The other day after the persistent talky guy at Sadlack’s asked me a whole bunch of times in a row how old I am, Audrey and I got into a conversation about rude questions. I told her that I’d just been in line at Whole Foods, and the cashier shouted at me, “IS THAT YOUR REAL HAIR COLOR?” And she said “REAL” with kind of a punch, so that people from about three aisles away turned to look and offer their opinions. At that point I wondered: when did it become okay to shout that question at a stranger? She went on to say that there were three redheads in a row in her line, and we all looked really different. She did not ask the other two redheads whether they were redheads by birth, or redheads by choice. I told my hair guy this story. He fell off his stool laughing.
Talky dude at Sadlack’s the other day leaned in and out of our conversation a few times, and when we were debating whether to buy tickets to Bob Dylan, chimed in triumphantly, “Aha! Now you have dated yourself!” And I just stared at him, because a) he was too drunk for an argument, and b) I do not yet look old enough to have been an original follower of Bob Dylan, like my Dad was, so he was off by a generation anyway. I was unwilling to belabor the point. And drunk dude, we are neither related nor dating, and you are not my medical professional, so why on earth would you care? Move along. Nothing to see here.
I left Sadlack’s and the mailman happened to be passing my house. He looked at Dawg and said, “Oh, I see. You decided not to have children, so you got this one instead.” That one crosses so many boundaries of manners, gender issues, professionalism, and privacy that I had no response. I texted Audrey that our previous rude encounter at Sadlack’s had been superseded. “What the actual fuck?” was her response. “That is a reason never to talk to someone again,” said Veronica. What that man doesn’t know about women, is a lot.
I was at another establishment later that day, name withheld, waiting for Veronica to show up. The creepy proprietor straight-up sat down at my table and asked me a bunch of personal questions, including my current least favorite: “Your office closed? What are you going to DO?” Because I totally want to discuss my future with strangers, right? Proprietor then asked where my house is, because he lives in my neighborhood. When I drove home, he followed me out and “coincidentally” showed up in my yard less than a minute behind me. If I go missing, y’all check this man’s basement first. For real. I can never go have a beer on that patio again.
I had lunch the next day with someone I haven’t seen in a decade. I ordered a salad. Twenty questions ensued. Didn’t I want something more substantial? Didn’t I want chicken on my salad? Why was I ordering a salad if I do not appear to be obese? Did I eat salads often? What exactly did my doctor say to prompt me to order a salad? What exactly was your blood sugar reading? It must be genetic. How concerned are you? Should I have them hold the bread basket? I’ll tell them not to bring any bread. How about fish? At least have some salmon with your salad. Aren’t you still hungry? By the time it was over, I had broken out in a sweat and wanted to lie down on the floor and nap from the stress of the prying questions. Is it ever polite to comment on what someone else is eating, beyond “mm that looks good?” I don’t think so. But maybe I’m old fashioned.
A former colleague said to me “Really? You’ve never been married? Well then have you ever been engaged? No? Huh.” She looked at me sadly, as if a divorce or a broken engagement would at least be preferable to being single. She tilted her head to one side, looked me up and down, and said, “Well, you’re so tall….I guess that really limits your options……” I was speechless. And 5′ 7 1/2″ is not extremely tall. Tall-ish, maybe. Whatever. I’m still speechless.
A former classmate, the week after I finished three months of crutches, kept saying to me, “Why are you walking like that? I thought you were supposed to be better. What, are you always going to walk like that? It’s not like it still hurts, right? You should stop walking like that.” And we are not friends any more. Picking on those who are limping? However temporarily disabled they may be? Beyond the pale. Jackass.
BOUNDARIES, strangers and colleagues and check-out people and casual acquaintances. Boundaries. If we are friends, I will tell you ‘most anything. Age and salary and what I paid for my house and my hopes and dreams and middle-of-the-night fears. I have no secrets. I am a blogger, for crying out loud, it’s not like my thoughts and opinions are closely guarded. (I won’t tell you my weight, though. I don’t know a single woman anywhere who will say that out loud.)
I’m wondering: has the information age taken us to the point where nothing is off-limits? Have we, as a society, gotten ruder? Has reality television made us feel like we can ask anyone anything, anywhere? Why do I keep answering questions I don’t want to answer? (Because I don’t want to make things awkward by ignoring a question, despite the fact the asker of the question has already gotten all up in my business without being invited there.) My project this week: to come up with strategic, polite, deflective answers to invasive questions, and subject-changers for prying conversation. Well-mannered evasive maneuvers. What would Miss Manners say? What would YOU say?