Often, when you meet new people at parties, the first few minutes of conversations are fairly standard, especially when you come from a similar background. What do you study, what do you do, where did you grow up, what are your hobbies, …

But, somehow, none of the answers to these questions tells you a lot about a person, and they are very rarely inspiring. Even the hobbies are quite arbitrary as one can do most hobbies for a variety of reasons. What’s worse, I tend to forget the answers if not during the course of an evening, then certainly over the next couple of days. The underlying belief that one can get to know people through superficial facts always reminds me of the following quotation from “Le petit prince“:

Les grandes personnes aiment les chiffres. Quand vous leur parlez d’un nouvel ami, elles ne vous questionnent jamais sur l’essentiel. Elles ne vous disent jamais: “Quel est le son de sa voix? Quels sont les jeux qu’il préfère? Est-ce qu’il collectionne les papillons?” Elles vous demandent: “Quel âge a-t-il? Combien a-t-il de frères? Combien pèse-t-il? Combien gagne son père?” Alors seulement elles croient le connaître. Si vous dites aux grandes personnes: “J’ai vu une belle maison en briques roses, avec des géraniums aux fenêtres et des colombes sur le toit…” elles ne parviennent pas à s’imaginer cette maison. Il faut leur dire: “J’ai vu une maison de cent mille francs.” Alors elles s’écrient: “Comme c’est joli!”

So last weekend I decided to ask newly met people different questions. In particular: “What’s your favorite sound?”

I still remember all the answers I got and I don’t think I’ll ever forget them, ranging from the sound of pouring a wine from a bottle to the purring sound of a cat. I also believe that these answers let me get to people better in 30 seconds than many other standard questions in 30 minutes.

Do you have other good ideas for questions like this? Questions should be non-offensive, not too intrusive, require at least a few seconds of honest thinking and be a pure matter of personal opinion. Hmm, maybe I should even ask people this meta-question: “With which question do you think one can get to know people in an instance?” 🙂

One person almost “scared” me when she replied to the question “What are your passions?” by saying in a somewhat sad voice that she had honestly not thought about this for a long time.