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McDonald’s Theory on How Best to Rescue Conversations (karthrajan.medium.com)
298 points by omalya890 1 day ago | hide | past | favorite | 136 comments





This post is decently interesting and fun although I can't really understand where it's going? I see the connections between the ideas the author is making but overall the post feels rather meandering.

Aside: I hate to be a grammarian but the paragraph with four em dashes across two sentences really did my head in. Generally I expect them to set off parentheticals and I had no clue if I was supposed to place the parentheses across the sentences.


It meanders and I love it.

The author mentions that he tends to take initiative even when ideas are only half baked, and you can see it in his post. It feels rough and loose, like the ideas haven't been polished to perfection yet. There is no grand claim here.

I appreciate that all of the answers aren't served up on a silver platter and we're left to do with these theories what we will. It's raw and refreshing and I find it very engaging.


It's so odd. I was left with the feeling that I just stumbled on a few rough nuggets of pretty interesting advice. I really enjoyed reading this article and shall refer back to it, but it could almost be extended to a small book if the author would polish and deepen it.

Love it too - this article gives me Thirty Flights of Loving vibes.

I wish the post was on a wiki. Imagine what masterpiece the HN crowd would come up with when it was done!

Very meta... someone should do it :)


Post is generated by AI.

The McDonald's idea is brilliant.

When no one wants to make a suggestion, propose the worst possible one you can come up with. People will race to improve it because, while they don't know what they want, they know it's not THAT.

Plus their idea can't be worse than mine. So I've stolen all the embarrassment and disdain for myself.


And that, friend, is Cunningham's Law[0] in action.

[0] https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Cunningham%27s_Law


That was my first thought too. It also seems reminiscent of how auctioneers will start the bidding at a price far below the reserve price, just to get people started.

> When no one wants to make a suggestion, propose the worst possible one you can come up with.

And watch in horror when everyone agrees to it because nobody cares as much as you do.

"Write the whole thing in 1960s-era COBOL? Eh, fine, no problem. Good idea, bhntr3."


>I can't really understand where it's going?

Same here. That's why I find it interesting. Some half baked ideas that feel accurate and useful. No big theory about life. Perfect blog post.


I thought we were getting punked by an AI generated article again

> This post is decently interesting and fun although I can't really understand where it's going

Does a post have to be going somewhere to be interesting and fun?

If a post is going somewhere, do you have to be able to see where that is in order to find it interesting and fun?


A lot of times on pieces like this I'd prefer there not be a point. The piece is thought provoking and doesn't demand I really learn anything. Really it just inspires me to introspect and I think that's just fine.

Was about to comment this myself. It feels like the post meanders just like Sienfeld and makes a bunch of observations without stating anything.

It's implicitly stating a lot: that by using these techniques you can grease social situations to your advantage. Which is why "boss" likes this guy, certainly not because of his half-baked ideas.

It's a post about nothing!

If you like this line of thinking, I would suggest reading "Games People Play" [1] (also can find the original research paper if you look around for it).

Basic premise is how we fall into transactional games in social settings (talking about weather, sports, etc) and acknowledging that can help break out of that into more interesting conversation.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Games-People-Play-Psychology-Relation...


Just bought the book based off your recommendation, thanks a lot for that.

I was curious to read something along the lines of thinking the OP was musing on, but couldn't phrase it in a way that would help me find it. And neither did i suspect that it was an actual thing people wrote about, as opposed to just me having some random thoughts and wishing someone wrote about those. Reading the description of that book makes me believe that you absolutely nailed it with that recommendation.


I discovered Games People Play in 2017, and found it to be a fascinating exploration of how people communicate. I still refer to it.

I don't have much info on this, but I brought it up to my mom who mentioned that the book had a period of popularity before my time, but had apparently been debunked as too rudimentary. I'm convinced that the framework is still relevant despite that, although I typically trust my mom's intuition on people's behind the scenes incentives -- she's proven to have theories about people that take months to play out but end up playing out.


> she's proven to have theories about people that take months to play out but end up playing out.

All mothers have that - but they're different theories...


Any examples?

Wow. I read this at around 16 in 1983 and it made a huge impression on me then. It helped me really understand a few things about myself, as I always felt very socially out of it... Time to re-read!!

I second “Games People Play”. It’s a very enjoyable read and it has a lot of real insight.

Sounds like a derivative of Wittgenstein's work.

> If so, then why was the waitress not disturbed? It is not the cockroach, but the inability of those people to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach, that disturbed the group. I realized that, it is not the shouting of my father or my boss or my wife that disturbs me, it’s my inability to manage my reaction to the words around me.

This sounds like a reference to stoic philosophy (of which I am not a fan), but I mean, don’t phobias exist, and don’t degrees of intensity exist so that it’s actually impossible to resist a trigger?

I personally used to be really scared of roaches, too, and I got over it not because I learned to control the fear itself, but because I thought about roaches differently (something along the lines of considering them weak). There is no controlling that fear because fear in this context is intense—I still get jerky sometimes when a cockroach shows up by surprise, or when there’s more than one of them, or worst of all, when they actually fly. I can usually avoid making a scene when there’s room to run somewhere else or if there’s an insect spray nearby, but stuck in a room with these triggers? I might go insane.

The conclusion that the women screamed because they’re not in control is not only lazy and prejudiced, it’s also an arrogant epistemological claim on something that the author doesn’t actually know, which is whether the fear or disgust of roaches is simply more intense for other people.


Sounds like you’re agreeing with Epictetus

“It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters”

In your case the cockroach didn’t change, you found a different way to frame the cockroach. In turn you react to it differently.


I agree with Epictetus purely because I can’t change what happened to me, but I can make decisions about how to respond to what happened.

I originally had a hard time with this idea because people have used this “your response is your responsibility” excuse when being unkind to me, but the thing is, this mode of thinking doesn’t mean no one can hurt you and no one should be accountable for being unkind. It just means at the end of the day, you won’t benefit from dwelling on it and practicing seeking solutions instead is purely beneficial.

Once I separated the idea from the strict context of responses to what people did to me but anything the world could throw at me, be it bad weather or getting a great sleep or being given a gift or tripping myself down stairs, I realized it’s quite easy to apply and think about. It made a lot more sense without the loaded emotional, interpersonal context overlaid.

I figured I’d externalize this in case it helps anyone else, not trying to over-explain simple concepts to people :)


This struck a chord with me. As a baseline, I irrationally feel like people can't stand me, but when I get pissed about something fall into what can only be described as resentment-spiral. The prospect of making up and moving on doesn't outweigh the resentment, and I just spiral down more.

Rationally I understand that me feeling bad and being resentful only has a negative effect on the situation and other people, but it's hard to break out of the spiral.

TL;DR What you wrote helped me out. Thanks.


> it's hard to break out of the spiral

Don't ever doubt that, it's incredibly hard. But it's something that deserves the hard work it takes to get out of it, I think. I've been realizing a lot of these kinds of challenges in life demand a lot from us, and it can be so daunting, but the reward of taking on that challenge is really immense. Imagine learning to get out of the spiral early - that one day you can just say no and focus on better things. You absolutely could, I bet.

> What you wrote helped me out. Thanks.

Thanks for saying so, that really makes my day.

I've had a similar experience and something that caught me by surprise was this technique called fear setting. I thought it was the cheesiest nonsense ever, but through some turn of events I ended up trying it. I applied it to a problem like what you're describing one day and ended up just writing, in the plainest, simplest, most honest terms why I fell into so much resentment. I'm sure it's different for both of us, but the experience was a revelation. Not all negative emotions are driven by fear, but the resentment certainly was in my case. So I wrote out why, what it does to me, what I can do to address that.

The key discovery was a sort of nested fear. It was like the immediate issue wasn't the real fear, or the thing driving my resentment. This should have been obvious I guess, because the superficial problems never justified the amount of resentment. No, ultimately I was afraid of addressing the superficial problem; the broad implications, the confrontation, the unknowns. I kept those tucked away so well and used that resentment to distract and convince myself that the REAL problem was the superficial once. It was really bizarre to realize that once I stopped to dig, the real fear and discomfort was right under the surface all along. Out of sight and out of mind, I guess.

Writing it out felt really stupid the first time. Like, I must know all of this already - why do I need to write it down? It's sort of like rubber ducking a problem though. You put it out there in plain sight and just go "OH... Oh.", and there it is. Now what do you do with it?

Tim Ferris talks a lot about fear setting. I don't know much about him, but he makes some sense on this topic. https://tim.blog/2017/05/15/fear-setting/


I haven’t read Epictetus and I can’t tell exactly what he meant by that proverb, but the nuance that I can only react to cockroaches differently under conditions perfect to me must not be lost. That nuance is what’s lacking in the article and his judgmental explanation for the causality of the women's reactions.

Just curious, why aren’t you a fan of stoicism? If you don’t mind sharing some thoughts on it I’d appreciate it. I’ve been exploring it and I enjoy reading various takes on it. I’m not married to the philosophy and looking for a battle by any means.

It raises way too many questions about where to draw the line for the concepts of control (as in the above example), detachment, and what is natural, and I don’t like inherently ambiguous worldviews because they become way too prone to highly subjective interpretation (especially true for stoicism when you try to apply it to the context of political and moral questions) and they create too many discussions that aren’t worth having (or, are only worth having with better-stated claims/philosophies that emerge from a mental model of the world that corresponds with what science confirms).

I think it helps to see stoicism not as A philosophy in the modern understanding as something akin to a religion/worldview you have to buy into wholesale. It's more a practical guide how to live with many great ideas and some that are outdated/unrealistic. Engage with the ideas on their terms as 2000 year old thoughts and see how they do or do not serve you.

Thanks, that's all interesting to think about.

My experience with stoicism so far has been fairly different, but it might be because I'm cherry picking things I like. One thing I have enjoyed about it though is how objective it seems rather than subjective. I have a feeling if I delve more into modern stoicism I'll find more of what you're talking about.

> concepts of control

This one seems to me to be something like:

1. Anything external is out of your control 2. Anything internal is in the realm of possibility to control if you're healthy and willing 3. Having the faculties to control yourself is a gift/incredibly fortunate, and to hone that ability is very virtuous

If you lack control it's either because a) you're unable to due to some affliction like mental disability or sickness (not lacking virtue) or b) you don't practice enough (lacking virtue). I suppose there's room for a c) both a and b, too. This is where you're right - this becomes very subjective. There's a blurry, blurry line between hard, limiting disabilities and resolvable illness. I would say though that each of us can only do our best, and believe others are also doing their best. To split hairs on why people act the way they do would be pointless. Instead we should focus on supporting them to do better if they evidently need the help.

> create too many discussions that aren’t worth having

This has seemed to be something that's resented by a lot of classic stoics. Take Marcus Aurelius in Mediations here:

"Waste no more time arguing what a good man should be. Be one." - 10.16

"Be not a man of superfluous words or superfluous deeds." - 3.5

"[I’m grateful to the gods…] that when I had my heart set on philosophy, I did not fall into the hands of a sophist nor sat alone writing, *nor untangled syllogisms* (emphasis mine) nor preoccupied myself with celestial phenomena." - 1.17

Mind you, Marcus (to my knowledge) never self-identified as a stoic, though he was surrounded by and taught by stoics and his philosophy seems to pound on the 4 cardinal virtues relentlessly.

Here, Epictetus alludes to the futility of certain trivial diversions in philosophical debate:

"[...] What Nature is, and how she administers the universe, and whether she really exists or not, these are questions about which there is no need to go on to bother ourselves." - Fragment

"Be mostly silent; or speak merely what is needful, and in few words." - Enchiridion, 33

I think the problem of trivial diversion, specifically when it comes to subjectivity, is a widespread problem in philosophy and not necessarily specific to stoicism. I do think that debating subjective interpretations without some common good in sight or at hand is contrary to stoic philosophy.

Maybe what you're saying is undeniable evidence of the subjectivity being a problem, though. I certainly can't argue that, and I know others struggle with that too. It could be that I'm just taking what I like and silently rejecting the rest. I think this is why what many stoics did in taking what made sense from other schools of thought, purely because it seemed truthful, is still wise today. Many stoics weren't even opposed to slavery for example - it's clearly a product of a different time. I'm not sure that I'd ever identify as a stoic either, but I do enjoy a lot of what it has to offer so far. It's fascinating to see how much we're like people from 2000 years ago, too.


Not the person you replied to, but I started out liking stoicism and then realised it was pretty much just solipsism-lite. I think it's ok, even good, to actually care about real-world outcomes sometimes. The stoics say that you should care about whether you acted virtuously rather than whether your actions lead to a good outcome, but if you don't care about outcomes then the definition of virtuous actions must surely be baseless. If I really believe in stoicism, shouldn't I just take drugs that make me feel happy/satisfied/virtuous?

I see you point but I think you miss something. Stocism was based on the idea that a human being is always part of a society and as such they have sn obligation to work as good citizens.

Therefore no, even if something more effective than wine had been available at the time, I do not think "taking drugs to feel happy/satisfied/virtuous" would be advisable.

Being virtuous was "being a virtuous citizen"; no matter if you were a slave or an Emperor. If anything they tried to teach you not to care about the conditions you were in (rich, poor, young, old...) and focus on the outcomes only.

( I do not consider myself an expert, but I mantain a small page about Stoicism: https://www.pa-mar.net/Lifestyle/Stoicism.html )


> Being virtuous was "being a virtuous citizen"; no matter if you were a slave or an Emperor. If anything they tried to teach you not to care about the conditions you were in (rich, poor, young, old...) and focus on the outcomes only.

But stoicism tells you to focus on this "virtuousness" in defiance of the actual outcomes: it tells you you shouldn't care whether other people acknowledge you as virtuous or not, or whether you succeeded or failed in a contest, as long as you acted rightly. I think this is actually a contradiction, because you can't decide which actions are virtuous through pure reason without regard to their outcomes; or even if you could, how would you ever know whether your reasoning was correct or not?


> whether you succeeded or failed in a contest,

I've never seen the result of a contest being something that really mattered in stoicism.

The 4 cardinal virtues don't seem to be relevant in any conventional contest I can think of. Maybe I'm interpreting your comment wrong.

> in defiance of the actual outcomes

Is that true, though? I think wisdom comes into question here, and if you do "virtuous" things with bad outcomes, it's not very wise and therefor not very virtuous. Good intentions with bad results are nice in that you meant well, but good intentions don't make us virtuous on their own.


> I've never seen the result of a contest being something that really mattered in stoicism.

Yeah, my point is that's explicitly given as an example of something you shouldn't care about IIRC.

> I think wisdom comes into question here, and if you do "virtuous" things with bad outcomes, it's not very wise and therefor not very virtuous. Good intentions with bad results are nice in that you meant well, but good intentions don't make us virtuous on their own.

At that point doesn't the whole stoic idea just become circular? The wisdom to act virtuously seems to be no simpler than a complete philosophy. And all of the rest of stoicism seems to depend on being able to know whether your acts were virtuous - e.g. if I acted virtuously but had poor results because of things outside my control, I shouldn't be saddened - but that advice is no use if I don't know whether I acted virtuously.


> If I really believe in stoicism, shouldn't I just take drugs that make me feel happy/satisfied/virtuous?

Not as far as I understand it. Virtue is fairly objective, and doing that for your own sake wouldn't be virtuous. Classical stoics believe humans are a social animal, and truly virtuous behaviour is pro-social.

> The stoics say that you should care about whether you acted virtuously rather than whether your actions lead to a good outcome

I'm not sure I understand this, but I doubt that's your fault. All I can think is that if your actions lead to a bad outcome, ultimately you didn't act virtuously - even if the intent was there. There's a sort of tricky spot in the philosophy which I don't fully understand yet though. Take Cato the Younger for example. His virtue and integrity stats were so buffed that he brought ruin to himself and those close to him, and history seems a little torn about it. Was it virtuous to stick to his guns and end up dead, or was that actually foolish and ultimately not virtuous because it served no one around him? I don't fully understand the classic or modern stoic take on this kind of situation.

However I do think in most cases that if your actions have bad (bad as in Stoic Objective Bad) outcomes then you didn't act virtuously. I suppose if it couldn't have been anticipated, then maybe you did.

> solipsism-lite

Interesting - my take is the complete opposite. I see it as though Stoicism describes the ideal human as quite selfless and pro-social.

> I think it's ok, even good, to actually care about real-world outcomes sometimes.

I believe this is actually all that matters in stoicism, since real-world outcomes are all that matter to the people around you. I could be wrong - I've just read a couple translated books and listened to some podcasts at this point.


> However I do think in most cases that if your actions have bad (bad as in Stoic Objective Bad) outcomes then you didn't act virtuously. I suppose if it couldn't have been anticipated, then maybe you did.

I think you're understating it; this seems to be a major point of stoicism, that you shouldn't be sad if your favourite pot was broken or your wife died or your fellow citizens denounce you and exile you, so long as you acted virtuously. You should only worry about what you can control, your own actions, not what you can't control.

All the stoic writings I've read seemed to take it as a given that you already knew what was virtuous. So if what's virtuous is solely a function of what's in your own head, then the whole thing seems solipsistic. If you define virtuous actions in terms of their results and their effects on other people then it wouldn't be solipsistic, but in that case stoicism seems to tell you very little about how to live; judging which actions are virtuous doesn't seem any easier than just judging what you should do in the first place.


I don't think stoicism rules out using utilitarianism as a basis for virtue. It's not contrary to either utilitarianism nor stoicism to say that if you act in a way that good things are likely to happen, you shouldn't beat yourself up because a freak bad thing happened.

> It's not contrary to either utilitarianism nor stoicism to say that if you act in a way that good things are likely to happen, you shouldn't beat yourself up because a freak bad thing happened.

I think that's very much contrary to utilitarianism, which says you should measure your actions by their consequences. If you did x and got a world with utility y where you could have done z and got a world with utility w, and y < w, that's the very definition (under utilitarianism) of a bad action.


I disagree. If you are playing poker, betting on an inside straight is a bad move, even if you happen to get lucky.

Similarly you didn't make the wrong bet when you lose to a bad beat.

Any non omniscient actor can at best act to maximize expected utility.

If you ignore a pattern of bad outcomes that would lead you to improve your estimate of expected utility, then you are out of bounds, but my limited knowledge of stoicism does not make me think that it is opposed to such self reflection.


Stoicism tells you not to worry about the outcomes that you can't control, only whether your own acts (which you can control) were virtuous. But it assumes that you can perfectly distinguish the two, and gives you no tools for helping - indeed I'd argue that it makes those judgements harder by discouraging you from trusting your emotions. So either it's no help at all (because judging whether your actions were virtuous is a morality-complete problem) or it makes you dangerously unable to detect any mistakes in your moral judgement.

> If I really believe in stoicism, shouldn't I just take drugs that make me feel happy/satisfied/virtuous?

Are there any? Perhaps the tenets of Stoicisim depend on there being no such drugs.


I have an only barely related story involving McDonalds and social behavior, but if he can meander, so can I, right?

Back around 1990 I was working in a (then industrial) part of Hong Kong called Tsuen Wan. I would regularly go to McDonalds for lunch around 11:30 in order to watch an amazing crowd behavior. Above the McDonalds was a large elementary school. At noon sharp they would break for lunch and huge numbers of little kids would come down and crowd into the restaurant to order lunch. Almost 100% of these kids ordered exactly the same thing: a Filet 'o Fish.

I remember this McDonalds having a very long row of those diagonal slots where hamburgers were slid down and stacked up: except for one slot, they were all pre-filled with Filet 'o Fish sandwiches in preparation for the onslaught.


The story about how the Filet-o-Fish came to be and why it's still being sold even though in most places it's their worst selling item is quite interesting. https://www.rd.com/article/why-mcdonalds-sells-filet-o-fish/

Here it's the opposite. The cowburgers are pronto. The fish burgers take forever. I asked why this is so, puzzled why the healthier alternative is saddled with the time penalty.

Freshness, she said. The fish burgers have the shortest shelf life so they make each one to order.

That's the price I pay for not eating next to a large elementary school in Hong Kong at lunch time.


I don't know if this is still true, but I was grateful for inadvertently benefiting from Catholic Lent period in the US, because McD would have Filet-o-Fish for $1 on Fridays. Less unhealthy opportunity to indulge in what usually costs $4 (?).

Suggesting McDonalds is only half the insight - and contextual, anyway. Instead, give an arbitrary binary choice. "Would you like tacos or sushi?" will often elicit (1) a choice or (2) a third option ("I kind of want a burger"), which is now the default.

A binary choice gets you to a default.


If you can't decide between two options then take out a coin. Heads you get a burger, tails you get tacos. Flip the coin. If you feel even a tinge of regret or disappointment over the result, then go with the other option. Being faced with a specific concrete option can make it easier to rank it compared to alternatives.

I learned of this idea from a TED talk many years ago.


  Whenever you're called on to make up your mind,
  and you're hampered by not having any,
  the best way to solve the dilemma, you'll find,
  is simply by spinning a penny.
  No - not so that chance shall decide the affair
  while you're passively standing there moping;
  but the moment the penny is up in the air,
  you suddenly know what you're hoping. 
  -- Piet Hein, "A Psychological Tip"


It's a great technique. I've been doing it since the 90s. Also to break others out of indecision.

But side note: I've found TED really disappointing. For a good talk save yourself the time and read the 5 sentences above. Most aren't that good.

Anyone take issue with that?


I think TED talks used to be better. Perhaps it's nostalgia, but I really enjoyed TED talks in the past. Martin Rees talking cosmology, Richard Dawkins talking about why the universe seems so strange, James Flynn talking about the Flynn effect[0], Barry Schwartz talking about the paradox of choice etc are enjoyable to me even today. There are many others, but I've not enjoyed as many in the recent years.

[0] https://youtu.be/9vpqilhW9uI


> I've found TED really disappointing

This suggests a consistency of quality among TED talks that I hadn't noticed before.

I like some and not others.

This is one of my favourites. The last time I linked to it on HN nobody liked it but I didn't feel rejected. I felt special.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeDt9dgFXFk


I liked it. Thanks.

I agree. I feel many talks are selling their books, adding a lot of fluff around the core point and making it a TED Talk. Would be great to have a blog that's entirely TLDW of Ted Talks

Great ones are great but there is the most incredible amount of dross.

I do this and it works. I had thought it was my own idea but now you've got me wondering if I heard it from somewhere, possibly the TED talk you're referring to.

Instead of flipping a coin, my default choice is to go for the cheapest, even if it is just one cent. Not that I can't afford the more expensive option, but it is an arbitrary criteria that has the side effect of possibly saving money.

Hahah, I used to do something very similar as a kid, and my parents called me out on it. Having narrowed down my options, I'd announce out loud "I am going to have x". If I felt disappointed at that point, I'd revise it and have the other thing instead.

Oh..! Interesting, but I think there are very different outcomes with leaning on either (1) "earnest A or earnest B" vs (2) "bad C" (McDonalds Theory)...

The McDonalds Theory doesn't attempt to control or guide the decision. It maximally liberates others to shape it. It invites serendipity, from the POV of the prompter. It doesn't assume the poser of the question has any special knowledge or expertise with which they wish to shape the choice landscape.

But "A or B" can very easily (and perhaps unintentionally) guide and take control of the choice. Its usage can easily become a "dark pattern" that collapses the possibility space onto one of two known trajectories (from the perspective of the prompter).

If you WANT to take control, then "A or B" is great. But if you want to lazily invite collaborative ideas from the minds of others with the least effort or skill, then McDonalds Theory is much much better imho.

To show my cards, I've realized I air toward the latter in my community organizing and facilitation work. Frankly, I believe we're all more likely to learn more about the world through McDonalds Theory framing, instead of getting stuck in local minima of "only what we can imagine" as leaders/supporters :)

This stuff is all very relevant to facilitation practices! It's neat stuff to think through, so thanks for the opportunity to work through it out loud :)


This is how I've learned to negotiate with my 2 and 3 year olds when they are being intractable and rebellious. They don't like the idea of whatever I'm offering them for some reason, but getting them to admit they want "grapes" more than "apples" is enough of a concession that it makes a kind of consensus.

Somewhat nearby. My 2 year old not going to sleep. I say “come sleep with papa”, her default “no with mummy”. And she goes to sleep straight. Ha ha. Good till the trick works.

> negotiate with my 2 and 3 year olds when they are being intractable and rebellious

No thanks. It's better say "eat your apples" than to allow them to be disrespectful to their parents.


I like to say "eat it or I'll beat you purple", loudly and in a crowded restaurant. Then my son and I laugh about it later. A routine we started when he was 4- or 5-years-old after we both watched an old episode of Gunsmoke, "Harper's Blood", where a dying mother enjoined the father to strictly discipline their two boys, worried that one of them might grow up to be like her grandfather, whom she reveals to have been an infamous, murderous outlaw. After the mother dies the erstwhile gentle father steels himself, promising his sons that if they ever disobey him or get into any mischief he'll beat them purple.

obedience is not the same as respect. a child who is merely obedient will only follow the rules when there is a plausible means of enforcement.

Obedience is not identical to respect, but it is an important element of a child's respect for their parents.

A child who does not obey their parents does not respect their parents.


Inorite? Never negotiate with terrorists /s

I've heard of the McDonald's theory many years ago and I do somewhat agree that it works. But I'm not so sure that Seinfield for conversation-starting works in a similar way. I was an immigrant in the US from Asia. Even though that was almost 25 years ago and I've lived in the US for far longer than in Asia now, I'm still not familiar with Seinfield; and that's the case for many other immigrants friends I know as well.

But take that idea further, I'm not even talking about Seinfield in particular. Let's say we use any subject-X for this purpose of conversation-starting. I'm not a natural conversationist, and most conversations with acquaintances or strangers often end in awkward silences after a sentence or two. I've had great conversations sure, but usually it's because they happen to touch on very specific topics that I really am interested in. In other words, I don't really buy this whole idea that all you need to do is to start with a topic common enough, and the conversation flows. It just hasn't been my experience.


I can’t find it now, but somewhere I read about the FORD method, and it always worked: Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. I keep trying until something hits. At professional gatherings, I usually do a sequence of ODRF: what do you do? What would you do if you won the 100mil lottery? What do you do do fun? What does your family hope fo you?

Reading over the above, I now realize how much I agree with the author’s thesis: good icebreakers use both commonality and creative prompts.


Not sure how Dale Carnegie's book "How to Win Friends and Influence People" is received on HN, but a point that always stuck with me is: People like to talk about themselves.

With many of my friend groups, suggesting McDonalds results in us eating at McDonalds.

That's because your friends are awesome.

i think there needs to be the threat that it might potentially end up being the option to spark the conversation.

i sincerely would like to eat mcdonald’s but since it’s not considered a serious option, they just laugh and the stalemate continues


It's never actually about the food until the decision has already been made.

On so many levels.


People who turn their noses up at McDonald's were spoiled as kids

Funny, as a kid I felt the opposite. Getting to eat McDonalds, or fastfood at all, was a rare treat because it was expensive. On road trips, my parents packed cold soggy sandwiches for me and my brothers. These days though, I associate McDonalds with 'no other option' and don't care for the food at all (probably because I never developed much of a taste for it in the first place?)

We might be related.

No, I just don't want to feel like crap after I eat.

I'd wager thats more closely related to your diet.

Especially right now. It's 2 for $5, including Big Macs.

A little secret you can do is maximize the a-la carte menu. I will get a cheeseburger, no ketchup no mustard, add shredded lettuce, add mac sauce.

tada! you got a single patty big mac for $1.30ish. but if you're feeling cheap and this deal isn't happening anymore, you can do the same with mcdoubles.


Some friends all got motorcycles around the same time. One suggested we should start calling ourselves Cheesy Rider. He thought he was joking - using the McDonald's Theory to spur us to come up with a better name.

We've been Cheesy Rider ever since. I laser-cut matching cheese-themed license plate frames, so we're stuck with it forever.


> You are with a group of friends, colleagues and no one has any ideas for lunch, suggest McDonald’s. Creative sparks fly. Nothing rallies the group better than this initial suggestion.

Main takeaway -- if people don't know the answer, say the wrong answer, and the group will eventually produce a better answer. Sounds like how the web works (best way to get the right answer is to post the wrong one). Anyway, this is a cool idea. I will try suggesting McDonald's sometime.


I’ve been shocked by the old plastic slides at McDonalds so many times as a kid that I salivate whenever I hear the word.

I recall watching a group of kids who figured out that they could increase their speed on the slide by about 4x by riding down it while sitting on a plastic food tray.

I don’t know who had more fun - the kids or me watching them.


I wonder if this is more effective if you slide before eating or after eating?

"found the odds of Seinfeld were better than sports or weather as a hurdle breaker. The combination of a personal like for a cult classic..."

This dinged the credibility. Not sure how mainstream show Seinfeld can be thought of as a cult classic. Unless this is thrown in there to spark conversation here on how he is wrong.


To be fair, it's obvious the author is a non-native speaker. It's totally reasonable to miss the subtlety that a "cult classic" usually implies that it's not mainstream. Google doesn't even make that obvious in it first result: "something, typically a film or book, that is popular or fashionable among a particular group or section of society."

I don't really see how that hurts his credibility, since it's clear what happened and what the author meant. If your interpretation was that the author was trying to highlight his niche 90s sitcom tastes, then I think you were the one committing the communication error here.


While mainstream at the time, it's been ~25 years. Stingy IP holders share some of the blame, although I hear the show is coming to Netflix soon.

See I would define cult classic as something that was not popular at the time of release, but then slowly gained popularity several years on to the point of becoming mainstream in the present. The movie Office Space is a canonical example for me.

It's been on Hulu for a few years, just FYI.

All old shows should be everywhere.

Even 25 years later I see Seinfeld is on 11 times tomorrow with my cable package.

All seasons are on Amazon prime! I love to put on Seinfeld as a background show

His point was to learn the weird nuances and other "pointless" quirks of foreign cultures.

It's worth it, because you get judged for not knowing trivial, cultural-specific rules and knowledge.

Like, hypothetically, how popular a foreign TV show really was in the 90's.


I like the memory of watching Seinfeld to learn America's mostly unspoken social norms. Seems like comedies mocking these norms are great for learning about modern cultures. I'd be interested in a list of similar works for other cultures.

I once met a new colleague in China. We went to dinner and halfway through I complimented him on his accent-free colloquial American English and inquired if perhaps he’d gone to school in the US. He said no. I asked how he’d learned to speak such polished American. He said friends. I stupidly said... you have American friends in Beijing?? He said, ‘No, Friends... The TV show.’

As an immigrant and child/teenagehood connoisseur of american TV, can confirm: Everyone is always very impressed with my fluent colloquial English. They don't believe I didn't grow up here.

What's funny is all the people online who were absolutely adamant that real life is nothing like TV. Yeah it is. Exactly like it. Comedies wouldn't be funny if they weren't real.

Down to the stupid round door knobs that you can't use with full hands. Why the heck do americans do that?


Ironically enough, US accessibility law bans those round door knobs in many public buildings. Maybe we just can't stand the idea of our homes having the same door hardware as the McDonald's bathroom.

I've owned a few dogs and cats that would have wrecked absolute chaos with door handles they could manipulate, but I doubt that's enough to drive the round knob industry here.

If I suggest McDonalds to my family, the wife and 3 kids will all say yes. Heck, if I suggest Popeye's, 3 of the 4 will still say McDonalds...

That's terrible, I'm so sorry. McDonalds over Popeyes? It hurts when family succumbs to such wild and crazy beliefs.

popeyes should give free toys to the kids inside their meal as a kickback.

That’s criminal, I like McDonald’s but Popeye’s is brilliant. Scarce in New England though.

Give Krispy Krunchy a go. They're usually part of a gas station, and are legitimately great. I go for it over Popeyes. https://www.krispykrunchy.com/locations

Holy crap. There are WAY more locations than I ever realized.

I've only seen 2 of them in my life.


I've never even heard of them. How is there a national chain with what appears to be a billion and half locations that I've never heard of? Do I just hang out too much in posh neighborhoods full of Karens????!!!

They're easy to miss. The one near me is part of a Shell station and the only clue that it's there is a 2 x 3 foot drive-thru sign.

I will second the recommendation. They're quite good.

https://www.google.com/maps/@30.1917316,-98.0886381,3a,75y,2...


It's not quite the same, but Bojangle's are all over the east coast: https://www.bojangles.com/

My girlfriend loves Popeye's whilst I McDonald's. I'm from New England, she from California.

> Fat penguins are a great way to break the ice

I don’t think this is true. Even if a penguin is the biggest penguin [0] and enormously fat at twice their normal weight, that’s only 90kg and not going to break much ice.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emperor_penguin


> Not a word was spoken, we learned something new here: different cultures, different emphasis. Even if you return the favor, asking for ride to airport is reserved for very strong relationships!

I'm an American who never seems to be able to understand cultural norms. Is this a thing? Is driving people to the airport that big a deal? If I need a ride to the airport, I always just ask around. I am always ready to drive people to the airport (or anywhere) as I went without a car for a few years and greatly appreciated every ride I got.


Considering that you will pay an additional fee with any cab/ride hailing service, there must be, therefore the additional economic incentive.

Airport traffic is unique. There’s no room to loiter and additional complexity in navigating. Also, there’s the expectation of luggage.

That said, airports are very different around the country and so are cultural norms. But generally, you should toss some cash or a token of appreciation to the person driving you to or from the airport.


That facet of the show always struck me as particularly New York airport culture, but I've spent my whole life on the opposite coast so don't trust me on that.

It does feel like something that would be a very different ask city to city though. I'd never ask for a ride in SF, because BART is fine and it's a bit of a drive back for them. But a nice downtown airport like San Diego and I'll ask anyone I'm close enough with to tell I'm in town.


> Is driving people to the airport that big a deal?

Not if you are an Uber driver.


Reminds me of the "just remove the duck" article: https://rachelbythebay.com/w/2013/06/05/duck/

> In all that humdrum, one thing was clear to me: as humans we are natural editors than writers.

it feels like there's a word missing somewhere in that sentence.


>"At a restaurant, a cockroach suddenly flew from somewhere and sat on a lady. She started screaming out of fear. The lady finally managed to push the cockroach away. It landed on another lady in the group. Now, it was the turn of the other lady in the group to continue the drama.

The waitress rushed forward to their rescue. In the relay of throwing, the cockroach next fell upon the waitress. The waitress stood firm, composed herself and observed the behavior of the cockroach on her dress. When she was confident enough, she grabbed it with her fingers and threw it out of the restaurant.

Sipping my coffee and watching the amusement, the antenna of my mind picked up a few thoughts and started wondering, was the cockroach responsible for their histrionic behavior?

If so, then why was the waitress not disturbed? It is not the cockroach, but the inability of those people to handle the disturbance caused by the cockroach, that disturbed the group. I realized that, it is not the shouting of my father or my boss or my wife that disturbs me, it’s my inability to manage my reaction to the words around me.

Everyone reacts, few respond.

Conversations can sometimes go nowhere, sometimes they go to places we are uncomfortable with. The waitress leads the way on how to respond."


Medium requiring an account to read. Ugh.


Thanks mate.

Not to me. (I'm running Firefox on Windows.)

I don’t see that in iOS Safari with Wipr.

For me, back when I used to have coworkers that I would see and eat with, we would have the default be tacobell, which was the closest lunchtime option, but terrible. It forced us to travel the town to other options, although I've also eaten too much taco bell!

Do cockroaches fly? All the cockroaches I’ve lived with were trampled under foot.

They fly in hot weather.

Yes. Yes, they do. It's terrifying.

Palmetto bugs in Florida can fly. Or glide at least.

This was beautifully written

You know what helped me break the ice in Japan? It wasn't fat penguins or even fat tanuki.

It was Pokémon.

With a bit of alcohol to loosen the tongue, I found that I could start interesting conversations with Japanese people by using Pokémon as an opening topic. It was something everybody knew on my side of the pond and on theirs. As an added bonus they would help me when I fumbled my Japanese, the learning of which constituted ~50% of why I went to bars to strike up conversations with randos in the first place. (I am not a great conversationalist.)

So yeah, Pokémon was my Seinfeld, I guess.


Great read but I've learned nothing. The only think I took away from this is that I want to go to the maccas but it's closed so thanks for making me hungry I guess.



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