What is the perfect first question to strangers?

I’m trying to formulate the perfect wording of that first question, when you meet someone for the first time, that most accurately and efficiently helps draw out the salient aspects of their personality. The perfect first question should be intriguing, and allow people to answer accurately without sounding overly pretentious or intimidating.

“What do you do?” seems like the most common first question but I don’t like it because it’s too career focused. For people whose passions lie outside of their careers, you can often be stuck discussing a job they don’t enjoy.

“What are your hobbies?” and “What do you like doing” suffer from the opposite problem that it doesn’t feel appropriate to bring up work as an answer to it. I know a lot of people who’s passion is work and they struggle to really answer it because they have no real hobbies outside of it.

“What are you interested in?” is somewhat better. “What are you passionate about?” can be good but people can sometimes be reluctant to label anything they’re doing a passion.

“Tell me something interesting you’ve learned in the past week?” is occasionally really illuminating but it puts people on the spot and can be hard to answer.

“What makes life worth living for you?” can seem way too intense and soul-searchy.

“How would you describe yourself?” can make people too self conscious.

“What do you spend most of your time thinking about?” works really well for people with intellectual pursuits but doesn’t work well when their personality is geared more towards action than thoughts.

Currently, I’ve settled on “What keeps you interested, day to day?”. It’s got a good blend of being off the wall enough that people think about it carefully but easy enough to answer that people readily admit to a wide range of things. It’s a little bit pretentious but it’s pretty good, overall.

What have other people experimented with, with first questions? Have you found any awesome ones?

It’s unlikely that the first question you ask someone will be the most pertinent one. Even if you ask a first question that’s goes to the heart of them (for lack of a better term) it’s unlikely to be a good first question.

One of the functions of small talk and the talk that usually follows it is to grow more comfortable with the other person and gauge them. You progressively warm up to people and gauge them in breadth and depth as you get to know them.

If someone I just met asked me a question “that most accurately and efficiently helps draw out the salient aspects of my personality” I would give them a non-answer 'cuz who the fuck are they?

“Marvel or DC?”

The perfect first question? How about “What’s your name?”

Sure, but there are still better and worse first questions. I’ve noticed the tenor of the conversation varies considerably based on the first question asked and it’s increased in quality drastically ever since I abandoned “What do you do?” from my vocabulary.

I never ask “What’s your name?”, I always say “Hi, my name is X” instead. Does anyone do the opposite?

How do you like your eggs?

When people aren’t likely to be from around these parts, I ask them where they’re from. It seems to work well because you can follow up with “What’s it like there?” , “How long have you been here?”, “How do you like it here?”, etc. I need stuff like that cuz I’m not good at small talk.

“What’s your SDMB screen name?”

If they don’t know what you’re talking about, they probably aren’t worth knowing. :slight_smile:

I don’t think there is any perfect first question. If you try to make every conversation fit the same mold, you’ll come across as having a script. It’ll sound cheesy like guys in bars with tired pickup lines.

do i know you?


“What the fuck are you doing?”

“Hi, my name is X. What is your name, or what do you like to be called?”
Since you asked what was the perfect first question, I assumed you would have introduced yourself. Sorry.

I prefer the generic common ones:

How’s it going?
How’re you doing?
What’s up?

If you’re meeting someone in some context, then you’re able to ask a context appropriate question (like, “How do you know X?” or “What bring you to X?”). If you’re meeting a stranger for the first time without context, then you’re going to ask a generic question anyway because there’s nothing else you can ask. Of course, after the first question, you should tailor the answer to the response.

Basically, this came from me realizing I was asking “What do you do?” about a dozen times a week and being bored by the entire rigamarole. Once I started experimenting with different questions, I started having more interesting conversations.

I like the open-ended question “How is your life going so far?” followed by a silence and stare that indicates you really do want an answer. I have actually used that on strangers before. It tends to throw them off for a second but then they usually try to come up with something you can work with.

In China, you could ask someone if they’ve eaten yet. I kind of like that one.

Unless it was a business related interaction, there would have to be something that I found genuinely interesting about a person in order for me to strike up a conversation that went beyond saying a polite “Hello. How are you?” That would drive the direction of the conversation.

Now that I think about it, most of my first questions to strangers come after I’ve complimented them about something I like. Nothing too deep, just an ice breaker to see if they’re receptive to talking. “I noticed you have/are ___. That’s interesting/cool.” They’ll normally say “thank you” and either elaborate and talk about themselves or else end the conversation.

Am I the only one who would be made uncomfortable by that question? It seems kind of intrusive right off the bat.