Small talk is perhaps the most anxiety-inducing part of meeting new people. What do you say to someone you barely know without bringing up the weather or making petty observations of how strong your drink is or how you've never been to this bar before?
We get it, it's tough. Even so, there are certain questions that should never be used to fill this void... especially when the void has only lasted for about five minutes.
Save yourself the embarrassment of being written off as insensitive. The next time you're at a cocktail party surrounded by new people, steer clear of the following questions:
"What ARE you?"
Never, ever appropriate. The person you are talking to is human. Sorry, was that not clear?
Steer clear of this and its only slightly better cousin, "Where are you from?" If you want to know about somebody's ethnic background, try this: "Where did you grow up?"
This might not get you the information you were hoping for, but still, you're better off showing interest in a person's experiences than their ethnicity anyway.
"How are you still single?"
This just feels uh-ma-zing. People don't know why they're single, it's not like they've been sitting around doing studies on why they can't seem to find someone they're compatible with.
Let's talk about anything else in the world EXCEPT the reasons for being single.
"How old are you?"
Rude. So, so rude. Way to spotlight someone and make them feel like their age defines them, at least in your eyes.
This kind of stuff usually reveals itself later in the conversation more naturally anyway, so just wait it out.
"Are you seeing someone?"
Will someone's relationship status change the way you speak to them? It might, especially if you're fueling off an instant attraction to the person. Still, ease into it -- this just sounds aggressive in the first five minutes.
Also, avoid using the word "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" specifically. On the off chance you "guess" inaccurately in terms of someone's sexual orientation, your incorrect assumption that someone is gay or straight probably won't endear you to that person.
"Do you vote Republican or Democrat?"
How on earth did we end up here? Nobody has got the time for the follow-up this will most likely spark.
Social decorum means no talk of politics at the dinner table/bar/brunch gathering/pretty much anywhere that is not a politics class -- at least not at the very beginning of the conversation. Read the room.
"Are you religious?
A bit heavy for a first meet, wouldn't you say? Some might consider the topic of religion is just as off limits as politics, TIMES ONE HUNDRED. Are you ready for the aftermath in case they do?
Assuming they answer this question honestly, then what? In the rare event that this could turn into a debate of "convert or be converted" (regardless of what ideology, or even lack thereof, that's involved), let's just not.
"Do you work out?"
Does it matter if someone works out? Are you really dying to know? What purpose will this information serve you at this moment? Plus, people likely can't tell if you're hitting on them purely on the basis of their physique, or if you're suggesting something about their own behavior.
"Where's your name from?"
You think you're smooth, but you're not, you're really not. This is just another ploy to find out more information about the other person's background.
Why the games? No one's going to get hurt if you simply ask the questions directly (we hope).
"What do you do?"
In life? For work? On Saturday mornings when the weather is nice?
The one asking is usually the one who wants to spill their guts and brag about their fabulous job. In a day and age where we essentially ARE our jobs, we urge you to dig into the depths of your socializing skills and talk about something else -- for the first five minutes at least.
"What's your name again?
Some people just aren't good with names, we get it. It's not too big of a deal, except for when you make the person repeat their name three times within five minutes.
Do the proper thing: Wait until they walk away and then go run and ask your friend what their name is again. Or at least give it ten minutes before you ask them to repeat their own. And when you do, assume that they've forgotten your name as well so you level the playing field.
"Oh I'm sorry, am I boring you?"
Where is this coming from? Who gets bored in under five minutes? Chances are they're just getting to know you and you're pretty great right? Right!
And if they are bored, they can walk away. You don't have to check on them, they're adults (unless they're not, in which case you should be asking this question, because the poor kid is probably indeed bored).
Honorable Mention: "When's the baby due?"
This one doesn't come up too often. But if you don't know for sure, steer clear. This is literally the WORST thing when it turns out someone is NOT, in fact, pregnant.
Wait until it becomes very, very obvious that the woman is expecting and then by all means, congratulate away.