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In his book, Roger E. Axtel wrote: “In a world that grows smaller every year, it is easy to offend others simply by being ourselves …” (Axtel 1993). This phrase explains the importance of knowing the etiquette of conducting social conversation simply and exactly.
People from different countries almost always have different mentality, cultural norms and traditions. Taking into an account that the art of social conversation is a really complex matter of elegance, subtle nuances, creativity, and comprehension, no one can always know the right topic for discussion in every social situation. Thus, some topics which are appropriate and safe for one social situation can be inappropriate and even offensive for another social environment (Axtel 1993).
Appropriate Topics of Discussion
Three topics that are considered appropriate for discussions are the arts and entertainments, the weather, and sports. All of the three topics are normally of interest to a large circle of people, and they are not usually seen as annoying, boring or upsetting. The weather is always safe and good neutral topic for everyday discussion in any social environment. The topic of arts and entertainment can include not only art exhibitions and theaters, but such events as the latest television shows or movies, popular music, restaurants, clubs, magazines and books. It is not difficult to find a common ground of interests by surfing through this topic. Sports topics may include a variety of sports related subjects, such as what kind of sports someone likes to play or watch (now, ten years ago, in childhood) as well as topics about favorite player or team (now, ten years ago, in childhood) (Axtell 1993).
Inappropriate Topics of Discussion
Three topics that can be considered inappropriate for discussion are finance, politics, and religion. Any kind of financial questions is always inappropriate. Politics is one more really controversial topic, because one cannot always know who is he talking to, what opinions or intrests shares his opponent. Talking about politics should be avoided because of the risk of an overly heated conversation. Talking about religious beliefs and feelings is another extremely sensitive personal topic, which can have potentially very dangerous consequences (Axtell 1993).
Topics of Conversation from One Country to Another
In social conversations, Americans freely talk about the weather, sports, food, and careers. Americans prefer not to talk about political opinions and religious beliefs with strangers, because politics and religion are both extremely controversial topics. American people are also very careful while talking about bodily functions or personal inadequacies as well as sex subjects; all these topics are too personal and can be discussed only between close people. Americans like talking about sports, especially football, while Britons, Portuguese and Italians talk about soccer that they also call “football”. Americans like talking about food in aspect of healthy food and delicious food. There is no other nation in the world who would love so much to talk about their jobs as Americans. For most Americans, their career is their life (Quentin & Hofsess 1985).
The USA, the UK, Portugal and Italy have much in common concerning inappropriate topics such as politics, religion, personal inadequacies, and sex subjects. However, favorite topics differ from one country to the other. In the United Kingdom, favorite topics for conversation are weather, transportation, and prices in real estate. Transportation is the safest topic of complaints for Britons: they like to grumble that the transportation is expensive and slow. The second favorite topic of complaint and discussions is fluctuating of house pricing; it is always a hot topic for them. Weather is still the most reliable conversation starter, and taking into an account the fickleness of Britain weather, understandable, that weather is one more perfect subject for complaint and discussion (Quentin & Hofsess 1985).
In Portugal, in any social situation appropriate topics forr conversation are football (soccer), weather, and food. Portuguese love soccer and everything related to it. The weather in Portugal is warm or hot – nevertheless, it is still favorite subject for complaint. The Portuguese do not simply talk about food; they like talking about what happens after one has eaten the food. The Portuguese have a highly developed opinion of what should be eaten and what should not be eaten, what food combinations might not be healthy for digestion and what has to be done to avoid trouble of digesting (Quentin & Hofsess 1985).
In Italy, in any social situation appropriate topics for conversation are transportation, football (soccer), weather, and food (especially pizza). Italians are notoriously careless drivers and taking into an account the narrow European streets, the problem of transportation is an understandable reason for complaint. Although Italians have temperate winters with rare snowing, they love complaining about weather in winter. In July and August, the hot and humid weather is especially popular topic. Food is an appropriate topic for Italians in any social situation, especially if it is such food as pizza (Quentin & Hofsess 1985).
Gift Customs in Different Countries
Wine and sweets are always appropriate gifts in the USA, the UK and Italy. The common custom of giving gifts is during the holiday season, and guests bring gifts to hosts. Flowers and potted plants are also appropriate gifts in the USA and the UK. However, flowers are an unsuitable gift in Italy, because they are associated with funerals. Brooches and handkerchiefs are also associated for Italians with funerals. Nevertheless, like Americans and Britons, Italians appreciate invitations to cultural (concert, theatre) or sports events as well as an invitation for a drink or meal. In the USA, it is recommended to choose gifts without any religious connotations if religious background of associates is unknown. In the UK and the USA, gifts such as clothing, perfume or other means of personal hygiene are inappropriate, because they are considered too personal (Axtell 1993).