Top 10 topics for small talk with neighbours as study shows chattiest streets are happiest streets

Neighbours are being encouraged to get together for a Big Lunch in June

Neighbours are being encouraged to get together for a Big Lunch in June

First published in News News Shopper: Photograph of the Author by , web manager

New research has shed some light on how well neighbours in London get along with each other, with a few surprising results.

Perhaps most surprising of the findings in the study by Lottery-funded The Big Lunch initiative are 60 per cent of people in London saying they make small talk with their neighbours and 53 per cent even going out of their way to start a conversation with a neighbour.

Almost three quarters of those who do make small talk claim a simple conversation with a neighbour makes them feel more in touch with the rest of their community.

At least the first two figures seem very high, certainly in my experience.

More believable is how small talk comes more easily to the older generation, with 72 per cent of over-55s saying it comes naturally compared to just 35 per cent of under-35s. Twenty per cent of under-25s say that they do not talk at all with their neighbours.

Also plausible is how 61 per cent of people admit they have got at least one neighbour they have never said ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ to and how 10 per cent say they have never engaged in small talk with a neighbour.

News Shopper:

Understandably, the key reasons holding people back from talking to their neighbours include not knowing what to say, shyness or a lack of time.

The study found that although almost a quarter of the people in London said they don’t feel comfortable making small talk with their neighbours, 30 per cent said it makes them feel that they matter and are less invisible and a quarter said they are flattered by the interest when a neighbour makes the effort to talk to them.

When it comes to the motivation behind small talk, 44 per cent said it makes them feel like they’re helping brighten someone’s day and 35 per cent said they wanted to talk about something that happened locally. Only 13 per cent admitted using small talk as a means to an end, for example asking their neighbour for a favour.

News Shopper:

Clinical psychologist Tanya Byron comments, “It is very easy to trivialise 'small talk' as tedious and time wasting, but in fact taking the time to have meaningful but minimal interactions is very important.

“These are the conversations that have meaning and benefit our immediate community and wider society. They are free, take no time and are impactful.

“These moments are humanising and are an important acknowledgement of the individual. In taking the trouble to talk to your neighbour you may also be helping to reduce their sense of loneliness.”

Researchers found that in London weather is the most popular subject when starting a conversation, followed by holidays and ‘general feelings’. Local events, children or the opportunity to gossip are also among the go-to themes when making small talk.

The garden provides the top location for small talk occasions, whether hanging out the washing, washing the car or other outdoor chores. Bumping in to neighbours in the local shops or pub also provides small talk meeting points.

To help you engage more with your neighbours, here is a top 10 topics to spark some small talk. All of them look doable, with the possible exception of number three – going too deeply into your general feelings with a stranger may lead to you being branded a weirdo.

  1. Weather
  2. Holidays
  3. General feelings
  4. Local events happening in the community
  5. Youth/their children
  6. Gossip or news about another neighbour
  7. Work
  8. Traffic
  9. National news/current affairs
  10. Crime levels in the area

The Big Lunch is calling on everyone to get together for an event in their communities on Sunday, June 1. Anyone interested in organising a Big Lunch in their area is invited to request a free starter pack from www.thebiglunch.com

How often do you talk to your neighbours? Do you get on well? What sort of things do you talk about? Do you think it matters if people in the same street don’t talk to each other very often? Do you think community spirit has died away in the past, say, 20 or 30 years (if you’ve been around that long)? Add your comments below.

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