Social Question

partyrock's avatar

How do I stop people from asking personal questions I don't want to answer?

Asked by partyrock (3858 points ) December 18th, 2011

How do I deal with people asking questions like “Where are you from, what do you do for a living, do you work?” etc? I don’t feel like explaining stuff or if I don’t feel comfortable with a stranger asking. What’s a polite way to brush it off but not seem rude? Sometimes I feel like it’s too rude for me to respond “It’s not important to know.” I feel it’s really nosy but at the same time I know people are just being polite and want to make small/talk and conversation.

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37 Answers

Judi's avatar

Just be general. and quickly turn around and ask THEM a question. “East of here, Where are you from?”
” I do office work. What field are you in? ” People (besides you ) love to talk about themselves.

filmfann's avatar

“I’m sorry, but I am in witness protection, and I’ve been told not to answer those questions. Ever.”

AnonymousWoman's avatar

I know just what you mean. I don’t mind the “Where are you from?” questions as much. I feel awkward being asked about what I’m doing with my life, though. It’s like “If I wanted to tell you, I would have told you already.” I am the type of person who would tell the truth and then express my annoyance if I was in the mood to do so. It may be mean, but oh well. Maybe they’ll never ask again.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I would be stoked if EVERYONE asked me what I did, because I want all of the US to know.

JLeslie's avatar

I think @Judi gave good advice.

I would ask why you don’t want to be asked, but since you don’t want to be asked I guess I won’t. I will throw out there that if it has anything to do with shame, just let go of that feeling. Shame will rot the soul. Be proud of where you are from and what you do. People in America are interested in where you are from, they are not asking so they can stereotype you or hate you, not usually, that is very very rare.

Meanwhile, I thought you were still in high school? Trying to decide whether to go to college or not? I am so confused.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I normally go with something that technically answers the question, while in no way actually answering the question, and then quickly change the topic. For example:
“Where do you work?” “Oh, this one place that pays me. So, what’s your favorite movie?”
“Where are you from?” “Here and there. So, do you think Kim Jong Un will be as crazy a leader as Kim Jong Il?”

There’s really no way to prevent people from asking those questions. A lot of them really suck, because they don’t let you know the person any more intimately. And some of them have some hidden potential to turn south immediately, because asking what someone does for a living inevitably leads to at least one party being embarrassed when it turns out they’re currently unemployed (and not on purpose. Also, with high unemployment rates, it gets less and less appropriate to open with that question). You can change your questions, and change the direction of the conversation, but you can’t really stop people from asking the questions. And for questions about work and school and what you want to do with the rest of your life, it seems to help a lot of you have a plan – not necessarily your real plan, just one that you can tell people when they ask, because what they generally aren’t interested in hearing is “I have no freaking clue what I want to do with the rest of my life, and it terrifies me constantly”. So, white lies.

partyrock's avatar

@JLeslie – Aw don’t be confused. I didn’t just get out of high school, I was in the Army. Never went to college and thinking of doing so soon. It’s not really shame it’s just I get asked a lot and It gets annoying. I like conversations that are deep, I don’t really enjoy small talk or generic questions. Even though I completely understand it is how most people first get to know each other, I feel like where I’m from (Hollywood and Los Angeles) people just ask, to ask. Generic questions like “How are you, what are you up to,?”... I might sound mean saying this :(

They ask where I’m from I don’t like to explain it over and over again, and I don’t think it’s important. I’m not at the place where I want to be school wise so it’s annoying to explain my whole scenario. People don’t understand that not everyone wants to talk about that information so it’s annoying to me… ahh.. just had to get that out there o_O

partyrock's avatar

It’s like when people ask…. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”... I don’t want to explain the whole story about my dad and family… How I have like 8 half long lost siblings all from my dad, and that there still could be more siblings we don’t know about! And how my dad basically cheated on all of our mothers.. I don’t want to explain stuff… I’m the only child from my mom, so I usually say I’m the only child… to not get into it, and people ask more questions….

partyrock's avatar

I sometimes just want to tell people…. It’s none of your business!!

This is mostly for strangers I don’t feel comfortable with. If I’m with a person I’m getting to know and like, then of course I have no problem being friendly and open.

partyrock's avatar

I just turned 22, so I feel a little bit of embarrassment when people ask me what I do for a living…. I’m not at the point where I would want to be in life work and career wise so it makes me feel a bit of a “failure”... I thought by now I would have my life together(work wise) so it’s partial shame and embarrassment….. But I also feel like I don’t want to be judged for what I do for work….... I’m sure when I get to where I want to be in life that might change…... but for now this is the reason why :(

augustlan's avatar

I think it was Dear Abby who said that the best response to such questions is, “Why do you want to know?”

I can’t really imagine saying that, but those kinds of questions don’t really bother me.

plethora's avatar

You need to develop a blank but engaging stare and when you are asked a question you don’t want to answer, look at the person with this thoughtful stare. Look right into his or her eyes and stare without saying a word for about 30 seconds (although it will seem much longer). Then say…..you know, I given a lot of thought to that I feel that I am well on my way to accomplishing my goals within five years.

Thanks so much asking, Jim. I really enjoying talking with you, but I need another drink. Let me get back with you after than. Would you mind? I really liked what you had to say.

Then move on.

jazmina88's avatar

You cant change other people. I love to ask questions.

But you dont have to answer.

Thanks for being in the military.

judochop's avatar

When I get asked questions that I don’t want to answer I usually respond with one of the following answers.
1. I don’t discuss that before 5pm.
2. I don’t discuss that after 5pm.
3. No, really…I don’t discuss that before 5pm.
4. No, really…I don’t discuss that after 5pm.

If you are in a bar or restaurant then you can respond with one of these following answers.

1. I have a rule to never discuss things like that over drinks.
2. I have a rule to never talk about things like that at the table.

Although if you are wanting to avoid simple small talk questions like, what do you do for a living and where do you work? Then it would be best to just avoid conversation with new people because nine times out of ten, that is going to come up in the first few minutes of intimate conversation.

partyrock's avatar

@judochop – I don’t mind talking about it with people I get to know and people I’m comfortable with. It’s just if I’m somewhere random and a stranger asks, that I’m not ok with. For example the doctor’s office, friends of friends, people on facebook, lol. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to get to know some people either that I get a vibe from that I don’t want them in my life o_O

partyrock's avatar

@plethora – That’s wonderful advice

partyrock's avatar

@judochop That’s awesome :) but how do people respond when you say “I don’t discuss that before 5pm?” .. Do they get the hint or keep on asking? Do they think it’s a joke or that you are really serious? I might just use that table line….

partyrock's avatar

@jazmina88 – I love to ask questions too… hence why I’m on fluther.. I don’t really ask people what their job is or how they make money though..

LuckyGuy's avatar

Are the people asking to be friendly and make conversation? Where I come from that is called small talk. What would you prefer they ask? Shoe size?
Unless they are stalkers, they are just being friendly and polite. If you want to avoid that completely then don’t be where other people can talk to you.
Ear buds are usually a good sign you don’t want to talk.

If you will not see these people again, feel free to make up an answer and offer a return question.

Here’s an example. Anyone who has been to China knows that within 30 seconds of walking on the street you will be approached by someone “wanting to practice English” But the questions are all the same: Where are you from? Are you here on business? Where are you staying? Where do you work? why are you here?
i would make it all up. A joint venture with an automotive company, Goldman Sachs, manufacturing, girl friend. It did not matter.

partyrock's avatar

@LuckyGuy – I’m not sure whether to be friendly or not, or just for the sake of talking. I do not mind being open with people I feel comfortable with, it’s only with random strangers I get bad vibes from. Like at the doctor’s office this lady was asking me where I was from, where I go to school, where I work, etc. It made me feel like she was being way too nosy, more information that I am not comfortable giving. I’d rather be talking about other things, not really personal things like where I was born. I don’t think it’s important. I never ask people what they do for work, until I really get to know them down the line.

partyrock's avatar

@LuckyGuy – I feel like the people where I live just want to know what other people do for a living, as a status thing.

judochop's avatar

@partyrock it’s never what you say but how you say it. You were in the Army, you should get that.
For areas that you do not want to discuss things with folks you can keep headphones around your neck and throw them on. Then you can pretend to not hear them.
As far as people checking you out for a status thing…You are just going to have to move past that. It is only going to get worse as you get older and then I’d imagine post age 64, easier.

harple's avatar

This is a part of life though, @partyrock, something that is going to come up every time you meet someone new. You can temper your responses to only give as much information as suits you without lying, and that’s probably what most people in the world do. The questions about where you are from, what you do, family etc are some of the most basic questions people can ask to get a “picture” of you. Ironically, none of those things may add up to who you really are, but that’s where the key to the point I’m about to make is. You see, they are asking these questions because they think the questions are NOT too personal. They are generic questions.

Like you, I have a long protracted “full” response I can give, but usually I find that people get edgy if I tell them it all, as they were really ONLY making conversation. They don’t actually want to know the details of your life, they just want to know that you are “normal”. Now, it doesn’t matter that no-one is normal, because, erm, that’s normal!

It’s a bit like the “Hi, how are you?” question people ask on meeting up. The maximum required response is a simple “I’m good thanks, how’re you?”. They don’t actually want to hear about your ingrowing toenail.

So work out your stock answers, “single child” “LA” “army life so far, about to go to school to study xyz” and learn to change the conversation round, either by asking them questions or by making your excuses to leave. It’s a skill you’re going to have to learn though, else you’re going to spend an inordinate amount of your life feeling pissed. There’s so much more in life to feel pissed about, but this situation really isn’t worth that amount of negative energy from you.

JLeslie's avatar

Listen to @harple he just took the words right out of my mouth, it is a lot like, “how are you?” Most people are not looking for a long answer, or at least will easily accept a short one. You just need to get your answers down pat, so you are ready for the questions instead of hoping no one will ask or being annoyed about it.

People ask me if I have children, the long answer is I always wanted them, been pregnant 5 times lost all of them. Yesy I have tried ferility treatments, no I never did decide to adopt. Yes, I know I would love my adopted kids. Thanks. I mean it is really really annoying when someone says, “why don’t you adopt,” that is the worst question of all of them, so I get it.

The way I see it is, there is a strong feeling in the country about serving in the military, so that seems like somethng you should feel great about. If you feel compelled to answer you can say I’m waitressing now (or whatever you are doing) because I just got out of the service and am hoping to go to school a year from next fall. How about you, what do you do? Switch back to them. The sibling thing, just say I have one sister I grew up with, or whatever is the case, and also have some half siblings on my dad’s side. I doubt people will ask how many. Then switch to a current event of the day, or whatever interests you. Did you see the article in the New York Times about blah blah blah, or whatever you think might make sense with this new acquaintance and the little you have been able to find about them and their own career or interests.

I think it was you who asked about hanging around rich people? Or, do I have you confused with someone else? Part of my answer was, studies show people feel richor poor relative to the people around them. You seem to be suffering from comparing yourself to others, or worrying they are doing that to you. Forget about that. Do the small talk, if there is no click, move on to the next person. You are a little in the shame category, you don’t feel good about your circumstance, not about having so many siblings, and not about your job. Don’t feel like that, it will hold you back in the end. People are attracted to confidence, how will you come across confident if you are feeling judged?

Paradox25's avatar

I know what you mean: are you married, do you have any kids, do you have a girlfriend, who do you live with, etc,. Then if you answer any of these than the why, why, whys seem to follow. My best tactic is to avoid certain types of people, especially at work, to prevent the nosiness to begin with. The latter is not always possible so changing the subject is another tactic I use or I’ll ask them a quick question of my own after giving them a very brief answer.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Paradox25 @partyrock Do you think there is a chance the person asking is interested in you?
All you have to do it answer: “Yes (or No), and I’m loving it. How about you?” That deflects the approach and turns down the other person’s interest wheter due to genuine caring or concern, or schadenfreude.

(I love that word.)

Paradox25's avatar

@LuckyGuy These questions are generally asked by either married/attached guys or married/attached women (being nosy). Also I’m not crazy about answering certain questions in certain situations, like at the workplace. Trust me, nothing good has ever come from this for me.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Paradox25 If they’re Yentas they might be thinking they have a girl for you.
I met my future wife because an older coworker thought I was a nice guy and fixed me up.

JLeslie's avatar

@LuckyGuy Hahahaha! That’s hysterical. When I first started working at Bloomingdale’s I always felt like the older women were trying to set me up with their grandson’s.

CWOTUS's avatar

I notice that a lot of the other answers involve giving “some answer” and then taking the conversation on a different tack. You can do that if you want to, I suppose.

It’s also perfectly all right (though it might take some practice) to tell the questioner pretty much what you’ve told us here if you just want the “conversation” to end:

1. I don’t know you well enough to answer that.
2. I don’t want to talk about that now.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to answer the question, but you might be interested in a different conversation (or simply finding out about the other person) then you can always answer nearly any question with “Why do you ask?”

LuckyGuy's avatar

@JLeslie I hope you took it as a compliment. That is much better than “Feh! Who’s wants such a noodge in the family?”

JLeslie's avatar

@LuckyGuy You mean took it as a compliment that they wanted to know if I was Jewish and talked about their grandson’s? Sure. LOL. None if them actually ever tried to literally connect me with one of theirngrandchildren, but I was dating someone most of the time I worked there, and eventually got married, so they didn’t have much chance.

lonelydragon's avatar

There’s not a way to stop them from asking the question, but there are polite responses. Just give a really general answer and then turn the question back around on them (of course, do it in a polite and interested way, and don’t be hostile).

Judi's avatar

I’ve been thinking about this question all night. (Damned insomnia!)
I, Like you, have difficulty with small talk. I have a hard time with “shallow” and so I didn’t do small talk very well.
As I have aged, I have realized that small talk is societies way of gauging whether I trust this person enough to let them see me truly, to let them get a glimpse of my vulnerable, authentic self. In discovering that, I have had to admit that my aversion to small talk has led to a skill deficiency on my part. I literally have to practice and rehearse how I will do small talk in social settings.
At 50, I have gotten a lot better. I have learned that focusing on asking questions, and genuinely trying to find those glimmers of authenticity make small talk much easier, (even though it’s still hard.)

SmashTheState's avatar

Do what I do. Be a huge, hairy, bearded anarchist with indifferent hygiene in a heavy oilskin trenchcoat and steel-toed combat boots. You’d be amazed how little people want to know about you when you you’re a glowering, goaty-smelling ogre with a tangled thatch of untrimmed beard and pins on your army cap which read ARM THE HOMELESS and FUCK AUTHORITY. Hope this helps!

Judi's avatar

You are right @SmashTheState . (suddenly happy that fluther is a virtual world).~

smilingheart1's avatar

You are in the driver’s seat. When one thinks out their responses to any particular set of scenarios well in advance, you just deploy your strategic word missles and keep control of things. CNN’s Piers Morgan show depicts excellent examples of how guests do this time and again when Piers sets them up with stupid questions like “Who was the love of your life?” or “How many times have you ever been properly in love?” or “What is your net worth?”

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