Story of a lost journalist

July 18, 2008

Questions not be asked to new acquaintances

Filed under: life,My Musing Moments — Cris @ 01:20
Tags: , , ,

Seems I am inspired by other blogs everyday. Yesterday I read in a blog about embarrassing situations people land into by asking questions. Ok more explanation. It’s about asking personal questions. Now the question is what exactly do people consider personal. Indians, in general have this habit of including what-about-your-folks and what-about-your-bro/sis in their first-time pleasantries. Now people who have attended cultural sensitivity classes would probably know it is considered out of the way in some foreign countries and some may take offense.

If you read this blog, you will understand what I am talking about. Divorces are like a one-in-every-three-families affair in some countries and asking about an absent Mom or Dad could lead to embarrassing situations. I usually don’t ask people about their homes or families, but that is more out of my absent-minded careless attitude, says my Mom. I wasn’t exactly trained that way. For my Mom accuses me of being too dontcarish, that these are the things anyone should ask first hand of a newly made acquaintance.

The following incident is similar to the one mentioned in the above blog. This girl, lets call her TG, had just joined college and a teacher was taking introductions from everyone. Introductions in colleges followed this pattern: your name, followed by the names of all your family members, followed by the occupations of the above group. No one knows for sure what people want from self introduction: family history? I didn’t think so. When I meet a person, it’s probably that person I am interested in and not what his ancestors dating a century back did. So maybe a more appropriate pattern could be name followed by interests or hobbies or any thing person specific.

Coming back to TG (how do I always get sidetracked!). TG’s parents were living separate, and this was not exactly the first thing she liked to say about herself. So following the college pattern, she mentioned all the names and occupations and stopped. Another question revealed she was from the neighborhood so the teacher announced an attack on her household ending with “Your Mom will have to cook for all of us”. TG, whose Mom happened to live away, and who particularly missed her on the first day of College, turned visibly red. This didn’t escape the attack-planner teacher who said “Oh look at her! She didn’t like that one bit!!!”. The whole class now turned towards TG with hostile eyes.

What a great way to start college. Anyway, my point is, like I commented in that other blog, people should have some sort of education on what-to-be-asked and not when you make acquaintances, right from school.

Say you are talking to a school kid, the right questions could include “So which school do you attend? What is your favorite subject? Do you read books outside school text books?”
Or if it’s a working person, “Where do you work? How is the work there? Etc”. You will get an idea as you proceed. Strictly avoid things like “So are you married? How many children do you have? When do you plan to get married? Do you have a boy friend? Where is your father/mother/siblings?”
Leave those for the future, higher levels of friendship.

Nothing irks me more than a stranger prying into my private life or showing excessive interest in matters I’d rather not talk about. What irks me even more is when some people totally ignore or pretend to miss the exaggeratedly annoyed expressions I take the trouble to display on my face and body language. I fail to understand the overwhelming curiosity people exhibit on the lives and ways of the whole world excluding self.



  1. Yeah true. Questions that mite seem harmless-first-time questions to some mite totally upset some others.

    Comment by rose — July 18, 2008 @ 03:09 | Reply

  2. Cris, I did go to the other blog and leave comments. I am compelled to do so here to as this post is intriguing.
    In these kinds of posts or write ups people often refer to divorce rates in other countries, but what about among Indians themselves in India or abroad- two accounts…
    1. An Indian man in a US temple comes with his children. The person accompanying me (an Indian) asks the child after taking to him a few minutes, “Where’s mommy?” This kid is maybe 4 or 5. He says, my mommy lives in another house. My mommy and daddy are divorced. Later the person who accompanied me, who had been in US about 10 years at that point said to me “What a shame a child without a mother, I thought divorce happened only among Americans. They should have never left India!” A person with their eyes closed!
    2. I have met many (Indian) women in US who come here who have either got divorced in India or in US and are raising their children as single mothers.
    3…A point well taken in Kerala.. It may not be divorce, but it is a kind of divorce- all the families that feel forced to have dad live in the Mid East while mother and child are alone. Many of these children then are sent to boarding schools or the army school where they are dumped and infrequently visited by mother or family members. What a sad life for these small kids and as they grow up. Who would know seeing this kid out what not to ask?

    Comment by Jennifer — July 18, 2008 @ 05:31 | Reply

  3. […] culture may

    Pingback by Exchanging not so Sweet Pleasantries? | DesiPundit — July 18, 2008 @ 11:36 | Reply

  4. hey criski , you into some serious writing about some serious stuff in here , eh?
    now that you say its true we ppl are trained to ask about mom dad and siblings
    and native place and all
    native place is innocuous , aint it – u can ask any one !
    no bar!

    Comment by Vishnu — July 18, 2008 @ 16:15 | Reply

  5. @rose, exactly. As a safe measure, we should all carry 2 or 3 pallid questions in hand

    @Jennifer, I guess thats why you find more Indian divorcees abroad. They probably want to feel less criminal and more normal! In India you cant hope to not raise a whole world of enquiries once you announce your marital status divorced/single woman in 23.

    @Vishnu, you dropped in!! Serious writing is a pain Vish, but I like to try sometimes to make sure seriousness is not a totally absent part in me ;-). And yes, whats-your-native-place is a safe question 🙂

    Comment by Cris — July 18, 2008 @ 22:21 | Reply

  6. Good point

    Comment by Prem — July 19, 2008 @ 00:10 | Reply

  7. This is so true. I don’t feel like opening up my family tree to strangers. but even if I answer monotonously or look at the watch, the sad fact is, we cannot escape this interrogation. Its inscribed in our gene(though it must’ve skipped mine). I don’t ask a stranger who their father, mother, bro/sis/uncle/aunty is at the 1st meeting. I’d rather talk about the immediate circumstances.

    Comment by M.Rose — July 19, 2008 @ 00:29 | Reply

  8. @Prem, yeah I agree 😉

    @M.Rose, wish there were more skippers like you!

    Comment by Cris — July 21, 2008 @ 01:53 | Reply

  9. ‘What irks me even more is when some people totally ignore or pretend to miss the exaggeratedly annoyed expressions I take the trouble to display on my face and body language.’

    -oh i can so so so relate to that!!!

    Comment by usha — July 21, 2008 @ 13:59 | Reply

  10. Good points here and, yes, it’s too easy to upset people with a careless and needless question. Divorced parents may cause some awkwardness, but it might be worse if a parent has recently died. Maybe, if an ice-breaker is needed, it would be better to simply invite the student to “tell us something about yourself that you’re happy to share.”

    Comment by Paul Burman — July 22, 2008 @ 16:05 | Reply

  11. Hey Wally,

    Nowadays I try to avoid asking anything personal when meeting someone. I personally think you should not ask someone if he/she is married, unless you are hitting on him/her – in which case it may be a prudent first measure. I do sometimes ask a vague query about what a person does for a living – even then I try to leave it vague enough so they can avoid a direct reply if they are currently unemployed or do not want to reveal their present occupation.

    Comment by Nish — July 22, 2008 @ 20:08 | Reply

  12. @usha, isnt it?!

    @Paul, yes that’d work in a class/lecture room.

    @Nish, its not just nowadays, I dont think you were ever much of an asking kind! 😀

    Comment by Cris — July 23, 2008 @ 01:14 | Reply

  13. True! It is basic courtesy not to ask needless and pointless questions…..but sadly forgotten too often by too many 😦

    Comment by sajith — July 25, 2008 @ 11:26 | Reply

  14. @sajith, yes but many times its unintentional, the question of what is polite being totally relative and opinionated!

    Comment by Cris — July 26, 2008 @ 00:17 | Reply

  15. “Don’t ask foreigners their age, marital status, income, past experience, address, personal life, religious beliefs or political beliefs, it says. ”
    This is published from a story found here
    It talks about how in preparing for Olympics Chinese are being taught how to interact with foreigners.
    I am in somewhat agreement- it’s good for people to be culturally sensitive- but it is after all a foreign country for non-Chinese and shouldn’t Chinese be able to act like Chinese in China? Maybe foreigners should wear more than three colors in the dress! I wish I could get my hands on that book!!! I bet it’d be interesting!

    Comment by Jennifer — August 3, 2008 @ 00:40 | Reply

  16. Sorry a problem with that link
    here it is

    Comment by Jennifer — August 3, 2008 @ 00:42 | Reply

  17. […] once blogged about the appropriate questions for first time talks with new acquaintances. Today I was the prey to that when I was asked, besides my family […]

    Pingback by Cris’s World » Politeness: A must in all conversations — August 6, 2008 @ 21:12 | Reply

  18. @Jennifer, I am in agreement. Apart from the line you quoted here, I find most of the other content in the book about altering Chinese dressing habits kind of taking things too far. In fact heard from a professor today that Chinese have now suddenly become more interested in English with the preparations for Olympics happening there. But well, thats good news.

    Comment by Cris — August 6, 2008 @ 22:53 | Reply

  19. […] Filed under: life — admin @ 9:12 pm Tags: character, life, Musing, politeness I once blogged about the appropriate questions for first time talks with new acquaintances. Today I was the prey to that when I was asked, besides my family […]

    Pingback by Politeness: A must in all conversations « A journalist is lost — April 23, 2009 @ 04:29 | Reply

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