5 Questions That Need to Be Banned from Casual Conversation
Any bartender knows that you never discuss politics or religion with customers; those topics are just too inflammatory for polite society. But there are so many other triggers out there. So many dangerous questions to be avoided. Most of them are even well-meaning, but are asked by people who can't step outside their own world view for a moment. Y'see, there are two things to remember when you're asking questions: The person you're speaking to might not be the same as you, and you might be an asshole.
"So what can I get the godless liberal today? Vodka, gin, or an on-demand abortion for your probably gay fetus?"
Here are five seemingly well-meaning questions that should probably be avoided.
Asking Someone Who Doesn't Own Their Residence: "Have You Considered Buying?"
Some of you might be too young, too rich or too poor to realize how much has changed in the last four years. The global recession is no joke, and most people outside of those extremes are hurting in a new and exciting way. (The very poor are still hurting in the same way.) Politicians call it the middle-class squeeze -- because politicians are stupid. But the point is, everything hit the fan a few years back. Unemployment rose, energy prices rose, services were cut and the real estate market fell apart.
Also, Fall Out Boy stopped making music.
Not surprising, rentals are way up, especially among people who lost their homes in the economic collapse or who currently hope to amass a down payment for a purchase. Now enter all those fortunate folks who haven't lost their homes. Maybe they're rich. Maybe their parents helped with a big initial down payment. Maybe they live somewhere less expensive, where home ownership is more feasible. There's a host of reasons why the last few years have not adversely affected them. And good for them. But they see the less fortunate struggling to pay rent, and they have a swell idea. A question to inspire: "Hey, have you considered buying?" And that's usually followed up with a statement. "Prices are way down; it's a great time to buy!"
Also, priceless Faberge eggs are now just really expensive.
Thanks. That never occurred to us. Probably because we all really get off sexually by throwing our money out the window every month for bare shelter while amassing no equity. We're short on cash, not brain cells. It doesn't matter how much prices fall; buying a home requires a down payment (now even more than before, given the last crisis). Yes, there are deals in a recession, but those are the deals that can be taken advantage of by people with cash. Given that we're in a recession, no one should assume that the person they're talking to is one of those people.
Asking Parents With Two Kids: "So, You're Done?"
It's funny. Most people avoid discussions of abortion, and with good reason. Even I, someone who likes to go on and on about the value of debate, draw a line on that one. Motivations are just too firmly entrenched to have a productive conversation. But almost no one seems to mind asking deeply personal questions about parents' procreative choices. My wife and I have three children: boy, girl, boy.
This is not us or them.
After my daughter was born, do you know how many people asked "So, you're done now, right?" The answer is ... I don't know, a lot of people. Was I supposed to keep notes about that sort of thing? I was playing with our new baby girl. I didn't know there'd be a final exam. Anyway, apparently I'm in the minority, but it never occurred to me that the purpose of procreation was to get a matching set.
Eeew, one's the wrong sex. Throw it back.
I have to assume that every single person who asks that question thinks that people only have three or more kids if they're trying to collect the Pog they haven't gotten yet. Personally, as the youngest of three boys myself, I like to pretend sometimes that my entire existence is not conditioned upon my father's X chromosome sperm swimming faster the previous two times out of the gate.
Simple rule of thumb: When it comes to when or how people are having their kids, don't assume anything.
Asking Someone Who Lost Something: "Did You Check the Lost-and-Found?"
If you've ever owned something, you've lost something. It's always a drag, but when it's irreplaceable, either because of finances or its unique nature, it's particularly sad.
"Oh, I don't know, I didn't mind losing ... MY VIRGINITY!" (Shut up. Loser.)
I've lost a giant roll of stamps, a rain coat and my wedding ring -- not all on the same day. And I still remember where I last saw each of them last. (Interesting story on the wedding ring. I actually took it off and put it in a drawer just before going on a vacation. I even said to my wife, "Y'know what? I don't want to worry about this on vacation. Remind me that it's here." Upon our return, however, it was gone. I'm guessing it was stolen by ghosts, or my wife got to it first and pawned it for some china white.)
"Oh, I don't know, I didn't mind losing ... MY VIRGINITY!" (Shut up. Loser ghost. That joke doesn't even make sense here!)
Anyway, there are a few good things to say to someone who's lost something. Things like: "Sorry," "That sucks" and "Awwww." But "Did you check the lost-and-found?" is not one of them. People know that lost-and-founds exist. And when they need to steal someone else's unclaimed umbrella, that's just where they'll go.
Also available: one leather glove and a Subway punch card.
Asking Someone Who's Looking for Work: "Any Leads?"
Getting fired or laid off is a drag. Don't worry, your career in reading Cracked columns on the crapper is recession-proof, but take it from me that getting laid off is no fun -- even when you're let go for having male genitalia that is "just too damn impressive for the workplace."
Not a metaphor. I'm seeing a doctor.
Anyway, the best way to show interest in how your laid-off friend is doing is by getting him or her an interview. But sure, asking how they're doing is a completely acceptable thing to do. So you'll say something like "Hey, got any interviews coming up?" In this marketplace, they might well reply with something like "No."
Here's what you shouldn't ask next: "Hmm, well, do you have leads at least?"
What does that mean? People ask that question perhaps forgetting that those of us who need to work to stay alive aren't particularly lazy about looking for work when we're out of it. If we had a lead, we wouldn't sit on it for a few weeks like a fine wine and then submit our resume when the mood strikes us just right. When you're out of work, you gobble up leads with sent resumes.
If you ask someone who's out of work if they have any leads, they can reply either "No" or "Yeah, the leads are where I sent my resumes." If they say "Yeah, I heard there's a place, but, yeah, I don't know, we'll see ..." you can legally kill them.
Asking Someone Who's Lost a Loved One: "Was It Sudden?"
No one knows how to deal with death. It sucks. It's awkward. It makes for bad conversation. Judaism actually has some tips for dealing with the bereaved, and one of them is shutting up. Well, at least not being up their ass. Instead, just come over, bring some food so they don't have to worry about cooking when they're grieving, and be around for them when they want to speak. (Oh, sorry. I keep forgetting that some commenters get annoyed when I mention that I'm a Jew because, y'know, it's bad form, I guess. Oddly enough, how many of those people would get annoyed if I were Irish and talking about my experiences at wakes?)
Oh, just you three guys? Free your minds, dudes.
Anyway, it's pretty good advice, because there's nothing you can say, really. Still, we insist on trying, and murmur, "Was it sudden?"
How could that possibly help? What are you hoping for? If they respond "No. My nanny was suffering in intense pain for nine years," are you going to say "Good! At least her suffering is over"? Or are you hoping they go "Yes, my Uncle Fred never saw that falling safe coming" so you can say "Well, it's good he didn't suffer"? Much like a Fleshlight or a person at an information desk, this question might seem like a good idea, but it's totally unnecessary. (And covered in semen? I'm not sure. Not my best metaphor.)
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