Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Mind your own beeswax

“This the line to get ice cream, young lady?”

The stranger questioned my mother as the three of us were standing in line. She answered yes, to which he said, “You getting ice cream for your granddaughters here?” Then he turned to me and my sister. “Maybe you should buy for grandma.”

Talk about awkward. My sister and I froze in disbelief, then my mother responded, “Try Mom.”

The man fell over himself trying to apologize. I couldn’t–and still can’t–understand what would prompt someone to make that comment to a perfect stranger. But he wasn’t the first to make that mistake and I’m sure he won’t be the last. Yes, my parents are old enough to be my grandparents. No, that isn’t any of your business, and you look like an ass when you assume otherwise.

It really amazes me the things people feel comfortable asking perfect strangers. My sister and I were taking a bus tour on our vacation last summer, and the woman sitting next to us was very chatty. She wanted to know why we were in Hawaii–we were celebrating my sister’s graduation from college.

“Oh, do you have any other siblings?”

Again–awkward. “Our older brother died a few years ago.” That shut her up pretty quickly. What kind of response was she expecting? “Yes, but we don’t love our brother enough to invite him along”?

In this day and age, not only is it rude, but it’s futile to try to decipher relationships among random people on the street. That white woman is likely the black children’s mother and not their nanny. The 60-year-old man could be the father, grandfather, uncle or cousin of the 8-year-old boy. And guess what?

It’s none of your business.

Unless a stranger offers you that information, you have no right to ask for it. It’s called “respecting people’s privacy.”

It’s not a coincidence these same people feel the need to pry into your personal life. “Do you have a girlfriend?” “When are you getting married?” “Do you have kids?” “When are you two having kids?” “When are you having another kid?” “When are you going to get a job?” “Why were you passed over for that promotion?”

I’m sure most people have been asked one of those questions at some point in their life. The thing is, if you’re the one asking, you are not entitled to that information. There is no relationship that entitles you to the most private details of a person’s life. Even if she’s been your best friend for 20 years, you shouldn’t ask her when she’s planning to get pregnant, for several reasons: 1) she might not want kids; 2) she might not be able to have kids; 3) it’s none of your business.

I watched the Golden Globes on Sunday, and I felt bad for the celebrities who were constantly asked about their personal lives. I don’t feel comfortable sharing some of that information with those closest to me, let alone millions of strangers.

Unfortunately, in the age of social media, people feel as if they have the right to know every little thing about your life. And some people don’t mind sharing those details, but a lot of people do. So before you ask an intensely personal question, ask yourself how you’d feel answering that question. If it would make you uncomfortable, change the subject.

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Comments on: "Mind your own beeswax" (6)

  1. Lori Woody said:

    Love, love, love this post! Working retail for so many years, it was staggering to me the questions or statements that perfect strangers would say to me.

    • Thanks! I don’t get it, either. I wouldn’t presume to ask a stranger about her personal life. Something generic like “how’s it going?” or “tell me about yourself” works much better than asking pointed questions.

  2. Megan McClure said:

    I remember both those times you mentioned, I also remember once when dad and I went into subway on campus the the person working was a student teacher in one of my middle school classes, and said something about being with my grandpa, and I had to correct her, and I don’t recall her apologizing…..And at target I have been asked several times if I have kids by coworkers, maybe it’s just a question you ask to get to know someone but it’s still kinda weird.

    Really loved your post!

    • Thanks! I’ve been asked a couple of those questions, and I just don’t get why people would immediately leap there instead of asking something generic like “how’s it going?” or “what’s new with you?” I think “tell me about yourself” would be a much better way to get to know someone. Then they can tell you what they feel comfortable with.

  3. Uncle Dave said:

    Someone taught me to “expect ingratitude” – I guess that is what we need
    to expect; and if we get more gratefulness, it’s a bonus. Sad to say, we need
    to think first and ask ourselves before we speak – “Is this a loving thing
    to Say ?”
    The insensitive questions or comments that you received were obviously
    preseeded only by ignorance and no sense of other’s feelings !

    • I like both of those sayings. I’ll have to remember them. I just don’t understand why strangers are so willing to make personal comments to other people.

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