How do you respectfully tell someone they're nosy?
July 7, 2006 9:26 PM   Subscribe

How far must you go to be kind to your elders? Details inside.

My grandma (dad's mom) is the family gossip, and recently inquired to my dad about some personal business of mine. My dad said, "it's no one's business," and my grandma, unaccustomed to this, said, "what did you say?!" My uncle was there and said, "I think he said it doesn't concern you." She said, "oh," and there was nothing more said about it. I was not present when all this happened.

However, we have a family gathering tomorrow, and I expect her to ask me about this personal business of mine. I said to my parents that if she asks, I simply intend to (calmly) tell her, "I think my dad already said it's none of your business, didn't he?" (I'm 26). I did not intend to sound angry when I say it.

My parents are acting like this is horrible. My dad said something like "just let her go to her grave... don't say anything." She's 87, and her health is fine... we have no indication she's going to go any time soon. Furthermore, just a couple of weeks ago, my dad told her off for something else entirely... so I hardly think it's his place to tell me to be nice to her. He didn't scream or curse, but he told her he was very annoyed about how when he came to visit, all she did was complain about what was on TV, or some such stuff. My grandma told everyone else that "he read her the riot act."

Admittedly she's sensitive, but how is it so rude for me to simply say, "it's none of your business?" My mom said it would be polite to say I don't want to talk about it, but why should I have to bend over backwards to be polite when everyone else also complains about her nosiness and gossip?
posted by IndigoRain to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I wonder if thier objection is to the WAY you want to say it - "he already told you, didn't he?" sounds, to me, kind of snotty. What about something more owning of the situation, like "I'd rather not share with people about that" or something? Really, I think it's the WAY you say it that will matter, not that you DO say it.
posted by tristeza at 9:31 PM on July 7, 2006

I think your mom's advice is good: just tell her you don't want to talk about it. It sounds like your grandmother is nosy, but telling her off (even politely) isn't going to help at this stage of the game. She's been this way for 87 years, and she'll probably be this way for a few years more. Then she'll be gone. Just say "I'd rather not talk about it" and move on. And good luck! I hate these sorts of situations...
posted by jdroth at 9:32 PM on July 7, 2006

Best answer: I would drop the "I think my did already said..." spin and just say to her that it's a private matter or none of her business or it's not something that you'd like to talk about.

I feel she'd be justified in asking you even though your father already said something to her. She might think that your father didn't want to say anything without you being ok with him talking about it. So by asking you she is giving you the opportunity to tell her or not.

On preview, what everyone else has already said.
posted by utsutsu at 9:33 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How is "I don't like talking about it" bending over backwards? I mean, it's even got fewer syllables. I think this is the way to go, unless she keeps pushing it afterwards. I don't think it has anything to do with "respecting your elders" — I think it's the polite thing to say. Furthermore, I think you'll find that it's more effective; when you tell someone, "It's none of your business," or "It doesn't concern you," he or she tends to feel that you're singling out him or her. Saying "I don't talk about that" eliminates the focus on the person you're speaking to you; you're making it about your preferences, not about his or her worthiness as a confidant.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:42 PM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Admittedly she's sensitive, but how is it so rude for me to simply say, "it's none of your business?"

Don't tell her it's none of her business, even if it isn't. She'll be offended. Just play to her by confiding that you're not ready to talk about it yet, but when you are, she'll be the first person you tell.

"Grandmom, I have to tell you that I'm just not ready to talk about this yet. It's not a good time. But when I am ready, you'll be the first to hear all the details, promise".

Then just don't ever mention it again. She'll be on to the next family scandal in no time, and forget all about it.
posted by iconomy at 9:44 PM on July 7, 2006

I once read a Miss Manners column about how one should respond to a nosy inquiry. I think she said you should respond with something like, "now, why would you ever want to know something like that?" Or, in order not to bait her, I'd probably just go with the "it's a private matter." And then leave the room if it looks like she's gonna push it. Good luck! Let us know what happens.
posted by printchick at 9:47 PM on July 7, 2006

Just lie your way out of it and make whatever it is sound like no big deal. That's one idea. See, if you tell her that you're 'not ready to talk about it now' then she might keep it in the back of her mind, OR that might make her think that she's REALLY onto some BIG gossip because of the secrecy.

If there's any total BS story that you can think of to throw her off, go for it. Maybe something like "Oh, I was just thinking of going to cooking school." or something dumb like that.

Family reunions have taught me that if there's some big secret, the family gossip will end up blowing it out of proportion. Might as well try and nip this one in the bud.
posted by drstein at 9:50 PM on July 7, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, that helps. :)
posted by IndigoRain at 10:14 PM on July 7, 2006

Best answer: I remember the Miss Manners column, and that response didn't work for me. I tried. A very nosy person was asking how much I earnt and when I asked why he would want to know something like that, he kept coming up different reasons why he needed to know. As in, 10, none of which were valid enough for me. He was just incredibly rude.

Miss Manners advice was to keep repeating your initial response but it relies on the person having enough tact to realise it was a rude question, and let's face it most people who ask these questions can be lacking tact/social graces to start off with. I like iconomy's answer.
posted by Jubey at 10:18 PM on July 7, 2006

I try to take a practical approach to these sorts of situations. Your Grandmother is 87, its not like any thing you do is going to change her habits of nosiness or gossip. Therefore, no reason to be unpleasant (which your planned response was). Just find a graceful and pleasant way to decline to discuss the topic and change the subject.
posted by Manjusri at 10:28 PM on July 7, 2006

A woman her age probably has little business but family business left. I'm sure if she's already aware of a few of the particulars of your situation, you're not going to shunt her off with a lie. Plus, why lie at all when you don't need to?

If fsay "I'd rather not talk about it," follow up with something like, "but here's something I've been wanting to ask your advice about/a story I thought you'd love/an event I'd like your opinion about" -- something light and pleasant that you don't mind making the rounds of the entire family. That will do far more to assuage her need to feel relevant and needed.
posted by melissa may at 10:40 PM on July 7, 2006

Dag. I meant to write, If you say "I'd rather not talk about it...".
posted by melissa may at 10:41 PM on July 7, 2006

Just wink at her, smile, and say "Can't talk about it yet."
posted by solid-one-love at 10:58 PM on July 7, 2006

Along the lines of s-o-l's suggestion, I'd say either, "I'll fill you in on the other side" or "Oh, good! Are we swapping secrets?!"
posted by rob511 at 11:39 PM on July 7, 2006

It sounds like your grandma annoys everyone and is treated snippily in turn. Here is your chance to be the bigger person and just be gracious. It is truly no skin off your nose to give a light-hearted answer, should she ask. Have some fun with her; old folks are intrinsically funny.
posted by Scram at 11:57 PM on July 7, 2006

Apparently your secret is not a secret except from grandma, otherwise how does she know that there is a secret?
Isn't it possible that she is genuinely concerned about your getting into a situation or a partnership that she might have some valuable input about?
Perhaps she would simply like to be included in family affairs - why are you all so set on isolating her?
posted by Cranberry at 12:24 AM on July 8, 2006

Best answer: Apparently your secret is not a secret except from grandma, otherwise how does she know that there is a secret? Isn't it possible that she is genuinely concerned about your getting into a situation or a partnership that she might have some valuable input about? Perhaps she would simply like to be included in family affairs - why are you all so set on isolating her?

Nothing about the post said it was a secret of any sort, or a question that has an answer. I can well imagine the question being "when are you going to get married to that guy you've been living with?", "when're you gonna start popping out babies?" etc., though perhaps not in those phrasings. I'm not sure it's "isolating" not to answer such questions, and it doesn't seem worthwhile exactly to criticize the poster for not wanting to answer, especially in light of not knowing what the question is.
posted by advil at 12:49 AM on July 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I just want to add that how your parents or anyone threat the grandmother is irrelevant here. They can be rude to her if they want, that's their business. Whether you're going to be polite is entirely your choice, though I can see how it may be hard to take advice about politeness from people who aren't always perfect exemplars of such behavior.

That, and what IshmaelGraves said.
posted by epimorph at 3:00 AM on July 8, 2006

Personally I would go passive on this, 'I'm not allowed to talk about it', if you want to embellish this further then do circumstances allow you to claim you're under some kind of non-disclosure agreement?
posted by biffa at 5:55 AM on July 8, 2006

You're getting a lot of excellent advice here; I think the key (as far as manners go) is to craft a response that gets the results you want (non-disclosure) while not intentionally making your grandmother feel awkward for asking. You obviously have no control over how she feels, but I appreciate that Miss Manners' advice often has as much to do with being gracious as it does with being right. Good luck!
posted by deliriouscool at 6:14 AM on July 8, 2006

Yeah, be gracious whatever you do. Could you make a joke out of it? "I'm sorry grandma, the president asked me not to say." Something lame like that might relieve the tension of telling her to mind her own business.

If being gracious doesn't work, you can always fall back on your original plan.
posted by LarryC at 7:30 AM on July 8, 2006

You should thank your lucky stars that you have a grandma who worries about you and wants to know what's going on in your life. A lot of people aren't so lucky. I'd suggest telling your grandmother that you're glad that she's looking out for you and then follow up with melissa may's switcheroo. One day you'll be extremely happy to discover that you can talk about things with her. Don't burn that bridge.
posted by nixerman at 8:16 AM on July 8, 2006

If you don't want to say "I don't like to talk about it," or "I haven't figured it out yet," what about jokes? "They told me that if I told anyone, they'd take me back up... there... [look suspiciously into the sky]." "Well, my crystal ball is in the shop right now so I haven't quite figured that out yet [wink wink]..."

Getting to smile at your joke will take the sting out of not getting what she wants. Oh, oops, LarryC came up with this idea already and had a less corny joke.
posted by salvia at 11:16 AM on July 8, 2006

Agreed with all the above who recommend a gentle "Oh, it's too boring for words" followed by a question like, "tell me how you met grandpa," or "What was your high school like?" or jokes. The key is to distract her. If she's really persistent, then you say "I really don't want to discuss it."

Get your family to help you by keeping grammy talking, and distracted from the hot topic.

If it's something like getting convicted of multiple convenience store stickups and spending the next year in the slammer, then you may wish to shield grammy's tender sensibilities. If you're pregnant with Yeti's baby, or some other thing she may find shocking, but which you feel is perfectly reasonable and are happy about, consider telling her. Just cause she's old doesn't mean she can't adapt to new things. She might surprise you. Actually, if it's Yeti's baby, don't tell her - she might spill the beans to the Enquirer.
posted by theora55 at 10:10 PM on July 8, 2006

Referring back to "I think my dad already told you..." just shows that you've been gossiping about her. Not a great position from which to ask her to stop gossiping about you.

Since you are anticipating the question from her, plan your answer and have it ready. Make sure it's one you really like, whether it's a joke, a gentle redirect of the conversation, or whatever. Then when she pries, instead of sitting there thinking, "How could she?! That's none of her business!" You'll be thinking, "Oh, goody, here's my opening." If your planned reply is good/clever/smart enough, you'll find yourself looking forward to Granny asking about The Topic instead of nervously hoping she doesn't. Good luck!
posted by chippie at 7:10 AM on July 9, 2006

"I guess I prefer not to talk about it."
posted by jimfl at 7:48 AM on July 9, 2006

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