What do you do?

“Hi! My name is Sweetgum. Nice to meet you.”

Then I might comment on where we are — at the kids’ school? At the grocery store? Fancy party? Wedding? For the school I might ask what year is your kid. For the grocery store I might comment on what’s on sale. For the fancy party or the wedding I might ask how do you know the hosts/bride and groom and tell my own relationship.

I can’t remember the last time I asked someone “what do you do?”

I don’t remember asking someone where they went to school either.

In my neighborhood if I meet new neighbors I might ask “where did you move from”, but I am more likely to talk about the weather or the nice flowers in their yard or their cute dog.


I don’t ask people what they do, and it’s not intentional. I just don’t really care to hear about their job right off the bat. I recently met my nephew’s partner, and although I talked with her for quite some time, I don’t have a clue what she does for a living. I imagine I used to ask that question, but over my many years on this earth, I’ve learned that there’s much more to a person than their job.


When I stayed home with kids, I was asked “what do you do” by an older male relative, and when I answered that I was staying at home, he turned and walked away!

I can handle this question if the person stays around for the answer :slight_smile:


We were on vacation and a family from Belgium asked if they could sit at our table. They had children in their 20’s and said that they were on this trip for their 25th anniversary and a milestone birthday.

I asked what that birthday was. They were surprised and said, oh you Americans are so forward.

I said that we were there celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary and my 55th birthday and figured we were close in age. That set the couple back and they seemed satisfied with my answer.

The other funny thing was the family started conversing in Flemish and the son swore, a word that we understood. We must have looked surprised because the parents told him that word is the same in English.


I’ve always been quite fine with sharing, especially with strangers I’d likely never encounter again. Somehow it always felt quite safe and semi-anonymous.

Exactly! I hate to be asked this question. I know I speak with an accent but I have been living here for more then 30 years so not exactly know what they expect me to say

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I ask it to a patient just to start a conversation between humans…

Often I get “I was a (insert profession here) but now a stay at home mom” I usually say “That’s a much harder job”. They normally agree. Which leads to talking about their kids then getting into why their in my office.


Coincidence … I am watching a rerun of That 70’s Show right now. Red has recently lost his job. He & Kitty are at a party with Kitty’s coworkers & Red is asked, “What do you do?” I love his response: About what?


I was volunteering at a homeless shelter, and we were asked to sit and dine with the guests, to practice hospitality. I quickly realized how many conversation starters were totally inappropriate for that situation, like “what do you do?”

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Conversation starters:

“What’s your major ?”

"Roll Tide "

“How 'bout them Dawgs”

Sometimes a very dangerous conversation starter: “When are you due ?”


Yes, I know people who have greatly regretted asking about when “due dates” were—definitely VERY dangerous ground for a conversation.

I worked in a homeless shelter for many years. You might be surprised at the number who actually had jobs. (And in general our guests had no trouble conversing!)


Yes, many do have jobs - but just like the general population, you can’t assume they do. When I was younger, it was common to be asked “do you work outside the home” because many women with young children did not. Now that I’m older, I’m getting asked if I’m still working or if I’m retired! Not retired yet . . .

And the homeless guests had no trouble conversing, it was me with the issues, because at the time I was more accustomed to making conversation in situations where we were there because of some commonality - at the same work place, or at an activity where our children were involved, or at the school where our children attended, for example.

More conversation starters:

“how are you today?”

“What have you been up to lately?”

“whatcha know good?”


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From experience, a widely accepted conversation starter in France is any criticism of the US.


So appreciative of professional volunteers like you! We had a couple stellar professional volunteers that made all the kids (and parents) have a great experience! It takes a special person to dedicate their time to these activities!

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We do this in certain circles in the Northeast, too. We call it playing “Jewish Geography.”

Reading this thread I’m finding myself glad that I don’t care a hoot what conversation starters others use, here or abroad. I’m willing to talk about pretty much anything.

I can’t even recall exactly how I start conversations because I don’t have standard questions. I go with whatever seems right at the time. I don’t remember anyone leaving abruptly or seeming to get offended in any way, so it sure seems like others are equally fine with our conversations. We get plenty of nice ones talking with people when we travel or at home. I learn a lot about others and vice versa.


So sure there are a lot of conversation starters.

But perhaps some of them also have questionable innuendo. “How are you today?” - is that a loaded question for someone having health issues?

Hopefully people “read the room” or “read the person” when opening up with conversation starters…but really, we don’t know when we might offend someone with ANY question.

I still stand by “what do you do” as being ok. I think a lot of people are overthinking it and/or tying it to a career.

I just returned from the dentist. My hygenist asked a lot of questions about my kids. “No grandchildren yet?!” - I mean, it doesn’t bother me but I’m thinking that could be seen as rude or intrusive.


A lot of people around me start conversations with what parish are you from. Given percentage of catholics it may make some sense. When I say I am not, they usually ask if I am catholic. My response of my parents makes them confused. LOL