HNC Home Page
News Business Arts & Life Sports Opinion Calendar Archive About Us
PUT AWAY YOUR TOYS: Sunday brought perfect weather for hot-air ballooning over the Old Mendon Highway -- but when it's over, you still have to pack up. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

Soooo... what can you do about people's inane questions?

By Justin Siebenhaar

September 26, 2006 | There are a few questions I really hate. I'm sure everybody's got these types of questions in their lives that people ask, but have absolutely no interest in what the answer will be. They're social dues one must pay for the benefit of having contact with people. In life you just can't pick and choose every person you'll interact with.

The worst place for these questions is around family and acquaintances. Many of these people are just folks who are forced to take an interest in you. But instead of taking an interest in you, they just ask the same questions and then zone out for a few minutes while you answer.

The one I seem to get a lot lately is "So, you dating any one?" That one really goes up my nose. I mean, what business of theirs is it? Do I ask them how their sex life with their spouse is? I guess the thing that really bugs me the most about that question is the indifferent response I get. If I say, "No, I'm not dating anyone," then they'll lecture me on the importance of dating someone and say things like, "You gotta get on that!"

Another question that really gets to me is when people ask what I'm doing with my life. It's not that I hate the concern, it's that there's no concern at all behind the question. I'm going to school. That's what people my age usually do. They know that. It's what I was doing the last time I talked to them. I go to school, I work in a low-paying job and I do things with friends. That's what I'm doing with my life.

But I think probably the worst question that can be asked is, "So, how's life?" I mean seriously, what type of a question is that? If these people really cared they'd be keeping better tabs on me than to ask that question.

It also really bugs me when they ask questions while running out the door. I don't think I can sum up life by saying "Good" or "Bad." It's just pleasantries. And if I did say "My life is a living hell, I think I'm going to throw myself in front of a bus after this party," I'm pretty sure their response would still be, "Right on, see ya around."

But I've realized there are a few protections against these types of questions. First, the key is to spot them when they're coming. Almost always these questions start with a long, drawn out "Sooooo." The second key is to keep them on their toes. You've got to give an answer that's going to really make them sit up and take notice. If they ask, "Sooooo, how's life." Say something like, "Well, I'm thinking of joining the military and becoming a sharpshooter." But you've got to say it deadpan. Either they'll remember these types of responses or they just won't care less.

Either way, you had some fun.

The third point is to remember that no matter what you say these people will follow it with some generic, fortune-cookie advice. One thing you can do that can make these types of conversations fun is to try preempting their advice. In fact, I've concluded that many people ask these questions only so they can give their advice and be known as one who gives advice. But if you beat them to it they usually won't give up, but are then put on the spot to try to make up some advice, which can often times be quite hilarious.

Just as a side note, I think there are a lot of people that give non-advice advice. The most classic one is, "Well, what are ya gonna do?" That's not advice. That's not even coherent. The truth is you'll never avoid these conversations. I don't know, what are you gonna do?


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
Best viewed 800 x 600.