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Scarred By Too Many Impertinent Questions

I’m not entirely sure if this is even a faux pas, but I really need some advice on how to handle this. First, a little background: When I was a child, I had a necessary surgery done on my face that left a rather large and noticeable scar. I’ve lived with it for almost my entire life, so I and the rest of my family are used to it, and, consequently, I didn’t realize how noticeable it actually is until I took a job in customer service. Random people comment on it all the time now. They range from the clueless: “You know, I support and donate money to X charity. They specialize in helping people with X condition.”  He meant well, but I did not have the condition he specified, though my scar does look similar to one that someone with X condition would have, so I can see how he could make that mistake.   To the somewhat rude: “I know a plastic surgeon that could fix that for you. Here is his business card.” (Believe me lady, if I could fix it, I would’ve already.) Most people, however, just want to know how I got it. It’s really embarrassing. I don’t feel like I should have to divulge my life story to them, but I don’t know how to politely avoid answering such questions. Please help me! I know it’s impossible to keep people from commenting on something I’d rather forget, but I would really like to go a day without explaining myself to random strangers. 0809-13

My husband has a rather obvious surgery scar in the middle of his chest from a childhood operation.    It looks like his heart was cut out of his chest and then sewn back together with crude stitches.   When random strangers at the pool or beach ask him what happened to cause that epic scar, he  responds, “Shark attack”.   It is obviously not a shark bite so what he has done is somewhat humorously and gently sent the message that it’s really none of their business how that scar got there.  There can be a kind, even gentle way of rebuffing people who ask impertinent questions.  People obtuse enough to not catch the subtle hint and continue asking are met with silence.


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  • Helen November 4, 2013, 9:48 am

    Tina Fey has a scar on her face due to being attacked by a stranger with a knife. As you can imagine, she is reluctant to talk about it, and has managed to graciously avoid talking about it. You might look up a few of her interviews — if nothing else, they would remind you that you are not alone. People ask everyone stupid questions about things that are none of their business.

    Sometimes, the best response is just “wow.” An astonished “wow” followed by a pause and then just moving on with whatever you are doing works well. Otherwise, you can play dumb, say you have no idea what they are talking about and move on, or just pause, don’t respond at all, and move on with the matter at hand.

    I’m sorry that you are learning firsthand how many people just can’t help but ask stupid questions.

  • Jinx November 4, 2013, 9:59 am

    I guess there’s a curiosity as to “what happened?” which is slightly intimate, but far less insulting than “eww, there’s something wring with you, here’s the name of a doctor”

    Commenting on donations to X charity is very odd. Do people who donate to breast cancer research divulge this information at every opportunity to people who they suspect have breast cancer? Odd. If that happens often I’d be tempted to play dumb and say, “Are you collecting donations for those people? I’d love to help you out, but I only donate to charities during [the end of the year, next quarter, vernal equinox..]”

    The plastic surgery bit is way too far. You work in customer service… How nicely can you say to these people “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me” or “Actually, I like myself just as I am” (which I actually hope you do)

    If you’re *not* at your job, and someone were to try and direct you to a surgeon, I might be tempted to say something like “Oh wow, did s/he do you? Hmm… I don’t know, did you mean for your face to look like that?” We can’t really say things like that though, otherwise We’re no better than the others. We can, however, think it loudly and walk away cackling (which usually puts a full on stop to the conversation).

  • manybellsdown November 4, 2013, 10:02 am

    I have the same thing as Admin’s husband: a large zipper-like scar down my chest. My go-to, when I don’t feel like having the conversation, is “I lost a swordfight” or “You should see the OTHER guy!”

  • essie November 4, 2013, 10:15 am

    “Vampire attack…CLUMSY vampire.”

    “You should see the other guy.”

    My mother gave birth to octuplets; this was the only way she could tell us apart.”

    “Let me say this: Bob Carlisle doesn’t know jack about butterfly kisses.”

    “My jealous twin sister attacked me with a Swiss Army knife before we were born.”

    “It’s not a scar. It’s a tattoo. Of a treasure map.”

    “Doogie Howser should never have done an internship in plastic surgery.”

  • Pam November 4, 2013, 10:15 am

    Yikes, it really should be common knowledge that you don’t make comments on someone’s personal appearance in a business setting. I think sometimes even compliments can cross the line like “you sure look hot today”…
    I think the gracious way to handle it may be just to genuinely thank them for their concern with a smile and add “it really surprises me how many people feel free to comment on my scar, it I would never dream of telling a person they look too fat or too thin, it just seems so personal” 🙂 (Or not). Saying “thank you for your concern” is probably the best, but it would do nothing to help make the world a better place by clueing these people in on their rudeness.

  • Yasuragi November 4, 2013, 10:16 am

    My sister has three long scars on her upper forearm from sliding through gravel as a child. A lot of people have actually had the gall to ask her “Oh my god, did you, like, try to KILL yourself??” Her response if usually “What an appropriate question to ask someone you barely know!” The other person will generally shove their foot in their mouth and makes a hasty exit.

  • ferretrick November 4, 2013, 10:32 am

    A simple “That’s private, thank you.” It delivers the message that it’s none of your business, politely but firmly. Anyone who continues to ask after that, “I do not discuss this with strangers. Please stop asking.” If they are still so obtuse as to continue, just stop responding. And if you get any blow back from your management, find another job.

    To the people who offer you business cards or other such “help”-“I’m actually fine with it. Thanks for your interest.” And decline to take the card.

  • Ryo's girl November 4, 2013, 10:33 am

    LOVE it! My go-to answer for any inappropriate question will henceforth be “Shark Attack!”. How did you get that scar? Shark Attack! You look tired today! Shark Attack! What happened to your hair? Shark Attack! Etc etc etc 🙂

  • Barbarian November 4, 2013, 10:33 am

    One response-“I’ll forgive you for asking such a personal question if you forgive me for not answering it.”

  • Lisa Marie November 4, 2013, 10:37 am

    My son and I both have terrible scars, his from an accident and mine from surgery. We both respond
    like Admin’s husband that we were bitten by a shark, sometimes I say woodchuck or beaver or some
    other bizzare animal. Then we stare at the person to see if they doubt us and sometimes share the story at the dinner table. If I am in the mood, I make up an outlandish tale and see how far I get before the person walks away. Humor has its rewards.

  • Green123 November 4, 2013, 10:38 am

    Next time someone offers you a card for a plastic surgeon, just smile and say ‘oh, honey, but my boobs are big enough already!’

    I joke. Seriously, some people are just so nosey! I have a pronounced limp when I walk due to a knee and hip problem – I’m not in pain, just a bit misbalanced! People often ask what I’ve done / why I walk funny, and I tend to reply with outlandish tales of wakeboarding or parachute jumping or waterskiing while being pulled along by a pack of dolphins. That usually shuts them up.

  • The Elizab November 4, 2013, 10:43 am

    The thing I remember the most after I broke my my ankle in a car accident during spring break of my freshman year of college was the number of total strangers who didn’t ask, but DEMANDED to know what I had done. Since my parents had drilled into my head that we don’t ask personal questions of people we don’t know or know well AND since I technically hadn’t DONE anything (the other driver failed to yield), I was so shocked by the interrogations. I wish I had been prepared for so much intrusion and thought of humorous/ridiculous answers like is suggested above. It might have been fun to see reactions to being told I broke my ankle sky-diving or walking a tight rope or any other implausible situation. I might have been less sensitive to the questions if it had ever felt like the strangers seemed concerned for me, but it always seemed like they felt entitled to know without any concern for my personal welfare. That attitude is really what rubbed me the wrong way.

    The upside to dealing with a temporary injury is that it really opened my eyes to what people with permanent disabilities or chronic illnesses must go through all the time. And now I am in the process of teaching my preschooler that we don’t ask personal questions of strangers or people we don’t know well and that we don’t comment on personal appearances, good or bad.

  • I suggest November 4, 2013, 10:49 am

    I have a large port wine birthmark on my arm, and 59 years of experience dealing with the curiosity of strangers.

    Children are naturally curious and naturally empathetic. They are concerned that it hurts me. When I see a child staring at my arm or when a child asks, I quickly assure them that it does not hurt. Once they are satisfied that I am not in pain, I then take the time to explain what the birthmark is, how it is not contagious and how it really doesn’t bother me at all. I let them touch it, and poke the skin to see the blood disappear, then rush back, just as on non-birthmark white skin. (I am white.) I then say “Now that you know what this is, you’ll know it next time you see it on someone else!” I take a matter-of-fact, upbeat attitude and satisfy their natural curiosity. I also make sure the child’s parent hears the spiel so if the child has questions, later, the parent will be prepared.

    Adults who suggest plastic surgery, cover-up, whatever, are given the polite Buzz Off. “I’m OK with it as it is, thanks.”

    Other adults with a similar birthmark: “Wow! Look at that! Cool! Is mine bigger than yours?”

  • Allie November 4, 2013, 10:51 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with Admin’s suggestion that you lie through your teeth. And make ’em fun. You might say it’s top secret and you’ve been ordered by NASA not to divulge any details. Look around nervously and ask them if they’ve seen any black vans as one has been following you for days. You could also say don’t worry, the CDC let me out of quarantine just yesterday. Even though they couldn’t identify the pathogen responsible, they did determine it most likely isn’t infectious. There have been times I’ve thought out a whopper in order to explain something I knew people would be asking about that I didn’t want to discuss and actually been disappointed when no one ended up asking.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith November 4, 2013, 10:55 am

    If humor fails you- because the person is just that obnoxious or the day is just that long or the question is just that old- you can ignore it. It really isn’t necessary to answer every question that is put to you and you don’t have to explain why. Just carry on pleasantly with your transaction. Some will complain but won’t have any grounds to stand on. What can they say- “she wouldn’t tell me about her scar and I have a right to know?”. Next…

  • Kirsten November 4, 2013, 10:58 am

    I wish that there was a simple way of handling this, but I just don’t know one beyond “That’s a really personal question” or “what a rude thing to say”. Most people do try to go through life without being this insensitive (we all slip up), but then you get idiots like this.

    Seriously, the things some people say are incredible. My father has a noticeable facial scar from cancer and he gets, “What happened to your face?”

    Needless to say, these are the same people who get embarrassed and defensive when he tells them he had cancer (it doesn’t faze him). They always say, “Well, I didn’t know that!” and he says, “No, and that’s why you shouldn’t ask.” I mean from children yes, but adults -! No!

    Maybe say, “Surgery – may I help you with X?” or just “May I help you with X?” completely ignoring their remark. I really wish I had more ideas, but short of “mind your own business”, I don’t think you can avoid fools like this.

  • AMC November 4, 2013, 11:03 am

    I kind of love the idea of making up a fantastic or funny story for your scar, like that you got it heroically thwarting a bank robbery or facing down a ferocious tiger. When they say “Really?!” and you say, “Nope, just a surgery scar”, they may find the truth so much more ordinary that they won’t inquire further.

  • BeachMum November 4, 2013, 11:06 am

    My favorite response to this type of thing is asking, “What would make you ask that question?” My sister-in-law often comments on my appearance in a negative way. My response to her is similar, but I say, “What would make you think it’s ok to say that?” Since these people are stranger, a simple “I’d rather not talk about it.” could end the conversation. “It’s personal.” is another great answer. There’s no reason that you have to respond with an explanation.

  • WendyW November 4, 2013, 11:10 am

    I have a disease where one of the symptoms was fragile skin. Any little bump or scratch left noticeable scars and my hands were always covered in bandages and healing scars. When people ask about my hands I just tell them I like to knife as a hobby. Or that I’m practicing to be a ninja. That usually shuts them down.

  • WendyW November 4, 2013, 11:11 am

    That should say “knife *fight*” as a hobby!

  • PM November 4, 2013, 11:15 am

    I have a rather large scar on my arm from a childhood injury. I forget it’s there most of the time, but when someone notices, I tell them I got it in a bar fight.

  • Wild Irish Rose November 4, 2013, 11:40 am

    Personally, I like essie’s approach. Deflect it with humor. I don’t think people are trying to be malicious, so if you just arm yourself with a humorous response, that should help. Of course, if they persist, then you fix them with an icy glare, raise one eyebrow, and say nothing.

  • Harley Granny November 4, 2013, 11:43 am

    I never could understand why people think it’s OK to ask such personal questions of a total stranger.
    I understand the innocence of children but not grown adults.

    I had a friend that part of her calf was removed because of Cancer. She’s a good sport and will reply “shark” if asked by a total stranger. The looks she gets with that response is hysterical.

    I hope you come up with something you like. Essie’s are great!

  • Miss-E November 4, 2013, 11:50 am

    I’m with Admin: make a joke out of it and move on. I understand the customer service world so I know you aren’t actually able to tell people to back off. An obvious joke will put most people in their place and a polite ‘I’d rather not discuss it’ should stop the pushier people.

  • Jazzgirl205 November 4, 2013, 12:03 pm

    When I was in high school, I was unattractive, shy and nerdy. By the time I got to college, I became quite pretty and out going though still nerdy (I still don’t know how this happened – hormones, I guess). I acquired a circle of friends. Within that circle, was an acquaintance who knew me in high school. In front of others, he would make comments concerning how unattractive he thought I still was. One day, he walked up to me and said, “Plastic surgery can do wonders nowadays.” I looked up at him and replied, “Then I think you should go for it.” He stormed off angry and never insulted me again.

    Maybe you could say something like this.

  • Calli Arcale November 4, 2013, 12:13 pm

    It’s amazing how free people feel to comment on other people on medical matters. It doesn’t matter what the condition is — a scar, obesity, thinness, birthmarks, hairloss, cancer, pregnancy, postpartum, infertility, diabetes, heart failure, high blood pressure, autism, depression, kidney stones, acid reflux, broken limb, ingrown toenails . . . really, anything. Some will judge, some will be insensitive, some will offer unhelpful advice, some will go full-on sales pitch for whatever thing they think will help you with whatever they believe you have. Everybody thinks they’re an expert. I don’t have answers for what to say to these people. Most of the time, I think it’s just a case of foot-in-mouth syndrome; we all will catch that disease at some point in our lives, and hopefully feel suitably mortified afterwards, as that mortification is part of our immune response to try to keep us doing it again later. But some people are just oblivious to the impropriety of such questions, and there’s nothing you can do about them. I like the idea of a stock absurd answer. Not sure what to say to the people who suggest plastic surgery, though. A lot of people think plastic surgery is always the answer, but scar revision isn’t always possible, and can leave matters worse than when they started. My grandmother had a very successful revision after her melanoma surgery, but it took three surgeries to get it acceptable. In her case, it wasn’t vanity; the scar was impairing the function of her eyelid. Maybe the best thing to do with the well-intentioned clods with references is to politely thank them for their concern and let that end the subject.

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot November 4, 2013, 12:35 pm

    Loving the snappy comebacks- I wish I’d thought of a few of these when someone commented on a small scar on the underside of my chin. My reply was a non-committal shrug and, “Got it in a bar fight”. While the commenter was making goldfish face- bug eyes, gaping mouth, no sound coming out- I strolled away.

  • waitress wonderwoman November 4, 2013, 12:50 pm

    Not quite the same as OP’s story, but I thought I’d share. When I was in my mid-twenties I went through a stage of adult acne. One time, while bartending, a woman came in I’d never seen in my life, ordered a glass of wine and said out of nowhere, “I can see you have acne, that must be very embarrassing for you.” She then went on to tell me about a skincare/make-up company she worked for. I really should have been beyond shocked and outraged (others have been when I tell them this story), but something about this woman’s approach/demeanor/appearance (think a very classy, businesslike Marilyn Monroe in her late 60’s) was so kind, knowledgeable and professional I ended up buying some products. I do think she genuinely wanted to help me with my problem, not just rudely point it out or make a sell, so it was just really hard to take offense. And I have to admit, she knew her stuff and her products cleared my skin right up. And I ended up being a loyal customer of hers for years until she passed away. I guess she wasn’t driving that pink Cadillac for nothing. But honestly, I think if any other person had said that to me I would have been running to the bathroom tears.

  • Brenda November 4, 2013, 12:58 pm

    The OP is stuck in a situation where strangers feel they have the right to comment on very personal things: a job in customer service. Having worked in retail, I can attest that customers seem to believe that you are not quite human, or that you have morphed into a slave without personal rights and can be questioned and advised at their whim. Many companies will punish the employee if the employee should respond in a way that bothers a customer.

    Some commenters have already come up with some good responses. I might say, “Thank you for your interest/concern, but it was something that happened so long ago, and I prefer not to remember it.” You have to be very careful about how you phrase your response. You can’t put the customer on the spot, but you also have to assert some autonomy.

  • jd November 4, 2013, 12:59 pm

    I wish we ehellions could teach the world NOT to comment on personal appearance. Since that doesn’t seem too likely to happen soon, we must expect to get this kind of rudeness. In my working history, I’ve worked, at different times, with two people who were badly scarred from terrible burns. It never failed to shock me when someone would rudely comment about the scars, yet it happened again and again. OP, I wish the world wasn’t that way, but it is. You can give the frosty stare, say “That’s personal, I’m afraid,” or (my favorite of the suggestions) “It was a clumsy vampire,” but the sad fact is, you need to have a few stock responses ready — you’ll be getting this question for a long time to come, if you work with the public.

  • June First November 4, 2013, 1:07 pm

    If it’s while you’re at work, you could say something like, “Thanks for your concern. Now how may *I* help *YOU*?” If you say the thank you part blandly, almost like you’re bored, they just might get the hint that you’ve fielded those questions a thousand times already. Presumably, they’re there to receive help from your department if you work in customer service, so turning it back to the matter at hand would be a nice way of diverting them.

  • Ashley November 4, 2013, 1:44 pm

    My mom used to babysit for a girl who when she was born had an interesting birthmark, that presented itself in the form of a large port wine colored bulge above one of her eyes. It wasn’t dangerous or painful to her in anyway, and it’s composition was such that the doctors assured her parents that it would get smaller/go away. And, sure enough it did. She’s over 18 now and aside from a small red mark, you can’t tell that there used to be an almost golf ball sided bump over that eye. I was about 8 or so when my mother started babysitting for her and even then I remember thinking how rude people were for FREAKING out when they saw this bump when my mom took us all out for lunch or something. I thought to myself that if my mom is sitting right there and SHE’S not bothered by the bump, and this little girl is clearly not bothered by the bump, then why are you bothered about the bump? My mom got so sick of it she finally just took to saying “Not that it’s any of your business, but it’s a birthmark” and then ending the conversation right then and there.

    I’d advise the OP to ask their supervisor exactly what they can get away with saying. I don’t want them to take our advice and say something too curt and get in trouble for it. I mean, I understand wanting to fend people off but I also would hate for OP to get fired or something because one customer interprets it wrong and files a complaint or something.

  • Rebecca November 4, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Wow, people actually comment on the cashier’s personal appearance as they go through the checkout? I find that astonishing. Although, maybe not. I got my first real glimpse into how rude some people are when I got my first job as a cashier. I didn’t realize they’d go that far, though.

  • Onlyme November 4, 2013, 1:51 pm

    OP I take it when you say “Customer service job” that you are dealing directly with the people/public so some of the answers are not always going to be appropriate to your job. Especially since you want a response that tells someone “its none of their business” without offending them. (Although I do admit I like the “shark bite” and “What an appropriate question to ask someone you barely know”.

    I have invisible disability so wish I had something really polite to tell you rather than “I prefer not to discuss it”. But it might be your best option.

  • Redneck Gravy November 4, 2013, 2:17 pm

    Simple “childhood incident” should suffice, ignore any other comments or as I have learned here – “what an interesting assumption” or “why do you want to know?”

    My nephew has a razor scar on his wrist when asked he simply replies “childhood injury that was very traumatic and I do not wish to discuss it thank you.” He has never had followup questions.

    I am frequently stunned at the brazen curiosity of others questions, thank goodness for eHell, I have learned when to curtail mine and answer appropriately to others.

  • MichelleP November 4, 2013, 2:17 pm

    I liken those questions by strangers as those similar to people who ask my white cousin where she “got” her mixed child. She got so frustrated about it that she eventually started responding, “my uterus”. Yeah, probably not etiquette-approved, but it got the point across.

    My stepbrother had Down syndrome, and my stepmom endlessly fielded rude and presumptous questions about his condition, up to and including “What did you do while you were pregnant that caused it?” Yes, people are curious but I don’t believe it’s her job to educate them. She would change the subject, bean-dip, etc for years but finally had enough and started just staring at them wide-eyed and saying coolly that it was none of their concern.

  • Hello! November 4, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Hmmm….well, I never comment on any facial features on anyone –whether good or bad, abnormal or normal. I guess I just figure that’s a part of who they are. But I guess I don’t really see the aversion to people asking questions about it, although random strangers trying to be “helpful” can be a little weird. We so often think in the negative on so many of our features/scars, when many of them can be wonderful and uplifting stories to be heard? “I got this long scar because I fought off a bear who was attacking my little sister and I won” sort of thing. I would more likely want to be positive about thinking that people genuinely want to know more about you, or care to understand what has gone on in your life, or just curious about things in general and don’t mind asking to get answers. I wouldn’t think too badly about them.

  • Anonymous November 4, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I have a similar, but milder story. When I was nine years old, I had chicken pox, and my biggest, itchiest spot was on my forehead, Right. Between. My. Eyes. I really tried to use willpower and not scratch too much, but for that spot, I just couldn’t resist. As a result, I have a scar there to this day. Anyway, fast-forward a few years, when I was fifteen and volunteering as a counsellor in a YMCA day camp. Several of the kids asked how I got that scar, so I told them that that’s where the doctors removed my third eye.

  • CWM November 4, 2013, 2:56 pm

    I used to work with a girl who had facial scarring due to an accident as a child. Customers would constantly ask her about it. She’d always smile and respond something utterly ridiculous.

    “Butterfly attack”

    “It was a swarm of angry spaghetti noodles”

    But my favorite was the day a customer was just staring at her scar rather than looking at her as a person. Customer had to be prompted to answer basic questions about what services she wanted. Finally the woman said, “Did you know you have a huge scar on your face?”

    My co-worker got a shocked look and reached up to touch her face and said, “Oh my goodness, I do? What happened?”

    Customer quickly looked abashed and didn’t mention it again.

  • Ergala November 4, 2013, 3:19 pm

    I have a noticeable limp at times (deformed knees…my knee caps aren’t in the right spot). I just had my left knee fixed in July and now I’m having the right one done in December. On my left knee I have two incision scars that aren’t huge and people assume that the surgery was minor since they are small scars. So when I am having a bad day and my leg hurts I begin to limp I receive comments like “Oh it can’t be THAT bad…it was such a minor issue”…well no it wasn’t. There is now damage to my legs from bone grinding on bone for 31 years. My right knee is quite noticeably in the wrong spot and veers strongly to the right of my leg. When they hear I love to run I receive more comments that I can’t possibly have that much pain if I am able to run. But because my scars are so small people assume that there is nothing wrong with my legs so they came condescending comments about how I’m making a mountain out of a mole hill. More times than once I’ve wanted to slam THEM in the knees with a rubber mallet and see how well they walk with their knee caps in the wrong spot.

    I also have a noticeable tic due to a neurological disorder. Along with that is a stutter. You’d be amazed at the “advice” get from people about how to cure it. The advice ranges from changing my diet so that it only includes raw veggies and seeds to major brain surgery because some new cutting edge technique has been discovered to “fix” my problem. Sorry folks, no cure or fix for my disorder. I’ve lived with it for the past 31 years and I’ll live with it for at least the next 31 years. My advice is to just pretend like they never even asked you a personal question like that. Bean dip them or just cool the conversation so that it’s strictly business related….”Oh my goodness! I know a great surgeon who can fix that!” and you respond with “Will that be cash or credit sir?”….just don’t even acknowledge it.

  • Sam November 4, 2013, 3:35 pm

    I used to get this while I worked customer service. I have severe arthritis and have used a cane since I was 30. People would feel perfectly fine walking up and asking why someone my age felt that they had to use a cane. (Yep, worded just like that on occasion!!!) So my co-workers and I came up with a few good stories that I frequently used.
    1. I carry a cane so that I can practice caberat dancing at a moment’s notice.
    2. I enjoy doing Willy Wonka impersonations.
    3. You should see the the other guy….
    4. “I carry a cane?!?!?!?!?! Where?!?!?!?!”
    5. My grandfather got mad at me and beat me so that I had to steal his cane.
    6. Shark attack
    But the one that probably earned me a place in E-Hell was directed towards a particularly rude individual was this one: “I injured my right leg flying tanks in WWI.” Sad thing is, they bought it hook, line, and sinker…..

  • acr November 4, 2013, 3:37 pm

    I love the response of “shark attack” and also “I lost a sword fight.” I think those might be the best options in a customer service setting, where staying pleasant is pretty much required, even under very trying circumstances.

    I have been one of those people. I saw a man whose hands were very discolored and looked as though they’d been burned. Without thinking, I blurted, “Oh, are your hands okay?” Yep, his hands were fine, just an odd looking skin pattern. He was very polite about it, but I still cringe when I think of it.

  • dee nile November 4, 2013, 3:41 pm

    I don’t get many questions about my saucer-sized burn scar from a birthmark removal in infancy, since it’s hidden by even minimal clothing. The one time I did (in a gym locker room) I said “Her husband came back early.”

  • Charliesmum November 4, 2013, 4:02 pm

    You could say ‘I got it during the Hunger Games’ maybe, if you wanted to be pop-culture-y. 🙂

  • Bee November 4, 2013, 4:28 pm

    I once had a particularly nasty burn on my lower lip (right in the middle of it) where the skin in about a half inch wide area had blistered and just popped right off. The amount of people who asked “what I had” was, frankly, kind of astonishing. People naturally seemed to assume it was some sort of a disease.

    The best part was probably replying, totally deadpan “a burn on my lip” before walking away. The actual story (people occasionally pay me to eat fire) probably would have been a good one for reactions, but I’m generally loathe to get into conversations with perfect strangers on the street.

  • AIP November 4, 2013, 5:01 pm

    Essie wins the Internet! 😀
    On the unsolicited advice: you can’t beat a good old “that’s nice dear” 🙂

  • Karen November 4, 2013, 5:39 pm

    I spent a very snowy winter in a walking cast due to a boring and rather painful accident, and whenever strangers would ask, I would say either “Navy Seal Training” or “Rodeo Clown”.

    A much better answer than “I stepped off the curb the wrong way but didn’t go to the doctor for several months because I assumed it wasn’t bad, and ended up with a torn ligament”.

  • waitress wonderwoman November 4, 2013, 5:39 pm

    @dee nile owes me a new laptop. I just spit my coffee out all over mine 😉

  • Kristin November 4, 2013, 5:48 pm

    “Why do you ask?”

  • DanaJ November 4, 2013, 5:51 pm

    “Juggling meat cleavers. Wasn’t very good at it.”

    But on a related note, an acquaintace of mine is an exceptional carpenter. She is in very high demand for her skills building cabinetry. She once had a very silly accident while she was repairing her porch. She had to swing her hammer upwards to loosen a very stubborn board. She wound up for a big swing and hit the board from underneath with a mighty blow. The board came loose much easier than expected and the hammer continued its upwards trajectory… She hit herself in the face with the hammer.

    Her sister, who had witnessed the accident, took her to the hospital for stitches (she was lucky she didn’t lose her eye – she barely missed her eye socket). At the hospital nurses, doctors, and even a police officer came to speak with her – everyone was concerned the injury was from domestic abuse. My acquaintance and her sister were actually expecting questions about assault while at the hospital, because the staff has a duty to investigate – plus, they had a hard time believing that 1) a woman is a full-time professional carpenter (!) and that 2) that a professional carpenter would manage to hit herself in the face with a hammer!

    What she did not expect though, were all the random strangers offering her advice and/or making assumptions that she was in an abusive relationship. “Did someone hit you?” or “Wow, who hit you?” and subtle offers of assistance or recommendations for shelter (she was anonymoulsy given the number for a women’s shelter). While she appreciated the concern and good intentions, the assumptions made her feel uncomfortable. She’d bring her hard hat into stores to give her credibility when she would point at it and answer, “Thanks, but it was a minor workplace accident.” (90% of the time, if you see her out and about, she’s wearing sawdust covered clothes and workboots anyway). Without her “carpentry costume” when she answered any variation of “home repair accident”, the response was one of sad disbelief.

    She now tells the tale as a funny anecdote, but she still has mixed feelings about all those concerend strangers. On the one hand it’s good that they were concerned and there was such awareness about the plight of those who are abused, but she was very uncomfortable with the misdirected sympathy.