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Interpreting American Small Talk

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Interpreting American Small Talk

I believe that every international student will experience different kinds of culture shock as soon as he sets foot on the soil of the United States. One problem is interpreting American small talk. As I come from an Oriental country, China, I often find it confusing.

When I first came to the United States. I was amazed to hear and felt that it was a task for me to use the words, "Thank you!" or "Thanks a lot!" In the grocery store, the clerks would say these words to me after I finished paying for what I had bought. At the loan desk of a library, the librarians would say them to me, as soon as they passed me the books. On these occasions, I sometimes would be a little embarrassed, for I did not know that people used these words more to show their politeness than really to thank you. Even when I understood these words, I still felt uncomfortable when I tried to use them. When I was ready to get off a bus, I would say to the driver,"Thank you!" Whenever I uttered these words, I would have such an uncomfortable feeling. In China, we do not use these words very often. We usually give a smile to the people who have offered us some favor. Normally we say, "Thank you!" only when we really and sincerely appreciate the people who help us a lot. Otherwise, a smile is enough.

In the first few weeks after I arrived here, I could not fully get the meaning of "How are you?" and "I am fine." These words may be the most frequently used words by Americans as a conversational greeting. When you run into an acquaintance somewhere, he would greet you by saying, "How are you?" In response you would say, "I am fine." But actually you might not be fine. You probably wanted to say something else from the heart. Even if you were possibly afflicted with some illness, or you were going to die, you still said, "I am fine." You would not tell people about your sadness or your trouble. Why? I guess that people do not want to know about you. These are just greeting words. In this way, these are quite similar to our greeting words in China. In the morning, on the street or in the hallway, we say, "Have you had breakfast?
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