If you need some small talk tips for quick city trips, you’re not alone.
You know the moment: shortly after the awkward name exchange and the (careful, very gentle) door close. It’s the exact second that you realise you’re going to be in a confined space with a stranger for the foreseeable future. You realise that your user rating directly depends on your ability to conduct the appropriate amount of interesting small talk.
You hear the words leaving your mouth before you can stop them: “So, how’s your night been?”
Good one, kid. The conversation sucks before it’s even started. If you feel like a conversational Uber noob, try these quick tips to elevate your chat.
Remember the golden rule of small talk: it’s safest to stay in the uncomplicated, public domain. That generally means no religion, politics or money. Stick to sport, music, film and TV, news and the weather. Yes, the weather… but that’s a last resort.
First, try these three trigger conversations. Use something you see or hear – a song, a billboard, a news item, a person in the street – to bounce off into a conversation.
1: Pop culture chat.
If you recognise a song that’s playing, make a comment. Go for something neutral or positive; you’d rather cast shade on your own music tastes than accidentally tell your driver their playlist sucks. “Oh, I like this song!” or “Do you know who this artist is?” are easy places to start.
If you’re not a muso, try other popular culture chat using similar triggers – billboards, soundtrack songs, people in the street who look like absurd cartoon characters – to get into a chat about films or TV.
2: News chat.
If you’re engaged with current affairs, don’t be afraid to cast a line and see if your driver takes the bait. Politics should probably be avoided here unless it’s fairly bipartisan or just plain obvious: “Oh, another leadership spill… just another day in paradise.” Try things like “Did you hear that volcano finally stopped erupting in Hawaii?” or “I just heard New Zealand banned plastic bags. Good old Kiwis!” or even “Did you catch the footy yesterday?”
3: Location chat.
This one works really well when you’re not in your home city, but you can use triggers in your local area too. An interesting building or landmark, a favourite restaurant or an unusual feature of the landscape can trigger a city chat. “Wow… is all of Brisbane this hilly?” or “That Thai place on the corner is amazing, have you been there?” can lead into “Do you live around here too?” or “I’ve lived here for three years; moved down from Whoop Whoop; how about you?”
The next two are what I like to think of as stock conversations. Keep these on the back burner for Uber trips as well as encounters with overly friendly neighbours. They’re not strictly public domain, but they’re not personal enough to make people uncomfortable, and you can open them up gently so you don’t sound intrusive.
4: Work and aspirations chat.
Many Uber drivers have another job, project or interesting hobby they’re quite happy to chat about. Try asking, “What do you do when you’re not driving Uber?” – asking them directly if they have another job might make things awkward if they work with Uber full time. I find with most people you can jump straight into this one, and you’ll immediately be able to tell what your friendly driver is interested in chatting about.
5: Family chat.
This can be a nice way to have a slightly more meaningful conversation. Always a good excuse for being late for a pick-up too. “Sorry you had to wait a minute, just trying to get off the phone with my mum. Always a mission. My brother is worse though. Know what I mean?” Voila – you’re in family chat territory. This is particularly good if they have children of their own. No one will pass up the opportunity to talk about their kids to a captive stranger.
And if none of that seems quite right, there’s always the good old, “Mate, great car!” to fall back on.
Then, there’s the weather.