So, do you go to quilting bees often?
August 28, 2007 6:59 PM   Subscribe

A friend of mine, CK, is a conservative Mennonite. CK wears her hair in a bun with a little white bonnet pinned over it, and nearly always wears skirts and dresses of a modest cut, though otherwise her clothes are the kind every woman wears. She is a senior level civil servant for the Ontario government, and as a Mennonite woman is a rare sight in Toronto's Queen's Park, people find her a curiosity. CK often hears certain dumb questions and comments. I told her the hive mind would just love to come up with some great comebacks she could use to break up the monotony. She doesn't doubt it and is looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

The "Gee, I've never met a Mennonite before!" questions usually are:

1) "Are you a nurse?" (She then wonders when they last saw a nurse with a cap.)

2) "Can you only marry a Mennonite?" (Of course, she's never quite sure if this is a loser pick up line.)

3) "Are you having a large family?" or "Do you have a lot of kids?" (She gripes that they might as well ask how many times a week she has sex.)

4) So, you must make great pie. And if she replies “No, I don’t really have time,” the questioning often continues along the lines of “Do you pickle and can?” and she then thinks, hullo, if I just said I don’t have a lot of time to cook, when did you think I’d find the time to pickle and can?

5) "I thought Mennonites never left the colony/commune?"

Have at, smartasses of MeFite!
posted by orange swan to Grab Bag (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe she could treat these as occasions to edumacate people, rather than bringing them down a peg.
posted by found missing at 7:02 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Hey, you must be one of those godless heathen. Is it true you spend all your time thinking about floozies?"
posted by Deathalicious at 7:02 PM on August 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

found missing -- true but that could be said for any marginalized group, and it gets really frikken annoying after a while.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:03 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

I feel sorry that she gets asked about cooking/canning - but damn if the Mennonite woman that came by my mother's office once a week didn't sell some DAMN GOOD baked goods.

Maybe your friend could have small business cards printed up with answers on the back?
posted by mrbill at 7:14 PM on August 28, 2007

For the first question, I'd just say, "No. Are you?"
posted by infinitywaltz at 7:15 PM on August 28, 2007

1. "Why, do you need treatment for a brain injury?"

2. "No, I'm just not allowed to marry assholes."

3. "Yeah. Got any spare foldin'-money? Costs quite a bit to keep the girls in gingham."

4. "No, but I'm pretty good at crushing nuts. Hold still."

5. "Are you sure you were thinking, fucktard?"
posted by solid-one-love at 7:16 PM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

Not answering the question: It's worth remembering in these encounters that while she's heard the question 98 zillion times, the person in front of her has likely never asked them before. That they are painfully repetitive is a function of her experience, not of theirs.

Answering the question: She seems to do fine on her own. I like the 'I don't have time to cook, what makes you think...' bit.

For number 2, I'd probably go with 'That depends, is this a proposal?' or perhaps 'In our culture women and men can only speak to each other when they're engaged. So shall we set a date?' That's a little long to be snappy, and is also kinda misleading, but should be uncomfortable making.

For number 5, perhaps 'Then how did you know this what we look like?'
posted by jacquilynne at 7:17 PM on August 28, 2007

"No, sorry, that's the Amish." For every possible question.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 PM on August 28, 2007 [8 favorites]

I should have added another comment from CK. She does understand that people have questions, but she finds it a bit bizarre that they would ask all of these questions in a three-minute conversation with a stranger.
posted by orange swan at 7:20 PM on August 28, 2007

The Andy Warhol uncomprehending apprehensive mute stare into the eyes may work. Avoid blinking.
posted by longsleeves at 7:23 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's not that bizarre... last time it was a rainy day, and I knew I'd be out in it for 16+ hours, I wore rubber rain boots. Guy in the subway says, "Hey, those must be hot!" I said, "Yeah. I thought it was gonna rain." He says, "Are you afraid of rain or something? What are you, made of sugar?" Later that same day, guy in a store notes that I was wearing several rings. Me: "Yeah." Him: "So, which one is THE ring?" People just like talking. They'll find any opening, especially if you're a woman and look like you might answer. If it isn't the bun, it'll be something else.

That said, if she wants to say something to shut them up, she could say she's playing a Menonnite in a movie -- then all subsequent questions can be answered as, "I don't know."
posted by xo at 7:30 PM on August 28, 2007

Oh, and I forgot this one: my friend and I are sitting on a bench, and she says something that refers to the fact that she's Jewish. Guy on a date on the bench next to us says, "Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn't help overhearing... and I wonder if you guys could tell me: do Jews believe in dinosaurs?" That was about a month ago.
posted by xo at 7:33 PM on August 28, 2007 [6 favorites]

Is she ok with having a three minute conversation with a stranger? Because if so, she's going to have to come up with some more interesting topics for her conversational partner than the pretty damn interesting one of her unusual dress/religion (to me, that's not a matter she can call private when she's happily displaying it). If she just doesn't want to have the conversation, that's a different problem.
posted by jacalata at 7:36 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

"I don't know how you got the idea that I'm a Mennonite...haven't you ever seen a Scientologist before?"
posted by brain cloud at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2007

1) I always wanted to be, but after the accident with the scalpel..... (Look like a sad maniac.)

2) Sorry, the line's over there.

3) (Gasp and grab your stomach, put your other hand over your mouth, look horrified, if you can, start to cry.)

4) Only for people who don't ask pesky questions. [This one would shut me up in a hurry.]

5) How else are we going to take over the world?
posted by anaelith at 7:56 PM on August 28, 2007

"Wikipedia, mofo. USE IT."
posted by SassHat at 8:10 PM on August 28, 2007

These people clearly expect women like her to be home making quilts, babies, and cookies her whole life. She should make it her business to deflate these stereotypes, and the best way to do that is probably to show off a little, which will be difficult for a devout Christian who likely values humility to a high degree. "Are you a nurse?" "No, actually I'm the [super impressive senior such and such of Ontario.]"

The snappiest response any childless woman can make when asked if she has kids is "not that I know of."
posted by textilephile at 8:16 PM on August 28, 2007

Pretend she doesn't speak English.
posted by la petite marie at 8:18 PM on August 28, 2007

1) *pull out a handy syringe* Aye, and I need some practice. Give a psychotic look for extra effect.

2) Depends, how much are you worth and what's your opinion of signing prenups?

3) Depends. Do you like paying lots of child support?

4) Yes, and I prefer human brains for filling with eyeballs instead of cherries on top (with a perfectly straight face). Next question?

5) The world is my colony.
Yea, and I also think/thought (insert term reflecting person's shallow appearances) should stay home too, don't you?
posted by jmd82 at 8:19 PM on August 28, 2007

For all the questions: "This is actually the uniform for the infectious diseases quarantine ward. It's probably best if we don't talk anymore."
posted by alms at 8:39 PM on August 28, 2007

Most of these are more mean than witty.
I agree with xo that people are usually not trying to offend, just haven't thought through that their question is lame and like talking.
If you want comebacks, at least don't start on a hostile footing.
posted by bystander at 9:09 PM on August 28, 2007

1. No. May I call an ambulance for you?

2. No. That law was repealed last year, but we're still not allowed to vote. Will you please make a call to your representative and ask him to co-sponsor our bill?

3. No, I couldn't get past 15-- and my littlest sister already has 19, darn it!

4. No, I'm too busy bringing home the bacon.

5. Good! That's what we want you to think.

5b. Why, this is a Mennonite colony, nor am I out of it.
posted by jamjam at 9:25 PM on August 28, 2007

If she is religious enough to undertake wearing a visible sign of her belief every day, then she should dedicate the annoyance to God or whatever it is religious people do, and let it go. This isn't a physical disability or even a visible minority issue we're talking about, it's a choice, and choices have consequences.
posted by zadcat at 9:27 PM on August 28, 2007 [4 favorites]

Most days, the kindest thing to do is probably to educate these people despite their faux pas. But if her patience is short or she just wants to switch it up a bit, channel Miss Manners. "No, why do you ask?" with a smile and raised eyebrows answers all of those questions briefly and vaguely and turns it to the questioner who might, just might, realize that it's none of their business and they should quit asking strangers stupid personal questions.

(Well, it answers all but #5 I guess... in which case a simple blank stare should work. I mean seriously... are we on the colony, dummy?)
posted by juliplease at 9:33 PM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Why do you ask?" is my standard answer for stupid/nosy questions. Works every time.
posted by Violet Hour at 9:47 PM on August 28, 2007

Why are you dressed like X etc.?
"I'm just allergic to the sun."
"This is all the homeless shelter could give me."
"I am a time traveller"
"It's what the little man who lives in my ear tells me to
wear every morning."
"It's laundry day, this is all that was clean."
"This is what everyone from the country of Scarabia wears."
"My eccentric and wealthy father/uncle etc. made it a condition of his will that I dress in this way for 3 years before I can inherit the fortune."
"It's a Dungeons and Dragons' costume."
"I have cancer."
"I have scabies."
"It's part of my STD treatment."
"It's the only way I can conceal my deformity."
"It's the only skirt long enough to hide the colostomy bag."
"The only way I could get this job was to cover my tattoos."
"This is the new uniform for all Canadian Civil Servants."
"I'm auditioning for the new Little House on the Prairie series."
"I'm in the revival of The Crucible over at the Vic."
"I'm sorry, this living history exhibit is closed. Please come back in one hour and the tour will start again."
"It's the only way to keep them away. "[wink wink, nods knowingly.] "Have they contacted you too?"

"I wear it as performance art. It's meant to be a commentary on the bourgeois tendency to conformity at the same time commenting on the radical nature of the persistence of tradition. The juxtaposition of conformity and irregularity nestled as it is within the traditional garb of religious sect is conditioned theologically by their Christian community's desire to stand apart as a prophetic critique of "the world." . . . " [They will leave her alone before she gets this far I think.]

Brother Jebediah thinks its hot.

Sexual Interest?
"I am not allowed to speak to nonmembers of the Church/members of the opposite sex."
"It's like Mormonism, but the opposite. I have three husbands and a bull at home."
"Unless your back is strong like an ox and your hands worn hard by the plow, I'll have no romancin' from thee, heathen!"
"Baking?/Canning?/Jam? Do I look like one of those Amish hussies?"
"We'll have a grand time. It's been so long since I shucked corn with a man on the courtin' stools."
My mother told me all I need to know about sex. "It's horrible" she said, "but do your duty as a Christian wife and lie there and take it."
[Stand up looking surprised.] "How did I get here? This isn't Saskatoon and you certainly are not Elder Aminadab."
"It's a fetish. There's a convention in town.


"No, I'm sorry it's pronounced Mine-noo-neet-tay."
Pretend not to speak English, just keep saying over and over "Yah, Yah, Hello! Thank You! Goodbye!" in a crazy accent with an idiot grin on her face.
"I'm so glad you asked. Let me tell you about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ's plan for your eternal salvation. . ."
"I am so glad you asked. Would you like to meet Elder Habbakuk? We have a compound, I mean commune, up on Highway 16. . .

"Heard of the Raelians?"
posted by MasonDixon at 9:53 PM on August 28, 2007 [6 favorites]

My answer to the kid who asked, "What's the matter baby, you mad?" while I was trying to check into a Lubbock motel at 2 a.m. : A flat "Leave me alone." worked, but Miss Manners also has good responses to questions like these among her books.
posted by brujita at 10:10 PM on August 28, 2007

1) No, I'm not a nurse. Kind of the opposite...I killed a man on rumspringa.
2) I firmly believe that marriage is meant to be between a Mennonite and a Womennite.
3) Yes, if all goes as planned, I would love to have ten children. But I expect to lose about half of them in the wheat thresher. Hankuna matata!
4) No snappy answer. Tell your friend she should just learn to make really good pie. Because pie is awesome.
5) I'm on a bender.
posted by IvyMike at 10:15 PM on August 28, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Tell you what — for each personal question you ask, I get one too. Now, how many would you like?"

I wish I could favorite MasonDixon's answer multiple times.
posted by rob511 at 10:51 PM on August 28, 2007 [3 favorites]

You know, if someone's taken an interest in something you're committed to, I reckon funny-but-kind is the way to deal with the monotony. There are some good ones among this thread. I'll try to throw in a couple.

'Is it true you can only marry a Mennonite?' Crushed look. Dramatic sigh. Produce handkerchief with concealed onion and dab at eyes. Swallow with difficulty. Blow nose. Etc. ad lib. 'I'm sorry. I'm just—well, it hasn't been very long ... I really thought James would be able to convert. ... I guess you people don't really know about thresher safety, do you?'

'Going to have a big family?' 'Oh, heavens no. I've only twinned once, and I haven't tripleted at all yet. And last time it took three whole months after the birthing! No, I dare say I'll never break two dozen ...'

'I bet you make an awesome pie.' 'Well, I'll say I'm not half bad, when I'm in practice. But it's been months since harvest, and without the hard work, my Ezekiel can't eat more than two at a time. Jacob and Esau—those'd be my twins, now—they usually only have five between the two of them. Josiah, he's still suckin', so he only gets a half a one. And the older kids seem to have lost all interest since that new white flour came along, you know? Hardly eat five a week anymore.'

'I thought you weren't allowed to leave the colony!' 'No, that's Puritans.'

'I thought you weren't allowed to leave the commune!' 'In Mennonite Russia, commune leaves you!'

And for the obnoxiously persistent: 'Listen. Before we go on ... (assume boxing stance) do you believe in the laying on of hands?'
posted by eritain at 1:31 AM on August 29, 2007

Just as a general answer - "I'd love to stop and chat, but unfortunately I'm a compulsive liar".
posted by Solomon at 2:09 AM on August 29, 2007 [4 favorites]

I know your friend wants snappy, but a soft answer and all that... She should consider having small cards printed with the address for the Mennonite church (USA, sorry). Then she can say, "I tend to be private about my religion/practices, but this site may answer your questions."

Bonus points for including the address for the Mennonite Central Committee, which does good work around the world and in the U.S.

(Disclaimer: I'm not a Mennonite, but I am surrounded by them and respect their work to help the poor and their commitment to peace.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:03 AM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

#5: "Of course Mennon..."(trail-off, looking around with growing panic, then dart out the nearest door.)
posted by Orb2069 at 6:11 AM on August 29, 2007

I don't know many Mennonites, but those I do are some of the nicest, most down-to-earth people I've met. I suspect they'd recommend the Miss Manners approach to shockingly stupid questions:

[with appropriate look of bewilderment]"Why, no! Why do you ask?"

This makes it painfully obvious that the asker is operating on silly stereotypes without actually saying so, while the person who is being asked retains their composure and dignity.
posted by AV at 6:20 AM on August 29, 2007

Meh. I'd go with the MissMannersly, "No, why do you ask" and "I can't imagine how that's any of your business."

Isn't this kind of chatfiltery?
posted by desuetude at 6:30 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd like to insert a disclaimer here that I should have included in the original question. CK knows that if she chooses to define herself as a visible minority she can expect personal questions and she is a very well-mannered person who tries to educate people in a polite way (and she knows how to deal with those who are truly out of line). So, please make suggestions based on the assumption that she knows how to treat people who ask innocent questions out of simple interest. She's really just looking for ways to have a little fun when answering questions that she's heard so many, many times.
posted by orange swan at 7:10 AM on August 29, 2007

Being visibly different from birth (no, not disabled, though that's an assumption many make), I can totally understand the exhaustion of repetitively answering the same questions. Most of mine are along the lines of "what happened to you?" If it's an adult answering, I say "I was born this way," and for kids, "God made me this way, just like he made you with blue eyes." Either are rather effective at ending the conversation. I was snappier when I was younger, and often told other children that my hearing aid was an alien radio transmitter.

If I were your friend, I'd decline any sex/marriage questions with the Miss Manners response given above. It's totally inappropriate for a stranger to ask.

For #4, I'd tell them that I make my husband do all that.

For #5, I'd lean in closer and say "Sssh, don't tell anyone!"
posted by desjardins at 7:50 AM on August 29, 2007

Ms Manners also recommends "Sorry, I don't really feel like talking right now."

Thirding a pamphlet. Nothing will get people to suddenly take less interest in your beliefs, lifestyle, etc. than the fact that you have a pamphlet about it that you'd love for them to read.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 8:14 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I am a smartass, but the questions you post don't seem bad. She IS an oddball curiousity and people, being the dumbassses that they are, are gonna gawk and ask questions. To me it seems like a chance to talk with people or if she's not in the mood, just politely say "WTF nigga, can't see you see I'm busy on the phone?!"


Seriously, people are ignorant, so they're going to ask those types of questions. Frankly, I'm surprised she isn't routinely asked worse stuff. She can either see it as an opportunity or invoke her right as human to not be bothered and just say something curt "I'm sorry, but I'm having a day and would like to be left alone. Thank you"

But really, being a smart ass with strangers isn't helpful or polite and would probably give all the wrong signals ESPECIALLY since she isn't pulling this off herself. If she has to ask how to do it, then she's better off not, as she'll probably just piss folks off.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2007

Ah, I see she just wants to have little fun. That in mind here's a few:

1) "Are you a nurse?"

Lean in close and whisper "Hush, I'm on stakeout!"

No, why do you ask?

Yes (dramatic pause) A nurse for your soul!

My purse is gonna burst all over the hearse if anyone else asks if I'm nurse.

Yeah, but I'm old school.

Que habla?

2) "Can you only marry a Mennonite?"

We're not allowed to marry, only rub noses.

Well, first time, sure, but after that, I can pick what I want from the buffet.

What is this marriage you speak

3) "Are you having a large family?" or "Do you have a lot of kids?"

Yes, but famine is predicted, so it helps to a backup source.

No, I'm too busy baking pies.

4) So, you must make great pie.

We're not allowed to talk about pie with outsiders. How do you feel about cake?

Must?! MUST?! Why does everyone have to give me orders (break down sobbing)

5) "I thought Mennonites never left the colony/commune?"

True, but I'm still on the commune. There are more of us that you think.

Oh, I'm part of a radical sect.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:17 AM on August 29, 2007

Please people, no more lectures about how my friend should handle these questions. We were only looking for funny replies to such questions. If you don't have anything along those specific lines to post, please refrain.
posted by orange swan at 11:10 AM on August 29, 2007

Yes, I know a senior UNESCO official who gets a lot of "Where are you from?" and amuses himself by answering with a random obscure other part of the world, leaving a small trail of confusion around the globe.

I feel our MeFi sense of humour is letting CK down a bit, though I love MasonDixon's "...Do I look like one of those Amish hussies?" and Solomon's compulsive liar.

My own feeble ideas:
"One of our big Mennonite initiatives is disaster relief. I am here because Toronto needs us"

More flippantly:
"My life is not that interesting, but you can tell me all sorts of things -- what is so exciting about television?"

Or something along the lines of:
"Oh dear, the Tardis seems to be malfunctioning again. What year is this? Has the US taken over Canada yet?"
posted by Idcoytco at 12:10 PM on August 29, 2007

"I'm a lesbian." for every question.
posted by LordSludge at 1:21 PM on August 29, 2007

4) So, you must make great pie.

Yeah, 3.14 of them! Hardy har har, they taught me that in nursing school.
posted by salvia at 5:58 PM on August 29, 2007

"Christ, what an asshole."
posted by InnocentBystander at 8:32 PM on August 29, 2007

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