The 7 Questions We All Ask That are Absolutely None of Our Business
Has Social Media Made us More Nosy?
Last week I ran into one of my tv buddies in a greenroom. I hadn’t seen him in more than a year — since we last appeared on a television program together. We did the sort of catching up that we do with those we haven’t seen in a while. “How are you? How’s work? How’s life?” Then he asked me a question out of the blue. “So Keli are you married yet?” To which I replied, “That depends. Are you proposing?”
Now let me say for the record, that I know that he wasn’t. He was simply asking out of curiosity, and probably a bit of fatherly concern, as in “Have you settled down yet with someone great who will take good care of you?” Let me also add that he is by far one of my favorite tv buddies. He is not only an entertaining guest, but he’s also gracious—giving his fellow guests every opportunity to shine instead of trying to hog the entire segment, like some guests try to do. But when I was asked the same question days later, by an acquaintance I don’t know all that well, I had a conversation with a girlfriend about all of the funny questions we are regularly asked, and that over the years we have asked others, that are really none of our business. By “our” I mean no one’s business but close friends and family members, and sometimes not even theirs. Yet in a society in which every birth announcement is expected to go up on facebook, with accompanying photo, before a new mother even exits the hospital, boundaries seem to have become a foreign concept. So below, a list of questions we have all probably asked someone we are not related to, not close friends with, not interested in pursuing an intimate relationship with, or interested in setting up in an intimate relationship with someone we know, that are absolutely none of our business.
That doesn’t mean we have to stop asking them necessarily. But we should at least do the polite thing and ask them behind the person’s back.
1 - What are you?
Over the years I have had a number of friends of mixed race, and mixed cultural and religious upbringing (and a few who just look like they are) and something that rankles them is when strangers or new acquaintances ask the question “What are you?” or some variation of it. Asking someone you don’t know very well about his or her parentage is not only nosy, but rude particularly when the underlying motivation bears some sort of racial or cultural component. Because at the end of the day does it really matter if the person’s mother is Japanese and her father is black or if his father is part white and part Korean and his mother is part Russian-Jewish and Puerto Rican? If the person chooses to volunteer such information that’s one thing, but if you feel inclined to ask such a question you may want to ask yourself why, before you do. And for the record, I have been asked this question myself, which I find funny on multiple levels. Mainly because I think it’s pretty obvious to any seeing person that I am black but I have been pressed on the ethnic diversity of my background multiple times. To which my new official reply is, “Yes it’s diverse. Now why do you ask?”
2 - What’s up with your health?
If you run into someone you haven’t seen in a while and they look great, tell her that. You don’t need to say, “Wow. You’ve lost so much weight. How on earth did you do it?” (Unless of course you are trying to lose a similar amount of weight and are genuinely looking for advice, in which case mention that.) For any of the rest of us asking such a question is intrusive. If someone had LAP-BAND surgery and wants you to know, she will volunteer such information. He or she could also be ill, or may be going through a breakup and under a lot of stress. Either way it’s really none of your business unless he or she chooses to make it your business. This extends to inquiries about the health status of relatives of co-workers or acquaintances you don’t know that well too. Unless someone has specifically said, “Please keep my mom in your thoughts and prayers. She’s battling cancer,” you don’t need to say, “I heard your mom is sick. What’s wrong?” Offering a “keeping your family in my thoughts” will suffice. If she wants you to know more, she’ll volunteer the information.
3 - Are you married? (Bonus points for adding “yet.”)
There are so many variations of this question: “When are you settling down?” “Are you two going to live together forever?” “Think you’ll get married someday?” All of them fall under the same umbrella: none of your business.
4 - Are you planning to have children? (Or more children?)*
I find it hysterical that in a culture in which it’s considered rude to ask someone’s credit score, it is considered appropriate to ask people what they plan on doing with their womb and sperm in the near future. I mean really. And by the way, telling someone you don’t know very well (or even that you do) that he or she will “change your mind” if they give you an answer to this question that you don’t agree with: tacky and inappropriate. (*Unless of course you are supporting this person and said children in which case such a question is literally your business.)
5 - How much do/did you make doing…?
There was a time when money and sex were considered taboo cocktail party conversation. Now I don’t know if we can blame reality tv with all of it’s “Real Housewives” showiness, or “Survivor-like” shows where the whole world knows just how much money the winner will walk away with or Facebook where every person now posts pics of his or her new purchases—from custom cars to brand new bling; but at some point we turned a corner, and while people may not ask flat out, “So how much income do you put on your taxes each year?” they have begun to ask every variation of that question possible. How many times have you heard, “Oh, that sounds like an interesting job. How much can someone make doing something like that?” (Translation: “Approximately how much do you or your spouse, make?”) Or “Tough market. How much were you able to sell your house for, if you don’t mind me asking?” For the record, yes we do mind you asking, unless you are planning to enter the exact same profession sometime soon or to sell or buy a home in the exact same neighborhood sometime soon. Someone else’s finances are absolutely none of your business unless:
a) They are asking you for money or you suspect they are likely to ask you for money soon.
b) They are running for office.
c) Their name is Suze Orman or any other person attempting to give financial advice.
6 - Who are you seeing?
Unless you are chatting with a close girlfriend or close boyfriend, or someone you are hoping will become your girlfriend or boyfriend in the more traditional sense, it is a little strange to put “Who are you seeing” in the same category of small talk as “How about this weather we’re having?” Yet plenty of people seem to. Now it’s one thing if you preface the question with, “I hope you don’t mind but I think there’s someone you may be interested in meeting. Should I introduce you or are you already seeing someone?” But if you’re just asking for strictly nosy reasons (and let’s face it, most of us are) then you should stop and think the next time you’re about to do that. And yes if people broadcast such info. on their facebook pages that’s on them, not you. But think of this way. If whom he or she is dating is typically broadcast on Facebook, then you can snoop into their business that way. No need to be rude by asking.
7 - Anything having to do with religion.
I’m glad you love your church (or synagogue or temple or mosque or insert your own house of worship.) We all are. But despite what your pastor says, that doesn’t mean you should be interjecting questions about someone else’s worship habits into casual conversation with acquaintances or co-workers in an effort to convert them. Pray for them privately if you so choose, but before you ask someone you don’t know well if he or she “has a worship home,” consider if you’d feel comfortable asking them a similar question about how and where they spend their free time out of the blue, such as, “Are you seeing a physician that you like? Because I can recommend a great one.”
I’m sure I missed plenty of straight up nosy and inappropriate questions, so feel free to weigh in with your own in the comments section.
Learn more about Keli Goff on keligoff.com