I just read a comic strip about how offensive it is to ask people what they do, so I stopped to wonder whether or not it’s offensive, and I can only say it’s boring.
It’s not nearly as polite, and seldom as interesting, as asking what their hobbies are.
In my parents’ house, talking about work was prohibited on the grounds that it was boring.
Unless you’re at a party to network with others in your field, chances are your job is not a fascinating topic of conversation.
Having said that, some people’s jobs are interesting to me.
Some people have jobs that aren’t easily defined. For almost forty years, my father-in-law worked in jobs that had to do with computers. I’ve no idea what the hell he did.
My son is going to graduate with a degree in a series of words that basically mean something about computers. My nephew will, too, but he was able to tell me specifics about his future line of work, and it sorta made him sound like a superhero, like Simon, The Anti-Hacker!
I’ve made friends with Project Manager, Director of Operations, Chief Systems Analyst and several Consultants. Despite having known them for years, I have no idea what the hell they do at work. I understand what Nurse, Editor, and Designer do all day, but we still never talk about it. I admit to sometimes discussing ethics and practices with Lawyer, Teacher, and Banker, but not at great length, and never at parties.
Last winter, I was deeply curious about why an acquaintance was traveling so often in such poor weather, so I finally asked, “What line of work are you in?”
“Sales,” he said.
This did nothing in particular to help me understand the travel. In the hopes of further chatting, I asked how New York was, but he had worked too much to enjoy it, so the conversation ended with a thud.
This also happens when you tell someone the name of the company you work for instead of what you do.
I despise being asked what I do. I don’t mind filling out the occupation blank on forms. I always wonder why the dentist asks. I don’t think it’s any more relevant than my sexual history. I suppose if I wrote down, “Tobacco Spitting Champion,” my occupation might be crucial to my oral hygiene, but seriously, whose job affects his dental health?
No, it’s in a social environment that I hate to be asked what I do. I actually don’t think I control my eye roll anymore.
Answers I’ve given:
I decorate cookies.
I peddle cookies.
I work at a card shop.
I’m a student.
I’m a tutor.
I’m a cashier.
I’m a head cashier.
I’m an office assistant.
I work in quality control.
I work in accounts.
I’m a hardware ho.
I work retail.
I’m in sales.
I sell candles in one of those awful pyramid schemes.
I’m a bank teller.
I’m a legal secretary.
I write settlement brochures.
I edit the law review.
I work three jobs.
I’m a sub.
I deliver pizza.
I’m a teacher.
I teach kindergarten.
I’m a long-term sub.
I stay home with my kids.
I’m a babysitter.
I don’t work.
I’m a teacher.
I’m a barista.
I take care of the house and the kids.
I’m a volunteer counselor.
I’m a freelance writer.
I’m a dependapotamus.
I do volunteer work.
I have 56 jobs. Which one would you like to hear about?
I’m a housewife.
I work for free.
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of gardening.
I try to make just enough money to avoid filing taxes.
Oh, I just siphon from my husband’s income.
I’ve reached a point where I can’t even.
And it’s not that I don’t enjoy my life, or that I’m ashamed of my work. I don’t think it’s rude to be asked what I do, but the reactions I get ARE offensive. I can actually see the interest disappear from their eyes. Even when they’re polite enough to feign interest I can see them scanning the rest of the room, ready to move on.
“I wish I could stay home all day, but I have bills to pay.”
“Don’t you get bored?”
“Well done. What does your husband do?”
“I could never do what you do. I don’t know how you do it.”
“Do you ever think about getting an education?”
“Oh I could never do that. I could never allow myself to be dependent on a man.”
Overall, I would say No, asking what someone does for a living isn’t offensive. Immediately labeling them and pigeon-holing them after their answer is offensive. I always want to lie and say, “I’m really not at liberty to talk about my job.” Then they could imagine I’m a prostitute or a spy or somethin — somethin that proves my value — prostitutes and spies make a lot more money than I do, you know.
What do you think? Do you regret not growing up to do something party-fascinating like royalty, celebrity, or assassin?