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Why do people find simple questions offensive?
July 28, 2007 6:30 PM   Subscribe

Why do people consider it rude to ask how much money a person makes? Or to ask a woman how old she is?
posted by wigglin to Human Relations (53 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Any probing personal question might make the person being questioned uncomfortable. Such questions are considered "rude".
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:33 PM on July 28, 2007


"How much do you make" = "I judge people by how much money they make (or don't make), so ante up"
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 6:33 PM on July 28, 2007


In my experience, people who ask intrusive questions (income/age/weight/relationship status etc.) also tend to share that information with other people in a way that feels like gossip. I do not enjoy feeling like the subject of gossip. Questions that are likely to be used as fodder for gossip are therefore unwelcome.

Most of the time, it boils down to this: why do you want to know? Is the information really necessary? It rarely is (unless you happen to be an accountant or a medical professional, or someone else with a legitimate reason for asking.)
posted by ambrosia at 6:40 PM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Because it's none of your business.
posted by Cyrano at 6:41 PM on July 28, 2007 [12 favorites]


I'm assuming that this question has been posted in all seriousness.

The first example (and the latter as well, though that one's all bound up in weird social norms) refers to a bit of information which isn't common knowledge, and which (fairly or not) is assumed to reflect something about the person in question. When someone asks that question, they're assuming a level of intimacy with the askee that may not exist, and that kind of social overstepping is generally seen as rude. The questions aren't offensive in-and-of themselves, and I'd have no problem answering them for a friend; it's the relationship between asker and askee that determines whether it's acceptable to inquire about that kind of personal detail.
posted by ZaphodB at 6:45 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I guess questions like, "How old are you?" "How much do you make?" or "How much do you weigh?" are things that people only want to know to make value judgments. You can't really use those answers to form common ground with a person, like you could with questions like, "What do you do?" or "Where are you from?"
posted by christinetheslp at 6:45 PM on July 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


Because answers to these questions are outside of some people's comfort levels for discussing with people that aren't close friends or family. Other people don't care. This is a cultural difference. I'll gladly tell you how much money I make or how old I am. However, I know that some people don't like to freely divulge this information so unless I feel like I know them pretty well (or have some reason I need to know like I'm getting them a birthday card or I don't know what a good reason might be...) I won't ask. There are a whole host of other questions that people feel similarly about. Some of these are more obvious than others.

- how much someone weighs
- whether someone's child was planned or an "accident"
- how much sex a couple has
- whether you've slept with your new paramour yet
- whether you've sought treatment for your anxiety problems

etc. Different cultures have different ideas of what sort of stuff is appropriate to be shared with which people. I'm not sure I really get your question, are you just asking basically what the definition of rudeness is?
posted by jessamyn at 6:47 PM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Why something is rude and why people take offense are two different things. Neither requires the other.

I can see two reasons why people take offense at probing questions.

1. They're insecure about the topic being discussed.
2. Circularly, they're offended that someone would have the gall to ask a question which offends.

#2 is either a cover for #1, or a function of being trained to accepted certain behaviors as rude without any independent thought as to why that might be.
posted by toomuchpete at 6:50 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Because people may feel uncomfortable revealing their age or how much they make. Age is something many people try to disguise, maybe due to a concern about being considered 'too old' or maybe because Hollywood and the world of fashion idolise youth. Equally some people judge success based on salary and there seems to be an element of competitiveness in asking someone how much they make.
Therefore people who are considered (or consider themselves) 'too old' or 'too poor' will feel uncomfortable and judged if these questions are asked. And it's rude to make people feel that way.
posted by Laura_J at 6:54 PM on July 28, 2007


because it embarrasses them.
posted by krautland at 6:56 PM on July 28, 2007


This is it:

Therefore people who are considered (or consider themselves) 'too old' or 'too poor' will feel uncomfortable and judged if these questions are asked

And vice versa, of course.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:58 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


The problem with the questions is that some folks might not be comfortable—for any number of reasons—providing an answer. To ask someone something that you know from the outset they might not want to answer is, well, rude.

That some or even many folks might have no problem answering that same question doesn't change the general principle. Of course, if you know a person well enough to know that they won't find your asking to be a problem, great; the rudeness is not inherent in the question itself, but in the context.

"How much do you make" in a specific professional context where, say, income is an above-the-board issue? Fine. "How much do you make" to your brother-in-law at dinner? That depends a lot on him, your relationship with him, who else is present, etc. Likewise, "How old are you" from doctor to patient? No problem. From stranger to stranger? Why do you want to know?

So, there it is: the questions might bother some folks or make them uncomfortable. When there's any doubt, err on the side of discretion, or you may be considered rude. Taking it one step further: asking a question like this of someone you know well enough to know it's kosher, but in the presence of someone else who doesn't have that context, runs the risk of bothering that third party.
posted by cortex at 6:59 PM on July 28, 2007


Good responses.

If I am curious as to someone's age, weight, income, it's not because I intend to judge the person. I am just curious, as I would be with any other aspect of their life. What I don't understand is why some questions are considered acceptable and others not.

Why is everyone so ashamed of themselves? What difference does it make whether you don't make as much as you would like? What's wrong with being old or being overweight?
posted by wigglin at 7:01 PM on July 28, 2007


You should read the question right before this one.
posted by O9scar at 7:03 PM on July 28, 2007


Allow me to expand a little: How do you generally feel about people who offer up such information without being asked? "I closed a $500,000 deal this week and I'm going to buy a boat with the commision!" "Me and my wife, who you'd never know is [fill in whatever age you consider kinda old-ish here; I'm not stepping on that landmine] just can't stop fucking! It's like we're in high school!"

Kinda awkward, huh? It goes both ways.
posted by Cyrano at 7:03 PM on July 28, 2007


I don't think it necessarily has to do with insecurity or feeling judged or embarrassed. Some information is just private, that's all. If I want you to know, I will tell you myself. Otherwise, it isn't anybody else's goddamn business.
posted by ambrosia at 7:03 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


If I am curious as to someone's age, weight, income, it's not because I intend to judge the person. I am just curious, as I would be with any other aspect of their life. What I don't understand is why some questions are considered acceptable and others not.

I hear you. I generally feel the same way, and it took me some time and some self-reflection to really accept that some restraint was probably the order of the day on these things.

If you ask someone their weight, how do you know they don't have body image anxiety? How do you know that they haven't recently gained or lost significant weight, for medical or psychological reasons? How do you know whether they were mocked about their weight growing up?

If you ask someone about their income, how do you know if they were just laid off, or have a gambling problem, or are struggling with debt, or have confidence issues with their work or job history, or are self-conscious about discussing their income for any number of other reasons?

You are not rude for wondering, in good faith and curiosity, about these things. You are being (potentially) rude by presuming that Person A won't be uncomfortable answering your question, or made uncomfortable even by being forced to address the point of answering or not answering, for any of a great variety of reasons that may be unknown to you.

It doesn't mean you can't ask, and a gracious person will deflect or decline to answer such a question (and perhaps even explain in neutral terms why it's not something they'll answer); but it's on you to display the cultural sensitivity required to stay within the bounds re: personal questions if you don't want to put your foot in it.
posted by cortex at 7:11 PM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


It's cultural. When I lived in Central America, people asked questions like this all of the time and no one batted an eye. They also made frequent comments about weight- like, "wow, you're so much fatter than the last time I saw you!"

In the U.S., such questions are considered inappropriate, and to ask one would be breaking a social norm.
posted by emd3737 at 7:12 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why is everyone so ashamed of themselves? What difference does it make whether you don't make as much as you would like? What's wrong with being old or being overweight?

I think the problem may lie more in not being able to empathise with others as to why they may not like to answer these questions, rather than the questions themselves.

Can you imagine an instance where someone could ask you, innocently or otherwise, a question that made you feel like your answer would be used to judge you or you, your personality, morality, ability or judgement? If you thought the person would change their point of view of you based on the answer, would you still think it was no big deal?

If you can't empathise with that situation, I think you won't be able to understand what anyone is pointing out in this thread. It has to do with people being uncomfortable with what you may or may not do with that information.

If I asked if you liked to look at a unique and socially challenged type of pornography (and you did like to look), would you feel comfortable telling me? When would you and when would you not? That's the basis of the answer. We all just have different topics we would prefer not to be judged on.

Money = you are/are not successful
Religion = you are/are not morally bankrupt
Sex = you are/are not a deviant
Weight = you have/do not have any self control
Age = you have/have not reached a level of life success appropriate to your time on earth.

You see where this is going.
posted by qwip at 7:18 PM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


Cyrano -

Not really. I think I would be happy that they are happy. Why is it awkward?
posted by wigglin at 7:22 PM on July 28, 2007


If I am curious as to someone's age, weight, income, it's not because I intend to judge the person. I am just curious, as I would be with any other aspect of their life.

Ah, but other people don't have an obligation to satisfy your curiosity. I have no problem announcing* how old I am, or my natural hair color, or my shoe size, but that doesn't make them anyone else's business. But I get to decide when to divulge information about myself, whether it's how much I make, how often I have sex, how old I am, or what on earth is the extra-special ingredient in my justly famous almond-blueberry cake. (It's nutmeg!)

My point: I wouldn't be offended by someone's curiosity over these issues, but I'd be righteously pissed if someone assumed that he or she was entitled to sate that curiosity without regard for my wishes for privacy.

* To people I know face to face. I do try to keep some identifying details private online. Why? None of your beeswax.
posted by Elsa at 7:30 PM on July 28, 2007 [4 favorites]


(Asked of a man by another man:) "How much money do you make" == "Are you unattainably above or safely below me in the pecking order, or are we competing in the same cohort for carriers of our genes?"

(Asked of a man by a woman:) "How much money do you make" == "If we mated, how well could you provide for me and for my (possibly also your) kids who will carry half my genes?"

(Asked of a woman by another woman:) "How old are you" == "Are you safely above or irreversibly below me in decreasing fertility/desirability order, or are we competing in the same cohort for genetically superior providers of sperm and for (possibly but not necessarily the same men) providers for the kids who will carry half my genes?"

(Asked of a woman by a man:) "How old are you" == "If we mated, for how many years will you continue to be fertile and able to provide me with children who will carry half my genes?"

Note that until very recently (say 50 years out of 50,000 years humanity's been around), men's ages and (to a lesser extent) women's income were of less import and so not nearly as taboo to ask about. As our cultural environment continues to outpace our evolution, our taboos (influenced by both culture and genes) only slowly catch up.

Now, a lot pf people will say these questions are not taboo for anything to do with differential reproductive fitness and assortive matching, that they're taboo just because these questoins are "inherently offensive" or because the information is just "inherently private".

But in an age when people are more than happy to blog about their intimacies, post naked pictures of themselves on their MySpace accounts, decorate their cars' bumpers with stickers attesting to their religious beliefs and political affiliations, or even argue that "if you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide", what makes these particular questions "inherently" offensive or private? Why are men -- and women in their early fertile years -- not nearly so offended when asked their age? Why will pensioners with grandchildren almost proudly announced they're on a "low fixed income" in retirement?

If income is held to be private and asking it held to be offensive, why is cliche introduction question "what do you do?" Why (except in employment interviews, a special case) are people with children are almost never offended to be asked how many children they have? Why isn't that "inherently private"? (Because unless you're childless, it's counting coup and advertising the fitness of yourself and the fitness presumably inherited by your progeny.)

Why are questions about cookery, child raising practices, recreation activities, or entertainment preferences generally not considered private and indeed, people will volunteer that information to tedious extent, even though those answers can convey much social information? (Because such information usually isn't pertinent to assortive matching, a fertility indicator, or informative as to genetic fitness.)

Why were questions about religion affiliation once taboo and now less so? (Tentative answer: in the West it was but for many years, but is no longer, a barrier to mating.)

The objection might be raised that questions involving health and waste elimination (e.g, asking how someone's most recent shit came out) are also taboo, but I'd argue these too can be indicators of genetic fitness or of expected life-span (and thus remaining years of fertility/ability to provide for kids). That the intersection of health and waste elimination is of course menstruation, and that's definitely both taboo and indicative of fertility, I think especially demolishes the potential objection.
posted by orthogonality at 8:02 PM on July 28, 2007 [2 favorites]


If the conversation leads to it, or if there's some other motive for honest curiosity, then there's nothing wrong with asking. But these are not very interesting questions on their own, and undue interest in getting them answered may lead me to believe that the person posing them is deficient in imagination.
posted by sfenders at 8:29 PM on July 28, 2007


There's something either freaky or suspicious that this question was asked immediately after this one . Either way, it might be useful for you to check out that thread for some ideas instances of that poster finding personal questions offensive. Of course, it's possible that question led you to yours...
posted by prophetsearcher at 8:31 PM on July 28, 2007


related thread with some commentary about this question.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:21 PM on July 28, 2007


Also, I'm among the "people who will say that these questions are not taboo for anything to do with differential reproductive fitness and assortive matching". I think they're taboo for the reasons qwip describes. I don't think we need to believe that all human motivations have to do with reproductive fitness to believe that people don't want to lose face by admitting they don't make a lot of money, and don't want to enter a conversation where there's a game of "who makes more money" (or who weighs less, etc) happening.

In some cultures, eg old money northeast USA, discussing money at all is exceedingly tacky (maybe insulting, because it suggests that the other person would need to be thinking about money?), to the point that parents don't discuss estate planning with their adult children.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:29 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Why do people consider it rude to ask how much money a person makes? Or to ask a woman how old she is?

It's a power thing based on the connection between economics and status—differences in access to resources or capital (monetary, educational, sexual) are a way of measuring the social distance between individuals. People don't like to call attention to the fact that inequalities exist, say between income levels, or the disproportionate status effects of age on women versus men, because if they do then they are admitting that they can be affected by forces out of their control. In many cases when you pose such questions you're asking people to submit to being ranked. People consider this rude because, when they don't really know you, your personal intentions are powerless to minimize the social negatives of being asked.
posted by ads at 9:32 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


Its not shame, its because it can lead to some serious resentment.

Once you know how much more (or less) someone makes than you, then suddenly things are different. Even without knowing what someone makes people usually say stuff like 'Oh and I bet that idiot makes more money than I do!' Not knowing this makes socializing and dealing with people easier.

Not to mention, there are limits to someone's probing questions. In polite society I should not have to endure being asked this just because someone is curious. Americans may take privacy more seriously than others. All the more reason to not be culture blind.

I personally like the idea of having private areas that I dont have to share with the world. Its not because I'm offended or because I'm ashamed* its because privacy for the sake of privacy can be a wonderful thing. In the long run I prefer not knowing certain things about people too.

* I also dislike bragging. Just answering certain questions honestly will come off as bragging to some listeners.
posted by damn dirty ape at 9:43 PM on July 28, 2007


I am just curious, as I would be with any other aspect of their life.

As mentioned above, you don't have the right to have your curiosity satisfied. You should also ask yourself why you care. Why do you think you have the right to know how much someone makes? What does this information do for you? Why do you need it?

Most people will assume that you are using it to decide how you stack up to them on some kind of social scale. Others will assume you have a disorder and don't understand personal boundaries, or that you weren't raised well (and that will reflect badly on your parents, of course).

What I don't understand is why some questions are considered acceptable and others not.

If I ask a friend how much a certain item (say, a car) costs, I could be interested in buying one and therefore have a practical reason for asking. If I ask that person how much he earns, however, that information is of no practical use to me. So (the logic goes) I must be asking the question for some other reason, and the only reason that comes to mind is to judge them. It's difficult to understand why anyone would want to know how much another person makes except to judge them.

Now this doesn't mean you don't have a right to ask: it's a free world. But nobody has the right to reply. In fact, asking such questions is a good way to get a reputation as a buttinski who doesn't respect personal boundaries, and is a very good way to lose friends. Employers are especially wary of hiring or keeping employees who ask intrusive questions, as it's assumed that such an employee will also be 'curious' about their employers' privileged information.
posted by watsondog at 10:06 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


To add to jessamyn's list: asking another adult what their "parents do for a living" is a great way to make people you've just met uncomfortable. Someone I'd been introduced to asked me that once, within the first few minutes of a conversation. This question is guaranteed to kill 90% of conversations.
posted by pluckysparrow at 10:29 PM on July 28, 2007


In Britain, the cultural taboo extends to a dislike of people who interject how much money they make into conversations. Harry Enfield's 'Loadsamoney' was based on that particular discomfort.

It's part of a general unease with the subject of money, and probably the cultural cousin of LobsterMitten's example of old-money New England. Friends would rather repay favours in kind, so that money doesn't enter the equation, because that forces you to assess the 'price' of someone or something: 'am I being cheap?' against 'oh, god, was that just showing off how much I make?' We don't like cash tips in pubs, either.

A good rule of thumb: if you think it's okay to ask, and get brushed off, don't ask again, please. And don't make it your life's work to find out the answer, or the reason why you haven't received it.
posted by holgate at 10:42 PM on July 28, 2007


This might be a good place to point out that something measured on a cultural level (e.g., a norm, whether social or linguistic or spatial or whatever) does not correlate to the same thing measured on a personal level--they just aren't the same thing.

So there's the disjunct. And it's okay to disagree with your culture, but you may have to hold two different sets of norms, then.
posted by rhoticity at 11:27 PM on July 28, 2007


I agree strongly with ambrosia and damn dirty ape here. While I have no doubt there are people who don't like discussing how much money they make solely because they are embarassed at how low that figure is, I think it is a gross oversimplification to claim that is the only reason asking such a question is considered rude (or to assume that only those on the lower end of the economical scale would to get offended at such a question).

It's a rude question because there is simply no useful information that can be gained from having it answered besides having your basest curiosities satisfied for absolutely no practical purpose.
posted by The Gooch at 11:52 PM on July 28, 2007


Wow, this is a very interesting question. I have had this same discussion with ESL students who are new to Canadian culture. For example, a student once said to me, "I asked my Canadian friend a question, but she looked very surprised, and I think I offended her. Is it rude to ask how much money someone makes?" Part of my job is to teach language, but another part of it is to explain Canadian culture (not easy, given its diversity), so I decided to put together a lesson addressing this issue.

For the lesson, I wrote down a list of questions, some that would generally be considered appropriate by most Canadians (e.g., "Where did you grow up?" "Do you have any brothers or sisters?") and some that would generally NOT be considered appropriate ("Have you gained weight?" "How old are you?" "How much money do you make?" "Why don't you have any children?") and asked them to identify the inappropriate questions. When I revealed which were which, many of the students were genuinely astounded. A lot of them said that in their cultures, these questions were perfectly OK. The interesting thing is that some students from the SAME cultures could not agree on what they thought was appropriate and inappropriate. I used this opportunity to explain that although there were general guidelines about appropriate questions, there is enough diversity in Canada (and North America) that they are only guidelines and not everyone feels the same way, but in North American culture it is generally better to err on the side of caution, especially with people you don't know very well.

So I think this exercise illustrated two things: 1) as others have noted above, notions of appropriate and inappropriate questions do vary from culture to culture, and 2) even within cultures, there are different opinions about this. But I do think that in North American culture, it is generally considered pretty important not to make others uncomfortable, so most people try to adhere to these perceived social norms. This includes not asking about personal information like income, or commenting on others' appearance or physical attributes (weight, age).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:00 AM on July 29, 2007 [6 favorites]


Why do people find simple questions offensive?

Social conditioning.
posted by Rabulah at 1:19 AM on July 29, 2007


I'm not sure of this, but I think talking about how much money you make is mostly just taboo in the States (and possibly other Western countries).

A friend of mine holds that the taboo on asking about wages helps to maintain imbalances of wealth; if people really knew how much other people were making, they might not be as satisfied with what they were getting. Conversely, they might have more sympathy towards the truly poor and try to work for better wages for them.

I recall having loads of questions with people who were bemoaning how little money they made. I would ask them how much they made and they'd hedge and haw and finally tell me the number. It was almost always higher than what I was making at the time (about $17,000 after taxes).

Not asking the question allows rich people to think that they are worse off, and poor people that they are better off, than they really are. So on a psychological level it might make everyone "feel" equal, but in the tangible world it just furthers inequality.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:36 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what the last two commenters said. The idea that talking about money is vulgar is a form of social control.
posted by ninebelow at 7:09 AM on July 29, 2007


I think the question might be better clarified by asking, "Why don't I feel the same hesitation to ask these questions as do those I would like to ask?"

I have zero qualm about being asked these questions, nor an ounce of qualm about whether someone else feels uncomfortable if I ask them. Would it not be overtly hypocritical to judge me for asking it, than to worry about whether I'm going to judge you by knowing?
posted by vanoakenfold at 9:15 AM on July 29, 2007


What difference does it make whether you don't make as much as you would like?

If it really doesn't make a difference, then why does it upset you so much that it's considered taboo to ask that question?

I'm trying to think of what questions I would be really upset/confused that someone didn't want to answer, and all I can come up with is "Where is the bathroom?"
posted by 23skidoo at 9:44 AM on July 29, 2007


I have zero qualm about being asked these questions, nor an ounce of qualm about whether someone else feels uncomfortable if I ask them.

That just about sums it up. Not caring about whether you make others uncomfortable in a social context is generally considered rude. It's more the attitude than the actual behavior. People generally don't enjoy being around those that don't care about their feelings.
posted by ROTFL at 10:06 AM on July 29, 2007 [7 favorites]


Rudeness is socially defined. Some societies find these questions rude, some don't.
That's all.
posted by signal at 10:13 AM on July 29, 2007


You feeling that you have the right to have your curiosity about others satisfied with answers to all your questions is the verbal equivalent of feeling that you have the right to stare at someone.
posted by yohko at 11:02 AM on July 29, 2007


I once knew a guy like this. He thought he was superior to everyone else because he didn't care about other people's feelings. He'd ask the most intrusive questions and get angry and defensive when someone wouldn't answer.

He was never promoted, he was left out of social activities, and women tended to leave him after a few dates. Because of this, he thought he was being picked on by jealous, insecure whiners who couldn't handle the truth. In reality people thought he was a not-very-bright Grade A asshole and jerk and didn't want to spend time around him, and his employer didn't quite trust him and his social awkwardness enough to promote him into a position where he'd be managing other persons.

He also liked to, as he called it, subtly insult people in ways they 'were too dumb to catch'. He never once caught on that everyone noticed the insults but didn't call him on them because they assumed he had stupidly put his foot in his mouth again.

In other words, he thought he was smarter than the rest of the world because he didn't mess around with stupid social conventions like trying to make others comfortable. In reality everyone thought he was stupid, rude, and a waste of carbon. He was very proud of himself, but in reality he failed at life.
posted by watsondog at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2007 [5 favorites]


"You feeling that you have the right to have your curiosity about others satisfied with answers to all your questions is the verbal equivalent of feeling that you have the right to stare at someone."

There's a huge difference between feeling like you have the right to have your curiosity satisfied and feeling like you have the right to ask a simple question. Asking a question does not, alone, imply that the asked believes that he or she has a right to know the answer, only that he or she would like to know the answer.

And since when do we not have the right to stare at people? Maybe we shouldn't stare at people, but we very clearly have that right.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:28 AM on July 29, 2007


Of course you have the right, in the same way that the other person has the right to never speak to you, badmouth you to everyone he knows, etc.

You don't have the right to prevent people from being offended. You don't have the right not to be judged when you do offensive things. You don't have the right not to lose friends, jobs, promotions, etc. when you do things that are rude.

Simple self-interest should stop you from doing it.
posted by watsondog at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Because we have neurotypic disorder.
posted by RobotHeart at 11:54 AM on July 29, 2007


Unfortunately, watsondog, there is hardly a thing one can do that wouldn't offend SOMEONE.

So do we comport ourselves in a manner that seeks to offend as few people as possible, or do we make a decision as to what we think are legitimate reasons to be offended and try not to avoid those, relegating anyone offended by anything else to the circular file of our social lives?

I don't that there's a right answer to that question, but it's a simple fallacy to pretend as though we can all together avoid offending people, or that there is a single, complete, and authoritative list of behaviors which people find offensive.

To me, the answer is this: I'm going to be myself. If I'm unhappy with the consequences of being myself, I'm going to try to change who I am.

My life is better, not worse, because I run off the occasional over-sensitive person who takes offense at the drop of a hat.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:53 PM on July 29, 2007


I'm not ashamed... the reason I don't like personal questions is because too many people judge you by that information, and they might spread it to others who will also judge. It's extremely unfair to judge someone you don't know. My sister is an evil bitch, and we recently got some new neighbors who know her. They have already told our other neighbors that they hate us, based on my sister's behavior, but they haven't even met us!

I don't so much consider it rude, but I hate when people's first question for me is what do I do (where do I work). I think people place too much weight on what your job is. (And no, it's not because I have a crappy job.) When I was in nursing school, my mom would introduce me, "This is my future nurse." When I changed to computers, it was "this is my computer tech." No, I'm your DAUGHTER... those are just jobs. A job does not define who you are.
posted by IndigoRain at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


So you're saying that you can do things that offend everyone and nobody is supposed to complain or judge you for it, but you can complain and judge when they're offended? Because that's what I'm reading. I'm also reading that you don't seem to think very highly of other people.

If you can't see that such a viewpoint hurts you more than anyone else, I don't think there's anything anyone can say to you. You've made up your mind that your whims are more important than other people's needs, and you treat people accordingly.
posted by watsondog at 2:36 PM on July 29, 2007 [3 favorites]


There are some great answers here, especially qwip's.

A minor quibble. Answers to these questions do give useful information to the asker. Claiming they don't (None of your business!) is just a rhetorical ploy to avoid admitting that the person doesn't want to be judged on those grounds. It's perfectly legitimate to control how much we disclose of ourselves. Let's also be honest here though. We assess everyone constantly on whatever limited information we can pick up. How much money a person makes, how much sex they have, how much they weigh, etc., gives us more data and allows us to fine tune our assessment of both that person and of the broader categories, e.g. people who make more than x. No one likes to be labeled or judged on what they see as partial information, e.g. job, ethnicity, school, etc. Everyone wants to be understood on the basis of the 'real' them. Well, there is no true complete knowing, just a conglomeration of someone else's choice of labels. I suspect that it is people who make judgments quickly and then do not ever change or adjust their perseption that we have a problem with and not the labeling or judging itself.

-----

watsondog,

If,

"So you're saying that you can do things that offend everyone and nobody is supposed to complain or judge you for it, but you can complain and judge when they're offended? Because that's what I'm reading. I'm also reading that you don't seem to think very highly of other people."

this was in reply to toomuchpete's answer at 4:53, then I don't get that at all. When he says "I'm going to be myself. If I'm unhappy with the consequences of being myself, I'm going to try to change who I am.", it seems like a pretty mature statement about accepting responsibility and not trying to pander to every last sensibility ascertained through mind reading. This doesn't mean being all out rude, just taking initiative on what you consider to be reasonable actions and adjusting accordingly.
posted by BigSky at 5:38 PM on July 29, 2007


To elaborate on BigSky's response, which hit the nail on the head (all of this assumes you were replying to me. If not, please disregard)...

"You've made up your mind that your whims are more important than other people's needs"

I've made no such decision and, in fact, you really don't know anything about what is important to me or how I treat people. I've simply reminded you that this is not as clear-cut as your comment would seem to imply. Also, minor quibble, we're talking about other people's wants here, not their needs. Nobody "needs" not to be asked how much money they make.

"Because that's what I'm reading. I'm also reading that you don't seem to think very highly of other people."

That's an interesting appraisal. So wildly inaccurate that I wonder how you even came up with it, but interesting nonetheless. I'm "reading" that you like to exaggerate any perceived negative quality of the people who have a different opinion from yours.
posted by toomuchpete at 7:04 PM on July 29, 2007


Amazing how certain so many people are about what another person "needs" to know, or could find useful. Clue: You aren't qualified to judge what another person could find useful. Talk about judging!

I grew up in a family where money was about as taboo a subject as was possible (only slightly less taboo than sex). So guess what? I had a legitimate need for that sort of information. Judge someone? No, deary. Just a youngster trying to understand how much money equated to what kind of lifestyle (or what profession brought what kind of money). Pre-internet, this wasn't the easiest sort of thing to discover.

Yes, some people ask about money in order to judge. But I think a lot more people want to know in order to judge themselves, rather than the person they're asking the question. Like say, asking someone how much their new sound system cost: Judging? Yea, judging whether this is something I could consider for myself! Of course, you might fear my sudden boredom with the topic once I discover the thing cost 10 times anything I'd consider.

"What do your parents do?" Funny that. My own father recently asked that of my partner's parents, and it seemed odd. And, true to what some of you have said, he wanted to draw conclusions on that basis.

I'm delighted that some already commented that ignorance of what eachother earn helps maintain economic imbalance. I was realizing that as I read the earlier responses. Many companies have a policy against employees discussing pay amongst themselves for this reason.
posted by Goofyy at 2:56 AM on July 30, 2007


A friend of mine holds that the taboo on asking about wages helps to maintain imbalances of wealth

Of course, the same argument can be made in reverse. Talking about wages makes it easier to judge people (implicitly or explicitly) according to one artificial metric: a metric that is usually determined by someone else.

It's a taboo that absolutely deserves to be broken in certain homogeneous contexts -- for instance, if you suspect certain groups of people are getting stiffed in an office environment.

But imagine if there were one person who ranked everyone in the world, in hot-or-not style, on a scale that person never revealed. Asking someone where they ranked on that person's scale would enforce a pecking order even though neither would necessarily know what justified the ranking.

We all want to control the information that we divulge and on which people judge us, and don't think that it's unfair that one factor is the amount of control we exert over those bits of information. That's to say, most people don't dictate their own salaries.
posted by holgate at 5:48 AM on July 30, 2007


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