly entertainment guide (for example: Pariscope in Paris, Time Out in London, etc). I find a local performance, cheap is good, free is better, in a non tourist neighborhood. Look for something like a community college musical or a group of orchestra students giving a receital. Many of these events have a reception afterwards where you can meet people. I've done this with my husband several times, and we've met people who were astounded and pleased that we were tourists and made our way to their event. It's lots of fun, too.

Posted by
40 posts

Hi Diane. I'm shy, too. But I usually find something that I can compliment a person on, and that always starts a conversation.... "cute shoes! how do you walk in stilletos on the cobblestones?".....

Posted by
769 posts

at pubs - go to the bar vs sitting alone at a table - or join a table of a group that you feel confortable with and they will probably talking to you - before you know it - half the table will engage your conversation!

also - liek a journal - a sketch book often draws attention as people are curious to see your work (for me its a bit intimidating since im not that good yet! hah)

Posted by
3428 posts

I love to "chat up" the vendors at various markets. Covent Garden Market in London is great for this. We have made several friends this way!

Posted by
3 posts

In my experience, the "exotic Yank" factor increases the more off the beaten path you are. You can strike up a conversation anywhere you go, but people tend to be more curious about us in places not frequented by Americans. Usually once they hear the accent, the first question is "Oh, what brings you to our area?" This is a great open-ended question that can lead anywhere.

I went to a laundry in a small town in Wales, and owner asked me if we all deep-fry turkey. At the pub down the street, someone wanted to know if we all drive big, fast cars.

In London people hardly noticed my accent.

Posted by
3580 posts

The best conversation places for me have been in laundromats and on second class train rides. I usually ask something to get the discussion going. "Where are you going, is the train late, how do you do this," etc. Another place is the breadfast room at your hotel. Not everyone likes to talk at breakfast time, but some do.
A couple of times the other person clearly did not want to talk; otherwise, I've had a good time talking to locals and other travelers.