Everything good or bad that will happen to you in the United States will come out of a conversation. It will be a one liner that makes you sound like a decent fellow in the eyes of someone who can – and will – help you out, a fresh idea that sparks a business venture, a coincidental discovery that will connect you with the right people, a good story that will jumpstart a relationship, professional or personal. You will discover that there’s no working here without networking, hence mastering the art of conversation. And the so-called art of the American conversation is never far from the art of the effective sales pitch.
Unlike the French conversation, the American conversation is based on the assumption that words represent actions, that the time dedicated to words should be short. Time is Money is Efficiency. The French who fail to understand those premises are doomed to waste their effort on their American interlocutors.
As conversations typically occur in social occasions, you should also understand the rules of that game.
At a party, you should greet total strangers, launch one micro-topic, react to a second one initiated by your interlocutor (so the exchange is balanced), then gently move on with a big smile and a “Great talking to you!” Sip the God-awful beer or grape juice for a minute, approach the next person with a large open smile and repeat until you have made contact with all the guests. You have made a big success for yourself if you collected a business card or the cellphone number of a babe.
Once you have done your round and the party is wearing off, you may allow yourself a follow-up talk with someone you have already seen earlier. A heartfelt “That was great!” wraps it all up nicely. If you are near your host at that moment, you double that with a quick turn to him or her: “Thank you so much. Beautiful crowd you got here!”
It’s really like speed dating on Prozac.
Unfortunately, the typical French conversation is lost somewhere in-between the American small talk and the American conversation.
The French conversation lacks the sense of purpose underlying any real American business talk and also lacks the artful emptiness and lightness of small talk. To an American audience, we are always off-track, somehow, too evasive and careless when we should be concrete and assertive, too serious and heavy when we should be light and funny. To observe the contrast between the French and American social interactions is to measure the gap between our two cultures and to marvel at how we approach differently just about everything.
Excerpts from chapter 7 – Networking and the American Conversation in Make it Big in the USA Just Because You Are French, Jean-Pierre Ledauphin, 2012. Translation by Wallace B. Thompson