Or, How do you answer inappropriate questions?
I like to think that I’m fast on my feet; quick to retort; ready with an answer. I have, after all, spent about 11 years going back and forth with the idea of going to law school. But sometimes I’m caught off-guard and my best answer to a question gets stuck in the recesses of my brain leaving me, five minutes later, thinking: why did I say that? I didn’t need to answer that question.
Being seven months pregnant lends me to a lot of unsolicited advice, comments, and questions. This weekend, a person I had only known for about 20 minutes asked me, point blank, “if the baby is a boy, are you going to circumcise it?” I blinked twice and answered. Five minutes later I was mentally kicking myself. That is a personal question that not even my family or closest friends have asked me. Yet I answered this stranger. And, maddeningly, I came up with twenty different responses I could have used, had my quick thinking not failed me at the time.
So my question is: how do you respond to inappropriate questions, comments, or advice? I’m sure Emily Post has an answer or two–most likely along the lines of “thank you for your concern/interest but I am not ready to share that information yet.” A third grader would be more direct and say: “mind your own beeswax.” What is the middle ground between those two? Sure, I could be polite, but part of me also wants to tell respond by saying: hey, back off!
America is the land of political correctness. I would never call an overweight friend “gorda” (fatty), like they do in the Dominican Republic, or “flaca” (skinny), nor would I call out to the blonde woman who just dropped her glove in line in front of me at the post office “rubia” to get her attention. I would simply say, ma’am. The generic address of ma’am, while more socially acceptable and polite, is imprecise and boring. But it is politically correct and it will not offend, heaven forbid.
PC-ness goes beyond the labels we use to refer to other people–it is ingrained in our daily interactions with strangers, colleagues, and acquaintances. When is the last time you were completely honest with someone without beating around the bush? And how did that go? Did it require an apology, clarification, or further discussion? Or did it make your relationship more open and honest? I’ll guess the former. But what if we were a little less PC and a little more straightforward? I think our relationships would be more honest, more open, and more real.
So the next time someone asks me an inappropriate question, will I refer in a way in which Emily Post would approve, or will I point out the inappropriateness of the question and decline to answer? (Or, will I answer and then kick myself later?)