The other day I was working away at my desk in my shared office minding my own business – just like usual – when the coworker I share an office with asked, “Sarah, can I ask you a random question.”
Random question? Like, why is milk white? Or, what causes ingrown toenails? Even something along the lines of who decided that the habit of wearing jeans in the “sagging” fashion is even remotely a good look?
Any of those would be great, random questions. I like random questions. I think of random questions all of the time and usually I think of them while I’m driving (because I spend a lot of time driving). Unfortunately, often times I’m alone while driving so I have to ask myself the random question to which I already know I don’t know the answer. When Mr. Muse is along for the drive, I tend to raise my hand as if I were in grade school and proceed with my question once Mr. Muse responds, “Yes, Sarah?”
What I’m not so good with is anything that falls into the category of: Personal Questions.
“Where is Mr. Muse from? I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned it.”
Well, let’s see. I didn’t mention it because it didn’t come up during a pleasant conversation. I didn’t mention it because I’m not Mr. Muse and he’s pretty picky about who knows what about him.
Those are all things I thought of after I was struck mute for a moment as my mind struggled to grasp why my coworker was wondering and then in clipped cadence uttered, “From [insert major metropolitan area here]”. The coworkers response was an, “okay,” and silence resumed.
How I really wanted to respond was, “Why the fuck do you want to know? Who’s asking? How does your knowing have any impact on your life?” (I swear a bit when my hackles get raised.)
My facade was not one of serenity and calm, but more of perplexity and incredulity. However, on the inside I looked like this:
It was an entire day later where it occurred to me that my coworkers question wasn’t random – it was personal. I was blindsided. Again – yes, this has happened before. I was prepared to tell her how ingrown toenails were caused. But she’s someone whom I wouldn’t hang out with outside of the office and even now my proximity to her is only because I’m forced to share space. I find questions of personal nature rude and intrusive when they are asked out of the blue and by people who make no effort to get to know me outside of asking personal questions without context or discourse.
So, I’ve formulated my responses to “Sarah, can I ask you a random question?” I shall respond with at least one of the following:
“No.” – Short, sweet and to the point.
“Is it related to work? If it is – sure. If it’s not – no.”
“Is what you want to ask really a ‘Personal Question’? If it is – then No.”
“Why don’t you you ask and if I don’t respond, you’ll know I didn’t want you to know.”
“I think what you really meant to ask was, ‘May I ask you a random question’. No, you may not.”
What are your feelings on the Random vs. Personal Questions?
My answer fits a situation different from yours. The questioned asked to you was about a third person, your husband, which puts you in the position of reading his mind as to how he’d like you to respond. I don’t have a spouse to be questioned about so anything asked would be limited to me. I’ve had a policy for several years to answer any question asked, no matter how personal, as truthfully and honestly as possible. I know this wouldn’t be the choice of most people but it has worked well for me over the years; I no longer have to keep track of what I’ve said to whom and when and, as I age, I’ve learned the less trivia I try to keep in my overstuffed brain the better it is for the more important questions like, “Did I shut off the stove before I drove away from home.”
I’ve always had the policy to answer any question asked with the warning, or caveat, that the asker may not like my response/answer. I answer honestly, albeit often very vaguely, because I agree that it’s just much easier to keep track of the truth.
And – did you shut off the stove?
Some people just have to make noise in order to survive the day. Asking questions is one way for them to make noise. Of the tens of millions of questions she has stored in her eight ball, when she turned it over that one came up. Thus it was a random question, be also a personal question on your end. The fact that it is of no importance to her was not the point. The point was to make noise.
I’m the other side of that coin. Noise for the sake of noise drives me crazy, be it talking or a need to have a radio or TV going all the time. There is noting wrong with quiet.
Good point. I failed to see that it was a randomly personal question. As you may remember, once a conversation gets rolling – I can talk a blue streak. I don’t think my coworker fully understands, despite having received explanation a few times already, that my job involves a tremendous amount of detailed work that must adhere to state laws and that messing things up means the company gets written up. I don’t like messing up.
As for noise, I like music playing in the background a lot of the time, but even if it’s silent in my space, I don’t often notice the silence – it’s so noisy in my head already.
What does cause ingrown toenails? And ingrown hairs?
And I don’t know if I knew that your name was Sarah until now . . . you’ve always been “the accidental nudist” or “the muse” when I come here. So hi, Sarah 🙂
Personal questions about me, I answer pretty freely . . . heck, I tweet/blog about most anything, so my answering something means that the person is far less likely to go digging for information about me online, and stumbling across my blog, and then stumbling across my *other* blog, which could be awkward for any professional relationship.
But personal questions about my family? I actually have the “there’s just some stuff I don’t talk about at work” line memorized.
Ingrown toenails? In my case: pointy-toed shoes, nails clipped too short and having both big toes stepped on and broken on the dance floor. Ingrown hairs? Blocked follicle. 😛
I know this post makes it sound like I never answer personal questions, but I don’t like being assaulted with them when they aren’t part of a larger conversation. If I am having a conversation with a person about something innocuous which then segues into an example of personal nature which then leads to questions of the same ilk – I’m fine with that. I may, however, give vague responses depending on the person with whom I’m conversing.
I, too, have the “there are some things I don’t discuss” ready as a response.
I feel that people feel they are entitled to ask anyone anything they want at any time in our “tell all” society. To me, that attitude is invasive and offensive. Even my bank has now taken to mobbing customers at they walk into the door with an arsenal of chatter. “Hi! Welcome to ____! How can we help you today? Isn’t it a lovely day? I hope you’re enjoying it.” I find this disconcerting and on one hand I want to turn and run back out the doors while on the other I want to get in their faces and say, “BACK THE FUCK OFF! I am just here to deposit my check!”
If you are going to babble all the way to the Kinsey Show I might make you ride in the back of the ambulance. 🙂
Let me guess, you don’t want me playing air guitar and my double kick-drums the whole time?