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AIBU to be annoyed when strangers ask such personal questions

(49 Posts)
Barrow Sat 02-Jun-12 16:56:16

Last night I went to a dinner party where there were several people I didn't know - after the usual questions - what do you do (retired) , are you married (widow), do you have children (no) - came the question Why is that? Do these people really think I am going to go into the reasons I am childless over dinner?

I have been asked this question all my married life and people seem to be surprised when I am not willing to discuss it with them. If I asked them how often they had sex with their partner or what their bank balance was they would, rightly, be very indignant but they seem to think it is OK to ask such a personal question. Over the years I have perfected the raised eyebrows and an indignant "I beg your pardon". This usually results in their being embarrassed instead of me and quickly changing the subject. It got me thinking what is the most inappropriate question others have been asked

Grannylin Thu 19-Jul-12 21:07:12

Oh damn, sorry about that, should have been on the' This made me laugh' thread
blush.....and I thought I could manage Twitter!

Grannylin Thu 19-Jul-12 21:04:06

Ha!Like the first one best.When I saw this on the Forum list I thought you were telling another of your amazing stories greatnan,then remembered that you aren't 75 grin

ninathenana Tue 05-Jun-12 23:22:37

j04 the point is that it's not always someones choice as to whether they do or do not have children.

I was married for 10yrs before I was PG with my 1st. I was asked on more than one occasion "Oh, so don't you want children then" when in fact I very much wanted them.

absentgrana Tue 05-Jun-12 18:40:07

I find that responding to the question "What do you do?" with the answer, "I'm a traffic warden" gets rid of the tiresome interrogator very rapidly. smile

Jams Mon 04-Jun-12 16:26:59

I just look at them and ask "Do you often jump to conclusions about people you don't know and assume that they are (single;straight;childless;retired etc)?".
Although I have twice responded in different ways to personal questions. Once after being constantly asked if I was married, where I lived and how many children I had - and said "Actually I am a radical feminist lesbian and I live in a yurt with my three sexual partners and their children."
But the best one of all was when a total stranger had the damn cheek to actually ask a number of people in a 'group' how old they were when they lost their virginity, to which I responded along the lines of - "Am I to assume that your question is based on the assumption that everyones first sexual experiences were entirely voluntary, or are you ready to deal with the potential aftermath of prying into such a very personal and often extremely private area!!!" That ended that line of questioning.

Greatnan Mon 04-Jun-12 09:35:28

Yes, indeed, well done Barrow, that took some courage!
Bags - you were lucky to get as far as asking the question - my daughter used to come in from school, glare at me and say 'Nothing' before I could speak!
Jess,your post brought back horrible memories of desperately trying to keep a conversation going with my ex sister-in-law whose sole interest was knitting.
I was actually asked (illegally) at an interview for a teaching job if I intended to have more children. I offered to show them my scar, but the Assistant Director for Special Education stepped in and put the dinosaur councillor in his place.

JessM Mon 04-Jun-12 09:20:58

Stunning rudeness or stunningly gauche - dicuss.
Well done you.

Barrow Mon 04-Jun-12 09:04:45

I used to work for a company where once a month the staff were "invited" to have lunch with the partners - it was really more of a sort of royal command. The first and only one I went to the senior partner was at the head of the table, next to him was another partner then me and then another partner the other side of me. The three of them then talked about cricket throughout the lunch speaking over me rather than to me. The table was too wide for me to make conversation with the person opposite me.

The following month when the "invitation" was made I said I would not be going. I gathered that no-one had ever refused before but I said that lunchtimes were my time and I would spend it however I wanted and that if the partners learned some basic manners (I was after all their guest) I might consider attending again. I never attended another lunch and found that others were following my lead and about a year later the lunches were stopped!!

JessM Mon 04-Jun-12 07:10:49

J for some people not having children is a sore point and they are the ones that might mind being asked to give an account of themselves.
I suppose one could always respond to that one with something like "well I never quite worked out how babies really are made. I found all the explanations totally implausible. Would you like to try to explain it to me because no-one else has ever succeeded?"
Many people in business are woeful at small talk. Occasionally, attending a formal type dinner with DH I have sat between 2 gauche middle aged men who ask me nothing at all about myself for the whole evening. Which is just as klutzy as asking personal questions. (2 sides of the same lack of social skills coin)
So it becomes an evening of making an effort to keep the conversation flowing - hard work I reckon. My advice to DH when called upon (work duty) to go formal dinners where he may be the only sober one on the table is to ask them have they got any kids. If not, ask them have they been on holidays or got one planned. The kids question is useful because if they have, they are usually happy to talk about them.
My worst small talk experience was after DH came back from HK. A business associate from HK was over and staying in a centerparcs with his family and asked us to drive up to spend the afternoon with them. Bring your bather.
After a very long drive the afternoon was spent abandoned on the banks of those nasty over crowed leisure pools they have with the waves etc. With Mrs. F. While the chaps and the kiddies played in the water. Oh I forgot to mention they were rather wealthy and called Fook!
Mrs F had not bad English but of course it was horribly noisy. But her conversational gambits were along the lines of: where was the best place in Europe to buy reasonably priced Gucci?
My other nomination... - was also in a building with a leisure pool. My mate and I thought we would try a spa evening in Swansea Leisure centre - swim, sauna, steam , very reasonable price. Turns out the changing rooms are mixed and it is rather male dominated (eiugh! do i want to see hairy male bottoms through the shower curtains, no I do not!) But we've paid and we are there to enjoy each other's company.
Sitting in the steam room, us two, and a bunch of men with beer bellies. A voice comes out of the mist from the other side of the room "Oy love? Do you think I am overweight?"
Thus reversing the personal question problem at a single stroke.

Bags Mon 04-Jun-12 06:23:51

If I ever asked DD2 what she'd done at school that day, she'd just reply: Oh, you know... stuff.

jeni Sun 03-Jun-12 22:54:33


nanaej Sun 03-Jun-12 22:40:17

or just say..' sorry I am not at liberty to say'

Anagram Sun 03-Jun-12 22:29:41


Anagram Sun 03-Jun-12 22:29:20

But jingl, after we've reached a certain age most of them probably think we do just than anyway! grin

jeni Sun 03-Jun-12 22:11:14

My favourite has allways been to say! "oh,I run a very high class brothel!'
I say this with avery straight face!
The reactions are very interesting!

I don't think I'll do it on this cruise though?

Or, I might just!

Depending on my table companions! grin

j04 Sun 03-Jun-12 22:01:35

When people ask 'what do you do' it can be quite fun to reply 'nothing much'.

Takes the wind out of their sails a bit.

j04 Sun 03-Jun-12 21:59:27

I would have thought someone's choices over having children or not having them could lead to a quite interesting conversation.

I don't think I'd be offended by that.

Anne58 Sun 03-Jun-12 21:38:33

I think one of the worst was when we had just finished doing a mystery shopping telephone programme for a large chain of funeral directors and we had to give individual feedback to the advisors (who would be the first contact for someone who was genuinely needing advice about funeral arrangements). One of them who was on my list thought she was wonderful, but her manner was rather abrupt.

When I was trying (tactfully) to explain how she could improve, I said "I do know how it feels to be in that situation you know, I lost my son 6 months ago at the age of 19" Her reply? "Oh, was it a car crash?"

Although it is not a word I like to use, I was gobsmacked!

Greatnan Sun 03-Jun-12 21:29:56

I like the attitude of New Zealanders - when they ask 'What do you do?' they mean what are your hobbies or sports. There seems to be a complete social mix and nobody can place you by your accent (except as a new immigrant, of course).
I used to get annoyed whe people asked me what my husband did, as if his job were the determinant of my own worth.

vampirequeen Sun 03-Jun-12 21:18:20

I have a lot of scars on my arms. When people ask I tell them that I used to wrestle porcupines.

nanaej Sun 03-Jun-12 19:21:08

I think it is sad that for 'small talk' at social functions people tend to go for personal questions. Partly to do with our class obsession to ask 'what do you do?'

I had an acquaintance who had been to a 'finishing school' and had been trained in how to make small talk.
One strategy was to talk briefly about something or someone in the room that you say reminds you of a book/film/play/ concert to get the conversation going.
e.g. hullo I am xxxx. I was just looking at that picture and it reminded me of ....
have used it on occasions and it does work! hopefully keeps away from personal issues! Of course you can just make it up as long as you can keep the conversation going.

nelliedeane Sun 03-Jun-12 18:30:38

maniac that's just the thing I do just confuse them,put up a smokescreen ,and move on ,it is the their problem ..not mine,....

Maniac Sun 03-Jun-12 12:18:13

Barrow I agree that's rude and inappropriate.
My DD1(now age 53) decided not to have children.She and her DH don't drink alcohol so that's two conversation stoppers .They have both become adept at countering impertinent questions.
Try imagining you're a counsellor/psychotherapist They usually respond to a question by asking another-rarely give a straight answer

harrigran Sun 03-Jun-12 11:52:39

People ask me all the time why my DD never had children ( she is in her 40s) She and her DH never wanted children but she also has POD but if you tell them that it starts a whole new set of questions like why did she not have treatment and am I not sad. I have GC by my DS why would I badger my DD to do something she doesn't want to ? People can be extremely rude and insensitive and just because you are at a social function does not give them the right to be intrusive.

Greatnan Sun 03-Jun-12 10:04:35

I lived in Rainham, Kent, for a couple of years in the 1990s but I found the travelling too much and moved into a rented studio in Chelsea.
(Not as posh as it sounds - even though it was on Lower Sloane St. and had the coveted SW1W post code, it was pretty run down.)