Thursday, January 19, 2012

Etiquette in Conversation: Asking "What do you do?"

Is it weird that I've fallen in love with Amy's fountain of knowledge all over again? I'm hung up on etiquette this week (and probably indefinitely, so sorry if my blog turns into an homage to Amy Vanderbilt). Today's excerpt is from Etiquette in Conversation:

ASKING "WHAT DO YOU DO?" Many people in a social setting, such as a dinner party, resent being asked by someone they've just been introduced to, "What do you do?" They feel it's nosy; that the asker is trying to ascertain whether they have a spellbinding job and that, if they don't, the person won't be interested in talking to them. Before asking someone what he does, give the conversation a chance to lean in that direction. Most often it does just that. (697)

Raise your hand if you're guilty. So, what do you do? This is probably number two on R.'s list of most frequent inquiries when meeting new folks, number one being, Where are you from? (I vowed in October to start asking people Where are you going? rather than Where are you from? but I'm just getting comfortable with the idea of really doing it.).

I met someone at a party last year, and I popped the question the wedding's next spring, if you're interested. There was a long pause, not the good kind, and then I was overcome with a feeling of regret, which made me want to shove myself in the shoulder and yell What is wrong with you! (because I could foresee what the person was going to say). Then my fellow acquaintance spoke: "I'm actually looking for a job right now...(another long pause, still not the good kind)..." I don't remember anything except the thought going through my head: Riiiiighht...because the economy is looking a little shabby these days. Note to self, don't ask that question anymore. All in all, not my best effort.

Basically, you don't want someone you've just met thinking that you're imagining them binge-eating Pop Tarts, watching reruns of Saved by the Bell in bed (on their laptop), and making the occasional word-tweak on the resume just prior to their daily Shakespearean soliloquy, "To shower, or not to shower--that is the question," while you're slaving away at your job. So just don't do it. I'm totally with Amy on this one, except I'm actually going to propose a solution, instead of giving the conversation a chance to "lean" in some direction. Perhaps What do you like to do? is a good alternative. Two words make all the difference.

1 comment:

mrlew1 said...

I ask "what do you want to be when you grow up?" It often gets a laugh, but I'm serious. What people (including me) are doing now is not always the best indicator of who they are - or want to be - so it provides more insight. I imagine someone could get offended by the implication they're not an adult or that they're not doing what they love, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.