Did you really just ask me that?

Or, How do you answer inappropriate questions?


near Fairhaven, Maryland


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?)


3 responses to “Did you really just ask me that?

  1. Presented with the situation above my response would be: “Is your husband circumcised?” or…”I haven’t decided. What do you think, do you prefer a a dick to have foreskin?” or maybe “What does circumcised mean?” But I’m mean.

    Good luck with that. 😉


  2. Um, don’t call me ma’am please. As far as that question today – wow! I really would have just looked at her, smiled, and said that that question was a bit personal. This is why people don’t like Americans – we think we have a right to all information – personal or otherwise. As a blunt person, I usually like direct dialog – why guess what someone’s thinking/feeling – but it’s that lack of mystery that is starting to make life so boring (and us so abrasive). We put so much info about ourselves out there, we almost don’t need to talk to each other anymore. You can immediately zoom in on people who share your interests and ignore every0ne else, learning nothing new about ourselves or others. Where to draw the line? I think it varies from person to person, so while people might have a right to inquire, you also have a right not to answer. Someone else might have been happy to discuss why they were or were not going to circumsize their kid – so wouldn’t have thought the question intrusive. You did – so just say so.

  3. It really depends on if you want to engage people. I couldn’t be bothered, so for the most part it was just smile, nod, and say whatever I could to get out of the situation.

    Or you could try growling.

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