Each city has one. The get to know you question that EVERYONE seems to ask. Be it baby shower or a business networking event, you're bound to hear it from someone. In DC, be prepared to answer "What do you do?"
Some people find this a materialistic and status probing question. I did too at first. There's something a little intimidating that automatically rouses your defenses when you feel like you're being judged. But after years of living in the city, I found myself asking this question not because I was curious of someone's occupation, but rather their activities.
Washingtonians are renowned for their go-go-go (when they're not in traffic) mentality. I think this question is more a reflection on the active nature of the culture, rather than a direct inquiry about someone's professional life. Often, I would receive a reply of hobbies that would segue and blossom into a conversation about common interests.
"What do you do?"
"You know, recently I've been really into Salsa dancing. I've been going on Monday nights to the Clarendon Grille and met some really great people!"
"Really? I love salsa dancing. I've been to the Salsa Room, but never the Clarendon Grille. What time do lessons start?"
When I moved to Richmond last November, one of the first things I noticed was the complete lack of "What do you do?" In fact, if I asked it, people seemed insulted, and it took me a while to navigate the icebreaking etiquette of this smaller southern town.
In Richmond, you'll be asked "Are you from here?"
Richmonders are all about a sense of history and roots. Growing up 20 minutes north of the city, I remember not being considered "from here" because my parents moved here when I was 10 months old. Most of my classmates had generations anchoring them to this region, while I wasn't even born here.
I think another reason it's a popular question is that so many people (like me) grow up here, move away, and then move back. If you grew up in the area, there's an immediate sense of camaraderie and more detailed questions that follow (i.e. "What high school did you go to?")
If you grew up outside of Richmond, the standard follow-up seems to be "So, what brought you to Richmond?" I ask this often because I'm amused at why people settle in such a seemingly obscure place.
So, what's the icebreaking question in your town? Have you noticed a trend in New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, or another metropolis? What about across the pond? Do Europeans have an opening question? Eager minds want to know and would be thrilled if you left a comment below. :)