7 things to never talk about

by Jessie K on November 12, 2013


This American Life had a great segment this weekend about a woman Maria Matthiessen who is a stickler about how things should be done. She has inherited a set of seven rules — passed down from a French woman whose own mother passed them down to her (naturally, leave it to the French!) — about topics of conversation to avoid at all costs to keep boringness from your life and not kill friends with dull and self-indulgent droning.

Want to know what her seven conversation killers are?

  • Never talk about how you slept. Nobody cares.
  • Never talk about your period. Nobody cares.
  • Don’t ever talk about general aches and pains. It’s really tiresome. Although she makes an exception for close friends  and family members particularly if they’re suffering from debilitating condition. Everybody else? Save it for your doctor or for the mirror.
  • Never talk about dreams. No one cares about your dreams. (Busted! I tell Jake about my dreams all the time!)
  • Never talk about money, which Americans do all the time. It’s just so vulgar.
  • Do not discuss diet (gluten, dairy free, Paleo, vegetarianism, Atkins, I feel so fat, are you asleep yet?).

And her number one crown jewel conversation killer is…..

  • Route talk….when people tell you how they arrived, or how they came, which route they took, which road, how long it took, blah, blah, blah.

What do you think? Do you agree with this list? I generally do, but I’d like to add one of my own:

  • Never go on about the plot of a movie. It’s sooooo dull.  It’s one thing to summarize the plot in 30 seconds or less, but to walk a listener through the twists and turns and dialogue of each act is just pure death.

You can listen to it here if you want.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Catherine November 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm


The list is great, (very French), and your addition definitely belongs on it!
Your post came through while I was taking a break for lunch, and so I decided to listen to the broadcast while eating…
The first “challenge anecdote” was perhaps not the most suitable to listen to while eating, but omg, it was simultaneously horrible and hilarious – poor Ninon!
I have to get back to work, but can’t wait to listen to the rest of the challenges. Thanks for making me laugh (somewhat guiltily) today!

Jessie K November 12, 2013 at 2:54 pm


Hey, my pleasure, Catherine!

Andrea November 12, 2013 at 2:21 pm


My husband likes to tell me about his dreams, in long, drawn out detail. It’s enough to put me back to sleep before I’ve barely woken. Yaawwwnn.

Paula November 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm


Agree. You might add religion and politics when with people you know have strong, opposite opinions. Especially during occasions from which there is no polite escape.

Someone once said something to the effect that small people talk about other people, ordinary people talk about things, and great people talk about ideas.

Janelle November 12, 2013 at 3:59 pm


This is my mother! No wonder I never say anything when she calls. I listen and then she says, “OK. I don’t want to take all your time. I’ll let you go.” “OK. Bye mom. Nice talking with you.” – even though I barely said a word (literally!)

Janelle November 12, 2013 at 4:00 pm


Oops. I meant to leave a comment for all and then to Paula say:
I like your last paragraph. I’ll remember that.

david cole November 19, 2013 at 1:10 pm


excellent quote Paula. “Someone once said something to the effect that small people talk about other people, ordinary people talk about things, and great people talk about ideas.”

sarina November 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm


Yikes.. the medical/health talk.. that is more of an Ick factor thing for me than boring.. unless the person is of very close personal importance.. I don’t want to know.

The route talk and how you slept.. are kind of harmless. They are kind of just conversation fillers sort of like talking about the weather.

Dreams? Well, I guess it depends on the dream. Sometimes it’s funny if you had a weird dream that someone was in. But, then again, there is a time and a place for everything right… you would make your boss awfully uncomfortable if you spouted off about that dream where the whole department showed up to work naked right? Of course if they mean dreams and aspirations.. your spouse SHOULD care:).

Diet talk is usually either unsolicited advice or people fishing for the “oh.. you don’t need to diet” compliment.

I agree with the money. If you have a real need to understand what something costs because you are interested in buying the same/similar thing. (house in a neighborhood.. car) then it isn’t too out of line as long as you don’t ask what people paid directly..lol. However, the how much do you earn and mindlessly wanting to know how much everything your neighbor buys costs?? not really.

Janelle November 12, 2013 at 7:06 pm


By the way, I LOOOOOVE This American Life. It’s the only podcast I listen to. Ever. L. O. V. E. I. T.!

Brad K. November 12, 2013 at 8:12 pm


I think you can often describe what happened to you at work or in a relationship, but not what you said or did, or what anyone thought.

Karen November 12, 2013 at 9:41 pm


My husband sent me the link to that story. We listened to the prologue in the morning and then part of the story in the evening over dinner with the kids. What a great list. It sounds like something his mother would say. I do not mind hearing about most of the things on the list but dreams. Dreams I do find to be a conversation killer because usually they are just not that interesting.

Mary November 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm


Okay I understand the list somewhat but there is a problem here. Never talk about money doesn’t work when you are trying to save for the future, plan your family vacation, or just stay on budget so is family money issues an exception like the health issues? I also understand the politics and religion it has become a problem at parties or family get together because my husband is very insistent that he is right about everything and it’s not on the list. The health issues don’t work even around close family or friends they tend to tune it out and don’t listen that is why my husband didn’t know he had a life threatening hereditary disease his family never discusses their health. I’d like to make my own taboo list and when I go out with my husband it’s I can’t tell the waiter my food allergies, I can’t talk to anyone about anything personal it has to be superficial, and I think I am better off not going anywhere with my husband because there is always the taboo of over sharing anything.

Janelle November 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm


I finally listened to this week’s story. I loved it! I just wish I could somehow delicately send it to my mother. But then again, she wouldn’t listen or think it had any relevance to her, anyway.

jon bailey November 17, 2013 at 8:43 am


Just a few more to add:
Never talk about sports, it’s boring, no one is interested.
Never talk about your grand kids, also boring, no one is interested.
Never talk about politics, it’s polarizing and boring.
Do talk about great books you’ve read or someone interesting you’ve met.
Do bring up new ideas that could help change the world in a positive way.

Claude November 18, 2013 at 2:10 pm


I am a french man living in California and unfortunately, at least four out of those seven seem to be all people talk about here. Their favorite? Diet! Poor things.

Sara November 21, 2013 at 10:57 am


I mentioned this post in my blog a few days ago. Thought I’d let you know…

Jessie K November 21, 2013 at 12:31 pm


Hey! Thanks for the head’s up!

Alissa Young December 13, 2013 at 5:13 am


I don’t mind these topics if they’re not discussed too much at a time, but I know people who start talking about things and then go into too, too, too much detail. One guy I know has a hobby that he simply loves, and that’s great, but I’m not interested in it, and he goes into lengthy and detailed descriptions of every segment of it. And when I tell him that, okay, I get it, but you don’t have to tell me so many details, please, he feels insulted, and then I feel bad.

Antonia May 5, 2014 at 3:48 am


I am her daughter. Movie plots are on the list!!!! I don’t know why it was left off?

John May 10, 2014 at 2:53 pm


I’m American but I’ve lived in France. My experience has been that this list is generally true there. The over riding principal seems to be true there as here; don’t drone on and turn the conversation back to something that your hosts/guests are interested in. Political discussion is fine in France. I’ve had long lunches with devout communists and committed right wingers. For reasons that still evade me, these were far less polarizing than conversations here. I think the focus on ideas and meant less chance to devolve into personal attacks. As a result, in the states I’m fine discussing political events but not ideology. I think that falls in the “don’t drone on” category as well as the “they care even less about my ideology than I care about theirs”. The thing I love about France is that even though people are generally exceptionally polite, I could sense the suble “coaching” if I veered into one of the seven areas; I was being retrained. Top of the list of things that ARE acceptable to talk about in France is food. I sat through countless descriptions of meals past, dishes, preparations, what one might have for dinner, the craziness of American breakfast etc. As much as I love to eat, sometimes I felt like this was crossing the “drone on” rule. Frankly, I always thought that was a tolerable sin :)

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