Some of my clients are mystified by "small talk" or "chatting" during coffee breaks at the office.
Called "water cooler conversations" because people tend to congregate around the water cooler in the office, many of my clients are surprised by the way in which US workers engage in conversations about sports, tv, movies and other somewhat neutral subjects during breaks.
One of my favorite clients, a software developer from India, said he had no interest in US football, baseball or other sports. He asked me if he had to learn about these games in order to succeed at his office. "If I do my work and my output is good, what does it matter if know all about these games?"
The short answer is, "It is important to occasionally join in informal conversation at work, because it will allow you to build bridges toward your colleagues and develop leadership skills noticed by supervisors" This doesn't require you to learn the rules of a sport or pretend that you're interested in it. Instead, find a subject that does interest you and, the next time you're taking a break, ask a coworker about it.
For example, if it's action/science fiction movies that light you up, ask a coworker if they've seen the latest superhero film. Ask what they like or didn't like about it. You can say, "Hmm. I haven't had the time to get into in US football but I do love movies. What's the best movie you've seen this year?" Notice, that you introduce the subject and then ask follow-up questions. It's more important for you to sound the other person out than it is to offer your opinions--unless of course you're asked for yours.
You have only a limited amount of time. Your first priority is to master your job. But it's also important to learn the culture of your office. Take a little time to make a little list of things that truly interest you---tv, movies, books, music, history, psychology, etc. And, when youre taking a work break, explore what interests you may have in common.
One warning: Do not talk about sex, politics or religion. Those subjects are taboo and shouldn't be brought up at work. Ever. If you sense that someone in the office has the same or similar values about those subjects, and you've known that person for several years, even then, be extremely careful. In these times, differences of opinion can ruin an otherwise convivial relationship.
Making the transition from coworker to friend takes time, care and consideration. But that transition would not even be possible if you don't build bridges to other people; and, one way to build bridges is learning the art of the water cooler conversation.