What to tell coworkers about my personal time, when it's personal
April 19, 2013 4:19 PM   Subscribe

How do I answer coworkers' routine questions about what I have planned for the weekend, what I did on the weekend, and if I'm going anywhere for my vacation, when the answer is personal? My coworkers are all very nice people, and I wouldn't call them intrusive, but it seems that this is a basic question for all of them when, for example, I run into them on the elevator. They themselves are always ready with a typical answer, e.g., I did this with my kids, I went on this trip, went on a yoga retreat. Would it be a bad idea to make up a bunch of innocuous stories? I'd also like to stay friendly with them and not appear cold (or boring by constantly answering "not much"), but becoming actual friends with them is very unlikely.
posted by waterandrock to Work & Money (47 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
i usually reply with, "oh, you know, random stuff and chores," or "relaxed, watched tv.". my coworkers are usually pretty satisfied by that. sometimes life isn't very exciting. i wouldn't lie, it just seems like something that you could really dig yourself into and make things weirder.
posted by koroshiya at 4:22 PM on April 19, 2013 [12 favorites]

Yeah, the way to deal with this is just to say something nondescript. Not a lie, but more like, "oh, the usual" or a distilled one sentence version of the truth. "Probably go to the movies", "I've always wanted to go to the Grand Canyon, but we'll see..." etc.

Most people don't really care that much, they're just making small talk.

Usually when people ask you these questions and then try to spin into a longer conversation about X vacation or Y after work event, they are doing it because they want to be your friend. I guess it's cool if you don't want to be friends, but they're seriously not trying to bother you or intrude on your life. They're just trying to be nice and maybe hoping to bond a little.
posted by Sara C. at 4:27 PM on April 19, 2013 [30 favorites]

It's just small talk, a few steps above 'How are you?' ... A innocuous 'relaxed, visited with some friends'-type vague comment works fine.
posted by Fig at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I'm usually a bit vague -- "I hung out with friends" or "I cleaned my apartment." Or with vacations, "I'm going to visit friends" (or "family.") Usually, none of these are outright lies. They're just enough to be satisfying without going into any details.

Likewise, I don't have much interest in being friends with my coworkers and I'm pretty sure they all believe I have some kind of secret life. I'm OK with both those things.
posted by darksong at 4:28 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

"oh, getting together with friends/family, getting some errands done".

You may also want to consider that these questions and answers have nothing to do with "being friends" and everything to do with "greasing the wheels of interacting with the same people day in and day out". It's just a form of small talk, like talking about the weather. I wouldn't worry too much about being overly honest or specific, or about it indicating an attempt at friendship.

It's just chitchat, and "only talking about work tasks" is not sustainable or normal, especially if you're working with the same people every day, potentially for years.
posted by Kololo at 4:29 PM on April 19, 2013 [5 favorites]

There's no harm in just telling people "nothing" or "not much". Most people who ask these questions are just trying to be friendly in the hallway.
posted by MeatheadBrokeMyChair at 4:30 PM on April 19, 2013

Response by poster: What about with vacation time?

Incidentally, "random stuff and chores" or "relaxed, watched t.v." would be a lie with my weekends. So that might be the innocuous stuff I'd make up?

Also, not suggesting that they are trying to make friends, just that they're not likely to be able to get behind any answers.
posted by waterandrock at 4:30 PM on April 19, 2013

Yes, it's fine to say "chores" or "relaxed" instead of the truth if you'd rather not tell the truth. They aren't seeking information, only ticking off the social obligation of making small talk. The best thing is to say "oh, just relaxed, nothing too exciting. What did you do?" - if they want to talk, invite them to talk.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:35 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

With vacation time, I dunno, is there a reason you don't want people knowing where you're off to or why you're taking time off?

I don't think it's all that intrusive for people to ask, and for you to say, "I'm taking a road trip" or "going to visit family" or whatever.

I mean, I guess I don't get where the harm is or what you're trying to achieve here. Do you really have deep problems with your coworkers knowing the most basic information about your life? It's pretty easy to just say "oh, not too much" or "mostly just kick back, probably" or "visiting family" or whatever. Is there something you're actively trying to hide and it's such a huge thing that you can't just be general about it? I think even a spy or a serial killer could just say "oh, just a nice lazy weekend at home" or the like.
posted by Sara C. at 4:37 PM on April 19, 2013 [25 favorites]

I literally cannot imagine a weekend that contained 0 aspects you could truthfully use in small talk. You need to be a little more creative.

Like, if you plan to spend the weekend, Friday 5pm through Monday 9am, beating your wife? Say "oh, I'll spend time with the wife". If you will be stalking and kidnapping toddlers in playgrounds say "gonna try and get out of the house, maybe get a little exercise". When they say "oh what kind of exercise?" you say "nothing serious! maybe just a short jog, you know. And you?"
posted by jacalata at 4:39 PM on April 19, 2013 [81 favorites]

Response by poster: Next vacation, I'm doing professional development that has nothing to do with my current job.
posted by waterandrock at 4:41 PM on April 19, 2013

In that specific situation, I'd probably go with "I'm spending a long weekend in [city where the conference is]" or the like.
posted by Sara C. at 4:45 PM on April 19, 2013

Response by poster: It's local.
posted by waterandrock at 4:46 PM on April 19, 2013

Best answer: "I'm going to a conference." "I'm going to a meeting." "I'm working on a project."
posted by girlmightlive at 4:49 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: "I'm working on a project." - I'll go with that! Thanks!
posted by waterandrock at 4:53 PM on April 19, 2013

Best answer: "Oh, nothing much planned-- more of a staycation really." If you want to be nice, say something like, "I have a bunch of reading stacked up that I'm trying to catch up on related to one of my hobbies, (conference topic), so I'm going to stretch my brain a bit."

Honestly, every Monday AM on my way to work, I think about one thing I can half-truth into a work-appropriate story so I can answer "What did you do this weekend?" I then repeat the same story to everyone who asks. On Wednesday PM, I think about one weekend plan and half-truth it into a work-appropriate story, so that I can answer questions about "what are you doing this weekend?" It's nice having something pat ready to share, so I'm not caught off-guard and don't accidentally say something like, "You know, day drinking in front of a reality TV marathon with my roommates-- the usual."
posted by samthemander at 4:53 PM on April 19, 2013 [12 favorites]

How do I answer coworkers' routine questions about what I have planned for the weekend, what I did on the weekend, and if I'm going anywhere for my vacation

Generally, I tend to answer with what I am planning to do/did over the weekend and the place I am planning to go to for vacation. This is because not only to I try to be friendly, but ALSO because I like talking about the interesting things I plan to do and think that it is worth to share with others.

If I have to be evasive, then I can just give a general answer like, "staycation." Or, "You know those weeks where you just need to spend it getting all your stuff together? One of those." Or "took a personal day."
posted by deanc at 4:56 PM on April 19, 2013

Give a friendly but short and broad answer and then about THEM. This will have the dual benefit of (a) keeping the conversation out of your business and (b) showing caring and interest. Plus you may hear some cool stuff.

Colleague: What are you doing on your next vacation?
Waterandrock: Unplugging! How about you? OR How do you manage to stay so on top of things? OR What's your favorite vacation spot?

Colleague: What did you do for the weekend?
Waterandrock: Relaxed. How about you? (Note that "relaxed" could well mean anything, including going on a 100 mile bike ride, or whatever relaxation means to you.) OR How are your kids?

Frankly, I find most people would much rather talk about themselves.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 4:58 PM on April 19, 2013 [6 favorites]

"What did you do this weekend?"
"This and that. Just had some stuff to take care of."
posted by jquinby at 5:00 PM on April 19, 2013

Next vacation, I'm doing professional development that has nothing to do with my current job.
posted by waterandrock at 4:41 PM on April 19 [+] [!]

Okay, but you're not going to be doing it 24/7, are you? So you just say a few things you'll be doing in the evenings or whatever. 'I'm just going to stay in town and catch up with friends/do some cooking/get things shipshape around the house/see a few movies/try some new restaurants/get my fitness regime back on track/read some new books'.

Are you worried that you're going to sound boring? Because I think you're overthinking this a bit. You don't really want to be friends with these people, so it doesn't really matter what they think. If you're aiming for 'minimum politeness to grease the wheels of daily interaction', this is fine.
posted by Salamander at 5:01 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Incidentally, "random stuff and chores" or "relaxed, watched t.v." would be a lie with my weekends. So that might be the innocuous stuff I'd make up?

Also, not suggesting that they are trying to make friends, just that they're not likely to be able to get behind any answers.

What are you, a superhero or something? There must be something you've done in the entire weekend that you could share with colleagues?!

I mean, did you cook a meal? Did you eat a meal? Did you read a book? Did you go outside? What was the weather like? Did you buy something, anything? Did you listen to the radio?

I dunno, dude, I think your social barometer may be a bit out of whack here. None of these people actually care about what you did on your weekend. They are just trying to be friendly (note: not "friends") and polite. Frankly, if I found a co-worker unable or unwilling to engage in the most banal small talk like this, I would assume that either they hated me and couldn't hide it, were deeply strange, or just didn't give a shit about anyone else or the job - possibly all three.

These people aren't asking for a novel; tell them one thing from the weekend that can extend to two sentences, then ask them what they got up to.

I guess my question here is: Do you hate these people? Not give a shit about your job? Are deeply strange? This is pretty basic human interaction stuff here: It needn't be so troubling.
posted by smoke at 5:10 PM on April 19, 2013 [64 favorites]

I tell them, "Oh, just the usual things. Sloth. Gluttony."
posted by Bruce H. at 5:10 PM on April 19, 2013 [10 favorites]

Look, they're just making casual conversation --- something bland, like 'just doing chores' for the weekend or 'spending time with the family' for a vacation, is perfectly fine. Doesn't matter if it's a lie or not, because your coworkers aren't really THAT interested: the whole question isn't any more serious than them asking 'what'd you bring for lunch?'

It's all just social politeness, and ranks right up there with 'boy, it sure is hot/rainy/windy/whatever today!'
posted by easily confused at 5:15 PM on April 19, 2013

I have a co-worker who wanders the office every Monday AM, asking the obligatory "how was your weekend? did you do anything fun?"

best answer ever is credited to Madeline M. who said: "Do you really want to know?, I got drunk and made some bad decisions"
posted by bobdow at 5:31 PM on April 19, 2013 [17 favorites]

I find that when people ask me this, they usually have/did something cool/unusual for the weekend that they want to talk about, but they don't want to start blabbing about themselves without the courtesy of asking me first.

So, I usually just respond with something like "oh nothing much, the usual, etc." and then ask them about their weekend.

I do remember some question on here where this person essentially asked the opposite of your question, it was like, "How come whenever I ask people about their weekends they instantly deflect the question back at me?" Found it. I think in both cases maybe you guys are overthinking it just a little too much?
posted by pravit at 5:40 PM on April 19, 2013 [7 favorites]

Look them dead in the eye and suddenly yell, "YOU'LL NEVER KNOW!" Just kidding. Why would you make up something? You could just tell them something true and boring you really did and don't disclose the interesting personal thing. You don't have to be their BFF, it just sounds like typical formalities zone.
posted by mermily at 5:53 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

They're not asking for every detail or event. One example works well. You made an awesome (or terrible) curry, saw a new movie, or caught up on laundry and chilled at home, right? Just one thing like that. Then ask them about theirs.

Or switch topics. Not much, but you're really excited about something happening in the future. It's not a question that you need to or even should give the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth in response to.
posted by J. Wilson at 5:56 PM on April 19, 2013

>"I'm working on a project."

I don't like this one. It naturally leads to, "Oh? What kind of project. Tell me all about it."

Much better: "I'm helping my brother with some family issues." If they pry, "I'm not allowed to talk about it."
posted by megatherium at 5:58 PM on April 19, 2013 [3 favorites]

The more boring you make your personal time sound, the less you will be expected to say about it.

My usual response to "How was your weekend?" Is "Short." This often turns into commiseration about how they're all short, etc., and then I ask them how their weekend went and listen politely and then we are finished with the requisite Monday small talk. This also works in terms of vacations, and for future plans you can switch it up to "Wishing it was longer."
posted by camyram at 6:10 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't like this one. It naturally leads to, "Oh? What kind of project. Tell me all about it."

Truthfully, any of the above suggestions could lead to follow-up questions, depending on who you're talking to. He could say, "it's in the early stages, not much to talk about" if necessary. Or, "it's my friend's project, I'm don't know much about it yet."
posted by girlmightlive at 6:41 PM on April 19, 2013

the mundane: "catching up on some reading." "hanging with friends." "cleaning out the garage."

the humorous: "plotting my run for president." "climbing mt. everest." or something else equally implausible for you.

i also think if you say you are working on a project they will ask what the project is so be prepared for that.

personally, i wouldn't lie. working on basic social skills is a better idea because it makes functioning in life a lot easier. and...nobody likes a liar.
posted by wildflower at 6:55 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Two things -

First, sometimes it is fine to admit to doing unusual things. I brew beer, which is not THAT unusual, but I'm not the typical demographic for that and it isn't super common where I live. I was worried that people would think I was weird/a boozer/whatever, but most people just find it mildly interesting. It just makes me seem less one-dimensional, which is good. I'm not trying to be buddies with anybody at work, but I'm with these people A LOT, so social niceties help.

Second, you can say things like you're spending your vacation staying in town and "thinking about anything but work" or "totally unplugging from the job." These are both true and you don't have to hint that you're doing anything in particular.
posted by jeoc at 6:56 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

I really don't think you should feel you need to be even kind of honest if you don't want people to know what you do outside of work. You really don't have to tell them. My life is pretty unremarkable and I don't have anything to hide, but I like to mostly keep my personal and professional lives separate. So usually I'm pretty honest, but vague about what I do in my own time if work people ask me - spending time with friends, relaxing, spring cleaning, etc. But if I'm doing something that I really don't want them to know about - like taking a day off work to go to a job interview (or whatever)? I say I have a doctor appointment, need a mental health day, have a lot going on right now and I need the extra day to get errands done, etc. Just literally make something up that's really basic which people won't ask further questions about. If it's personal, it's personal and I don't really feel the need to try to be vaguely honest about it when they're pretty much just asking to make small talk anyway. I kind of think of it being like people asking "how are you". If I'm doing terrible, I'm not going to say "I'm just awful". I'm going to say "fine". That's not honest but it's not one of those things where real honesty is required because it's usually a fairly meaningless gesture.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:04 PM on April 19, 2013

I just usually scan the memoru banks and the prospective audience and say 'oh god nothing exciting or memorable'. I just think of it (and almost everything similar) as the Seinfeld meeting-in-the-hallway-at-work 'acknowledge-acknowledge'. It's small talk, keep it small.
posted by bquarters at 8:34 PM on April 19, 2013

I think if you really have to keep it quiet, it's safe to lie about totally unverifiable things, like household chores, yardwork, whatever. Also fine to mischaracterize a wild weekend of unprotected anonymous sex and heavy drug use as, "Nothing too exciting. What about you?"

Alternatively, you could use your discomfort at having to answer the question as motivation to do one reportable thing a week. Go out to dinner somewhere, catch a movie, whatever. Then you can answer honestly, "Not much. I had dinner at that new sushi place downtown. What about you?"
posted by elizeh at 8:58 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is a form of small talk. You are not being grilled for factual, elaborate details; this is just a variation on the theme of pleasant-but-relatively-meaningless social exchange. You can say all manner of nondescript, neutral things: "took it easy," "enjoyed the good weather," "relaxed with a book," etc.
posted by scody at 9:05 PM on April 19, 2013

Think of it as a variation on "how are you," which is not an invitation to launch into the sort of answer one would give a therapist or physician regarding your state of being.

Likewise, they're not literally asking you to share personal information about what you did this weekend unless you happen to have something that you'd like to share. It's just a request for mutual acknowledgement as fellow human beings. Since you are acquainted through the office and are on your way there, the most obvious common ground is that you all work Monday through Friday and not on the weekends.

If saying something vague but true about your actual weekend or vacation ("stayed in town," "got some rest") still feels weird for you, feel free to default to Safe Small Talk Topic #1: The Weather. Acceptable answers to what you did this weekend include simply stating opinions or facts referencing the last couple of days:

"I was happy that it is getting warmer."
"That was some hailstorm, huh?"
"Well, it rained, so I stayed inside."
"Spring is definitely here, isn't it!"
posted by desuetude at 9:14 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

How about telling a story from the vacation that you're happy to give more detail on, so you can have a nice conversation. Surely something interesting will happen to you. You don't need to account for every hour. Talk about a workout? a meal? a show you saw?

(I disagree somewhat that this is just like how are you or the weather. I think those are closer to a smile in the hallway in their degree of platonic flirtation. This invites opening up a more personal connection. No need to expose excessively, but I think it's nice to share something.)
posted by spbmp at 9:28 PM on April 19, 2013

What about, "I'm not sure. I like to go where the day takes me in my free time."

Or maybe make a game out of it. Invent an older relative who needs your help each weekend/vacation ala, "Oh my aunt Hilda needs me to help clean her hamster cages as usual. Did I ever mention she breeds prize winning hamsters?"

I always like to default to "freak 'em out" territory because it's nobody's damn business what you do on your time. Maybe substitute Gaboon vipers for hamsters for extra effect. Most people will believe anything.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:00 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Make stuff up. Exaggerate excessively.

This weekend? I'm working on my bomb shelter on Saturday, then on Sunday I'm speaking at an anti-skinhead rally.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:34 AM on April 20, 2013

blue_beetle : This weekend? I'm working on my bomb shelter on Saturday, then on Sunday I'm speaking at an anti-skinhead rally.

But but but, you said to make stuff up... :)

Personally, I just go with the two-second summary of what I did each day. "Slept in Saturday, went hiking Sunday". "Hit the theater, cleaned the bathroom".

Interestingly though, I don't really mind having people ask me what I did, nearly as much as having them tell me what they did in minute boring detail. I expect we all have "that" coworker - The one who corners you in the break room (or worse, sits close enough to you that you can't just ignore them), who can stretch "slept in Saturday, went hiking Sunday" into multiple half-hour time-sinks throughout the day. And always at the worst times... Not mid-afternoon, when lunch has nicely digested and your eyes start to glaze over, but rather when you have five minutes to finish preparing for an important meeting and Mr. SocialCuesGoUnnoticed insists on babbling about the various substances that came out of his sick spouse/child/mother during Sunday brunch. ;)
posted by pla at 6:17 AM on April 20, 2013

sooo...it sounds like you're training (possibly) for a new job and want to keep it under your hat...good for you!
2nding "I'm working on a project." sounds really exciting and like "please ask more questions, i'm just shy and want to be drawn out"

you want your lie (and it is...the less you're fooling yourself the better) to sound either boring or makes the asker feel a bit ashamed (i was feeding the homeless and rescuing orphaned california condors...you?)...or both..."i volunteer at a food bank in my spare time...it's like working in a grocery store...stocking shelves, taking inventory, y'know...boring, but somebody's gotta do it"

or yardwork...make the worlds most boring vine or ivy into your personal arch-nemesis...i just got bored typing that...listening to a co-worker prattle on about it? oh god kill me now.
posted by sexyrobot at 1:14 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


After two or three of those people stop asking and find different things to chitter chatter about.

Having boring hobbies that you are happy to go into detail about helps too. After I started playing Skyrim I also had much less interest in my weekends expressed.

But really, mostly people are happy to have this bounced back at them, so they can tell you about their awesome bike ride, or their kid's soccer match, or whatever. Smile, nod, move on.
posted by Jilder at 3:09 PM on April 20, 2013

"What are you doing this weekend?"

"I haven't decided yet, I like to be impulsive."

They don't have to know that you're going to lie on the couch and watch 32 episodes of Scrubs back to back.
posted by bendy at 11:41 AM on April 21, 2013

I've found success with a blank look, a pause, "What did I do? Ummm." *think* "Apparently nothing memorable!" Mostly because that's how I tend to respond when surprised by that question, as all memory of things I actually did deserts me until after we've parted ways.
posted by telophase at 9:42 AM on April 22, 2013

Super late to the party, but: honestly I think the important thing is to reflect the question back at them. Most people are really happy to talk about themselves, so you just need to give them an opening. Odds are, they won't even notice that you didn't have much to say. My standby to "How was your weekend?" is "Not long enough! How was yours?"
posted by ashirys at 10:37 AM on April 22, 2013

They're being nice, but they probably don't care greatly. If you spent the weekend prepping for TEOTWAWKI, or practicing opera because you have a secret wish to be a star, or drinking steadily, and you don't want to talk about it, just say "I had a terrific weekend, thanks. Wasn't the weather lovely/ too bad it rained, etc. How about you?" Or share the innocuous bits "I caught the final episode of Some Show" or "I did what seemed like 19 loads of laundry." Making personal connections with co-workers helps if you need to work them.
posted by theora55 at 12:44 PM on April 22, 2013

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