The Silent Bean Dip

by admin on February 9, 2016

After years of reading stories on Etiquette Hell, I am very familiar with ‘bean dipping’ to direct conversations away from topics you have no interest in discussing. A co-worker I recently befriended has another tactic.  If you ask her a question she doesn’t want to answer (and she’s very private, so there are many questions that she doesn’t want to answer), she will just fall silent and not answer it.  If you’re having a conversation with her in person and ask her a question she doesn’t want to answer, she will just stare at you until you say something else.  If you’re on the phone, it’s like the phone has gone dead.  And I’m not referring to  deeply personal questions. Something as simple as, “What are you doing for lunch?”, might be met with a silent stare. It’s certainly effective but, in my opinion, there’s an element of rudeness in not responding at all. I believe that, while no one is obligated to answer my questions, the norms of conversation dictate that I should get some kind of response. This hasn’t happened in a while because we’ve gotten friendly, but a part of me is waiting eagerly for it to happen again so I can just stare back at her and see what happens next. I wanted to get some EHell feedback. Do any of you do this or had it happen to you? Is there a social expectation that you respond to questions, even if you decide not to answer them directly? 0205-16

{ 145 comments… read them below or add one }

Green123 February 9, 2016 at 3:14 am

I don’t think there’s a ‘social expectation’ that you answer any question asked of you, but I think there IS a social expectation that you don’t just ‘switch off’ and go silent. That’s……. weird.

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Amanda H. February 9, 2016 at 7:42 pm

Especially on the phone. I have enough instances of having to ask my husband if he’s still there because he hasn’t had anything relevant to say in a bit; I’d hate to have it happen to me on purpose just because I picked the “wrong” question to ask that day. It’s not going to clue anyone in, it’s just going to make them think there’s something wrong with their phone connection.

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Green123 February 10, 2016 at 3:17 pm

Yes, definitely! If the phone goes quiet I would assume either a) I’ve been cut off by a phone connection problem or b) much worse, that something terrible has befallen the person on the other end!

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K February 9, 2016 at 3:27 am

“Something as simple as, “What are you doing for lunch?”, might be met with a silent stare.”

Oh, come on. Of course she’s rude. I’m actually surprised you’ve “gotten friendly” with someone that bad-mannered; I wouldn’t waste my time.

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Just4Kicks February 9, 2016 at 4:16 am

I don’t want to be disrespectful, but does she do this with everyone….or just you?
If you have to interact with this person to be able to do your job then it’s a problem.
If you don’t, well….I would stop asking her questions….just the normal “Good Morning/night/see you tomorrow”.

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ketchup February 9, 2016 at 4:22 am

It sounds like something you would do if someone is very rude, and you’re in the position to do this: for instance when you know you’ll never see them again.
But this is not that, right? I would never treat someone I know this way, and certainly not over something as trivial as lunch. I think it’s an aggressive ‘bean-dipping’ at best.

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Lisa February 9, 2016 at 9:28 am

This is exactly where I land on this.

Ok, if someone asks you something completely rude. Not ok over a trivial question that you just don’t feel like answering. The latter is just… strange. And rude.

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Just4Kicks February 9, 2016 at 4:26 am

My best friend is going through a very nasty divorce right now, and she is just stressed beyond belief.
We live in a very small community, and sadly, she is at the top of the rumor mill.
She found her hubby cheating on her a few years back, and he begged for another chance to make their marriage work.
He has blown his second (and third) chance, and she has had enough.
A few weeks ago, she attended a school meeting and texted me “Help! If ONE more person comes up to me for all the dirty details, I’m going to flip my shit…..what do I do?!?”
I texted back “bean dip”.
A few minutes later she replied, “WHAT?!? I’m at the damn PTA! There are no snacks!!!”
I sent back “oh….crap….Sorry, Honey!!! Bean dip means change the topic without answering any obnoxious questions….They will move on when they realize you don’t want to talk about it.”
“Ooooohhhhh…..I get it….Thanks!”

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Ergala February 9, 2016 at 5:33 am

Going through a divorce here too and not many people know. Only my stbx and I are still living together as roommates for the kids and because we are on friendly terms. People have about a million questions when they find out. I just smile and ask them about how they like the new coffee bean coming out or what they think of our snowless winter this year. If they persist on pushing the subject I tell them there is a reason I haven’t been public about my personal business, because it’s personal.

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CarolynA February 9, 2016 at 10:40 am

Well handled, Ergala! When I went through a divorce a few years ago, people I hadn’t spoken to in years were calling me up to pump me for the dirty details. I would start off bean dipping and if that didn’t work, I would go with exactly what you do – letting them know that its personal and I prefer not to discuss it.

I found that some of the people who were really pushy about it were not gossips, but people who were feeling insecure about their own relationship. I found myself having a very upsetting conversation with someone I had not seen in many years and was not close to even when I was seeing her more often – she kept pressing me and I kept trying to get her to drop it. I was starting to get very angry and offended when I realized that she was focusing on what MY role in the issues was. The gossips just wanted me to talk badly about my ex and blame him for everything and would say things like “I never liked him.” (And while I am not perfect, the nature of our problems was not something either of us could control – it wasn’t anyone’s “fault” – it was just awful and horrible and ugly.) This woman was trying to find out what I did wrong so she could make sure she didn’t do the same thing. She wanted to know what my screw up was so she could avoid it. She was being unforgivably cruel to me, but it was not for cruelty’s sake – she was scared.

It didn’t prevent me from feeling awful when someone was pumping me for info, but sometimes having insight into perhaps why they were doing it took the sting out. Not true for all ( … or even half …) of the busybodies, but I know that being able to see it another way helped me handle it gracefully. Good luck, Ergala – for all the hurt, there was good too. I learned exactly who I am and what I am made of and it has served me really well!

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mark February 9, 2016 at 3:13 pm

But how are we going to survive without our personal dose of reality TV!! We have to know EVERYTHING. And you need to bad mouth him for our entertainment.[/sarcasm]

Nah, I’m with you. People don’t need to know. I don’t share everything.

I will admit I can be a little too disconnected. I was talking to my neighbor and asked about her husband. Turns out she was divorced (rather rapidly), and since my wife and I no longer belong to the very dominant religion in my neighborhood, so we were clueless.

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Ergala February 12, 2016 at 10:24 am

I refuse to bad mouth him 😉 I think that is what drives people batty. For awhile there we absolutely were not getting along and a big reason was because I wouldn’t fight back. He was being positively vile because he thought that is how it was supposed to be when two people split up. He finally came around when he saw I wasn’t going to scream and yell and how his behavior was having an impact on our two small children. The one time I did snap the kids were at school and I finally had enough and told him he would not be bullying me anymore and calling me names and telling me everything was MY fault to make himself feel better. It didn’t have to be that way just because it’s how his parents divorced. We had a choice in how we did this and I was choosing to not be enemies. I guess that opened his eyes. He was injured a short time later and I was the one who cleaned the wound and wrapped it. He asked me why I was being so kind after all the nasty things he had said to me. I told him that I have been married to him for 12 years and had 2 children with him. He isn’t a bad person. His actions were terrible yes but he isn’t a bad person. If he was I could easily break his hand just as easily fix it. That cemented it in his head that I’m not his enemy.

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Kate February 11, 2016 at 4:32 am

People definitely come out of the woodwork when they hear you’re getting divorced. I had a few messages from people with a cursory opening line like “Hey, it’s been ages, how’s your job?” before the inevitable divorce question was asked.
I refuse to share sordid details or slag off my ex, I just say “yes, it didn’t work out” and change the subject.

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lkb February 9, 2016 at 8:49 am

I’m sorry about your friend’s situation Just4Kicks, however, I feel compelled to say that your post has an awful lot of vulgarities for an etiquette site: The ‘s-word,’ the d-word’ and ‘cr-‘ all in one short post.
I don’t have my knickers in a twist over it but the irony is striking.

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Emily February 9, 2016 at 10:34 am

I would argue that swearing isn’t inherently rude. Swearing in certain situations is rude. So using a few mild curse words in a text with a friend isn’t bad etiquette, but saying similar things to your elderly neighbors at a church picnic would be (unless you have super cool old people neighbors). I know you weren’t criticizing her for it, I just wanted to bring up the point that not all swearing is rude all the time.

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Dee February 9, 2016 at 1:04 pm

ikb – You have a problem with damn and crap? Those hardly trigger any kind of etiquette alarm, they’re just casual language. I didn’t think we were on the level of conversing with the Queen on this forum …

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Rebecca February 10, 2016 at 12:57 am

I think it’s regional. Where I live (Canada), the word “bloody” is not strong language at all, but I said it in the presence of some older people in the UK and they were quite shocked that I “swore.” I had no idea!! Even though my parents are English. To me, damn and crap and even the s word are all pretty soft words, but I still wouldn’t use those words around certain people, ie anyone I worked with or wanted to work for, or my parents’ friends if i didn’t know them well enough.

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Louise February 10, 2016 at 8:03 am

I’m English and ‘bloody’ is not considered a ‘bad’ swearword at all in my area (south east/London), I wouldn’t hesitate using it. Same with damn. ‘crap’ is less common in the UK and usually describes something ‘not very good’, rather than as an exclamation.

However, there are words that have different emphasis throughout the UK. For example, the ‘c-word’ is in pretty common use in most parts of London, and seen as jokey banter most of the time. In northern England (and the US, I understand) that’s one of the ‘worst’ words you an say!

Shannan February 10, 2016 at 8:57 am

That’s like when the film “Austin Powers and the Spy Who Shagged Me” Came out. They had to censor it in the UK because the word shag there is like the f- word here.

Amanda H. February 10, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Quite possibly. While I’d consider the d- and s-words to be swears, I’ve never met anyone who considers “crap” in the same vein. It’s a mild substitute for the s-word instead, similar to saying “darn.” :shrug:

ddwwylm February 10, 2016 at 5:35 pm

I learned after becoming a parent that apparently to some people butt, fart and hella are considered “bad” words.

M February 9, 2016 at 3:24 pm

A true element of etiquette and grace is not pointing out other people’s faux pas, which granted is exactly what I’m doing to you, but I don’t think you should feel “compelled” to point out something so trivial if you’re not in a twist over it. The swearing was mild, and a direct quote from a personal conversation with a close friend that was relevant to the topic at hand. You feigned concern for one stranger so you could chastise another stranger for language that can be found in most PG movies. I find far more vulgarity in your false sentiment than her brief anecdote, and I bet her feelings were decidely more hurt by your scolding than yours were by her swearing.

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lkb February 10, 2016 at 5:25 am

Please forgive me — I did not mean to offend anyone.

Peace.

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Just4Kicks February 13, 2016 at 11:21 am

@Ikb: Peace and good wishes to you as well! 🙂

No offense taken at all….other poster have commented on other replies of mine in the past.
Good thing I didn’t post the choice names I now refer to my friends soon to be ex-husband! 😉

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Angela February 9, 2016 at 11:00 am

When this happened to me (a long time ago!) I would tersely reply “It’s a long story”. Most people understood this is code for “I don’t want to discuss it”. Those that didn’t and persisted would get “No, really, it’s a long story and I don’t want to get into it. But I hear that you got *insert positive or neutral life event* the other day, that’s great/interesting”.

People ask about divorces usually so they can pick out something that THEY won’t do, meaning that THEY won’t get divorced, and feel reassured.

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Just4Kicks February 10, 2016 at 5:44 am

@: Thanks for the comments!
Many blessings and best of luck to those of you going through/have gone through a divorce.
I hope things go well for you from here on out. 🙂

I believe the “I’m going to flip my shit!” may have been the offensive phrase….Sorry to offend, I was directly quoting my lovely and very intelligent friend in her text to me.
I didn’t think it was that bad, but I will defer to our gracious hostess, Miss Jeanne.
If you would like me to refrain from words deemed offensive to others, I will try to chose my words more carefully from now on.
I was directly quoting her text to me, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t consider “damn” and “crap” offensive….but this IS an etiquette site!

A few posts back, I relayed the story about my brother in laws suicide, and the people who came up to us at the viewing wanting to know all the gory details was astonishing to my husband and myself.
I actually told one person “this IS NOT the place to ask about it….get away from us!!!”

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koolchicken February 9, 2016 at 4:55 am

To the horror of some of the commenters here, I’ve had trouble with people badgering me about why I don’t want more children. To the point that some of these people have actually gone so far as to turn to my three year old when they don’t get the response from me that they want and tell him HE should ask me for a baby brother or sister! I’ve actually had to teach my kid to answer these people with “NO! I’m the favorite!” Immature maybe, but at this stage I no longer care.

Perhaps your friend has has similar experiences? There are some subjects that other people can’t seem to get through their heads are off-limits. And any attempts to bean dip are futile. In these instances I almost think silence is appropriate. Yes we should all strive to be polite, but when the person you’re conversing with has no intention of dropping a subject and you’re not able to make a hasty escape you need something else to fall back on. And to me, this isn’t outright rude so it’s acceptable. Especially since any other response to shut down questioning may well be flat out rude, and that’s not okay.

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LadyV February 9, 2016 at 10:33 am

I might go along with this IF the OP hadn’t said that this woman responds this way to even innocuous questions like “What are you doing for lunch?” Even if the question was on a subject that the person being asked considered off-limits, it’s totally polite to say “I prefer not to discuss that” – repeated as necessary. In the case of a co-worker, you could even add “I don’t like to discuss personal business in the office.”

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koolchicken February 11, 2016 at 4:57 am

I did find that odd, but since the OP didn’t say it had specifically happened to her I thought she had just witnessed this. That’s why I’m inclined to give this person the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps there’s a reason she would go silent when being asked such a simple question. Has the person getting the silent treatment asked her to lunch several times and they’re not getting the hint she’s not interested so she falls silent. This is just an example of course. It’s just that, as this appears to be her default for anything she doesn’t care for the OP might just think she’s doing it for the same reasons she might do it to her, which would be if she asked an intrusive question. But it might not be the case at all, I’m just guessing.

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ALFIA February 9, 2016 at 11:15 am

I just got a very dirty look from coworker for snortinglaughing out loud thinking of your little one responding to nosy noses by stating I’M THE FAVORITE. As an adult only child, I still hear my mother, now into retirement age, asked why she didn’t have/want more kids. I may have to borrow your kid’s line to keep her off the spot next time. =)

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koolchicken February 11, 2016 at 4:59 am

So good to hear it’s never going to let up, lol. There I was looking forward to my old age….

I was literally asked again yesterday if I was having more, and it was heavily suggested I start trying for another. Two separate incidents, one day. There’s just no winning sometimes. At least they didn’t drag my kid into it this time!

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MamaToreen February 11, 2016 at 10:03 am

I use, “We asked for one happy, healthy child. Don’t want to be greedy.” usually it works. If it doesn’t, I just glare

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Goldie February 12, 2016 at 11:36 am

So let me get that straight: First people ask random couples that they barely know when they’re going to have kids; then after the couple had a kid, they ask when they’re going to have more; then after the couple has had more kids, they ask “Don’t you know what causes that?”

Well played, nosy strangers, well played.

Yet another reason not to pay attention to this type of questions…

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Cat February 9, 2016 at 11:41 am

I love humorous replies to personal questions and I have been thinking of what I would say in your place. May I suggest: “Oh, I had to give all the others to Rumpelstiltskin. I gave one child to him for the house, one for the car, and I still owe him one for the furniture. I’ve had all the ones I get to keep.” or, “I have decided my true vocation is to the Church. As soon as the youngest is raised, I am becoming a nun like St. Elizabeth Ann Bailey Seton. Did you know that she stepped over her son, who was lying prone on the threshold of the convent to prevent her entering? He did say that he didn’t mind her entering; he just thought he should make some gesture.” or, “Yes, we’d like another, but we can’t afford it since we want to send the next one to medical school. We are accepting donations, however. How much can I put you down for? I’ll take a check now!”

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NostalgicGal February 9, 2016 at 7:06 pm

Cat, I love that last bit about Medical School and taking donations. 🙂

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koolchicken February 11, 2016 at 5:02 am

I’m thinking I might use some of those. My old stand-by’s are getting old.

I’ve actually been a little snarky in the past. Even having gone as far as to say “Well I’m not having anymore, but if you’re volunteering as surrogate then I suppose we can talk”. Oddly, no one has ever taken me up on the offer! And there I was, just sure they genuinely wanted me to have more children. I must have been mistaken!

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MamaToreen February 11, 2016 at 10:06 am

I have a son, and people keep asking if I want a daughter. I tell them my house doesn’t have enough closet space for two women

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LovleAnjel February 11, 2016 at 11:39 am

I have a line cribbed from a comedienne: “Well, we tried four times last night!”

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Jessica February 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

“Well, we tried four times last night!” I’m dying here… oh god my lungs hurt

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Lynnawinks February 12, 2016 at 1:14 pm

I love these. My son is not even 10 months old and people already ask when we will have another.

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JO February 9, 2016 at 12:29 pm

Oh, the ‘have more kids’ questions and demands…I certainly sympathize.

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babba February 9, 2016 at 1:59 pm

That is outrageous – I think I would ask them how many kids THEY have, and when they answered four, or six, or whatever, ask them, “Why did you stop there? Why didn’t YOU have more?”

just amazing what kind of personal questions people feel they have the right to ask you.

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Kirsten February 9, 2016 at 2:07 pm

For the people who won’t take a hint, you could try “gosh, you must be embarrassed you asked such an inappropriate question. Never mind, let’s move on.”

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koolchicken February 11, 2016 at 5:03 am

I’m stealing that. Honestly I’m going to be stealing a lot of these. I need to make a list of “excuses” for why I don’t feel like procreating.

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Girlie February 9, 2016 at 3:48 pm

I hate the reproductive conversations. One of my best friends is pregnant and I am recently married and one day after church this gentleman came up to say hi to us and then turned to me and said “You’re jealous aren’t you, Jealous!” in a joking way. HOW RUDE. He does not know if I want kids, maybe already pregnant, or can’t have kids. I never comment to anyone about anything reproductive. I had friends struggling for years to have a 2nd and all the crazy old ladies would drive them nuts asking questions on when they’re having a second. People think you just flick a switch and it just happens. Rude.

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JO February 9, 2016 at 8:55 pm

“People think you just flick a switch and it just happens.” So true! People ask these questions with no comprehension of the fact that some people are struggling, and being constantly reminded of that struggle in fact only makes it worse!

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Kolobok February 10, 2016 at 3:58 pm

I struggled with infertility for years and I would get so annoyed when people would ask when we’re having kids. Interestingly, it was only ever at church that people not too close to my husband and me would enquire. My go to answer was “oh, we’re doing our part; just waiting for God to do His.” I hoped that message was a subtle enough hint to stop asking, but apparently not…

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koolchicken February 11, 2016 at 5:07 am

I don’t understand some people. It’s like you don’t know why that person doesn’t have more kids, or any at all, so don’t ask as they might not want to talk about it. I get that some people may never get this. It’s not something that was discussed in their generation and they didn’t have problems conceiving or what have you, so it just doesn’t occur to them what they’re saying is harmful.

My son was a month premature and a c section, I suffered a lot of complications from that surgery. One of these days I’m going to make someone really uncomfortable by going into graphic detail as to what happened and why I’ll never have another. It’s not that I physically can’t (we assume) it’s that I won’t. And people brining it up all the time does not make it easier when I’d like another. The bank is just not the place for this kind of discussion.

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NostalgicGal February 9, 2016 at 7:16 pm

I get to field ones why I don’t have any. I am at the age where I should have grandchildren about to enter high school; and I do look younger than I am; so people think I’m near the end of the biological clock and it should be ticking so loud that I can’t think of anything else BUT getting on with producing a baby. Plus because of medical conditions I do look 7-8 months along. (we recently cracked the code on that, my doc and I, and I have seem my toes for the first time in 20 years looking straight down). No I’m not pregnant, it’s a medical condition. Trust me, I lost the plumbing decades ago. No I don’t want to adopt. If you think I need a child so bad, are you going to pay me $3 million too, so I can afford it? Oh, make that $5 million, I’ll need a nanny. No? What do you mean no? Okay, nevermind then.

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Lady Macbeth February 10, 2016 at 6:23 am

Try not wanting to get married or ever have children. This puzzles and dumbfounds nearly everybody. Consequently, I get some rather rude or pushy inquiries about my life choices. I’m 35; I think I know what I want by now. And even if I don’t, it’s my life, my decision(s).

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Cat February 10, 2016 at 12:25 pm

I, too, made the choice to remain both single and childless in life-and I am thirty-one years your senior. Some people do think it odd, especially for a woman of my generation, that a woman didn’t want a husband and children.( “But who will you spend your golden years with?” “Who will look after you when you are old?” “Didn’t you want children of your own?”)
I have always told them that marriage is a great institution: I just never felt the need to be institutionalized.
The reality is that not everyone is suited for marriage and will never be happy in a marriage and other people would never be happy single. The trick is to know which type you are.

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Goldie February 11, 2016 at 12:16 pm

“Who will look after you when you are old?

Because OF COURSE our kids will with a 100% certainty be able to drop everything and look after us (whatever that means) when we are old! Because the primary reason we had kids to begin with is to provide ourselves with house help for when we’re old! Seriously, some people’s train of thought can get so far off the rails, it’s fascinating.

“I have always told them that marriage is a great institution: I just never felt the need to be institutionalized.”

Heh heh! People sometimes ask me if I’d like to marry again. I tell them I’ve done my time.

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koolchicken February 11, 2016 at 5:11 am

But surely you’ll change your mind! You just haven’t met the right guy! And you’ll love your own baby, if that’s what you’re worried about. Birth isn’t really as bad as people say, you’re just worried about the pain but there’s drugs for that.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure after you’ve had to listen to all that several times a week for years on end you haven’t had time to really think it over. You’ll totally change your mind tomorrow when you meet that perfect guy, who will get you an epidural without judgement, and you’ll for sure love that baby you definitely don’t want. Just you wait and see, lol.

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LadyV February 11, 2016 at 9:18 am

Well played, koolchicken!

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Cat February 11, 2016 at 11:46 am

I did get those. Now that I am sixty-six and on Social Security, no one seems to say that anymore. The idea of chasing after some toddler in my wheelchair or with my walker gives me chills anyway. I’d never catch a teenager.
Ever read the poem about the couple who is getting married and she is coming down the aisle with her walker and he is waiting in his wheelchair? They are the pair who waited until they could actually afford to get married.

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Mags February 11, 2016 at 12:33 pm

I have four kids, all boys, and I still constantly get told that I want to have one more to have a girl. My response is usually that I’m not having any more, but if one shows up on my doorstep [under a cabbage leaf, etc], I’ll keep it.

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Amanda H. February 11, 2016 at 5:00 pm

It’s not like it’s a guarantee you’ll get the other gender anyway. My parents tried five times and ended up with all girls. I’m pretty sure they had people asking if they wanted to try again to get a boy, and their final response was “we’re happy with the girls we have.” Which is a response my sisters and I appreciated because questions like that can make the kids you do have feel inadequate because they’re the “wrong” gender. My husband and I have three girls at the moment, with a fourth on the way, and we’re done. After four pregnancies and two miscarriages we’re ready to stop, and I plan to field any “but don’t you want a BOY?” inquiries in similar fashion to how my parents did.

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Margo February 9, 2016 at 4:57 am

I think this would be acceptable if the question asked was one which is definitely rude or inappropriate, silence can convey shock or leave the questioner hanging so that they can realise they should not have spoken.
However, I think for normal conversation, where the question is not one which would generlaly be considered unusual or intrusive, it is certianly odd, and at the very least, verging on rude. That said, even apparently simple questions can be rude or intrusive, depending on context, so I would be slow to criticise her without hearing the questins and the way they are asked.

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Stephbwfern February 9, 2016 at 4:58 am

Yeah, that is weird. And impolite, I feel.
I think it’s safe to say, judging by the variety of responses stories on this site always yields, that different people have different norms. So, for one individual to ask a seemingly (to them) innocent question, and be met with a blank, wordless stare, yeah, that is strange and rude. I don’t care for it.
Honestly, is it that hard to beandip?

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Sarah February 9, 2016 at 5:22 am

If it’s any kind of personal question that someone might not want to answer – although that varies from person to person – I believe a silent stare is no more rude than the original question, and is very effective way to get your message across. However, please take into account that people from different cultures/backgrounds may not see certain questions as rude or intrusive (to a pregnant woman – “Is your baby a boy or a girl?” “What are you going to name it?” or to anyone “How much do you earn/how much rent do you pay?”).

To respond to “What ere you doing for lunch?” with a silent stare is, in my opinion, rude. It’s either a “social question”, asked merely for the sake of making conversation, or perhaps an indirect way of asking “Why don’t we have lunch together?” Either way I can’t imagine why anyone would consider that rude or inappropriate.

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Lerah99 February 9, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Actually “What are you doing for lunch?” is rude.
Just as “What are you doing this weekend?” is rude.

Here is why: It’s a trap!!!

You have now put this other person in a situation where if they say “Nothing” you can then commandeer their time.

If you want to have lunch with someone, or do something with them over the weekend, the polite thing is to extend the invitation. “Hey, want to grab lunch together today?” or “Hey, want to go to the State Fair on Sunday?”

That gives the other person the chance to formulate a polite fiction should they choose.
“Not today, I have to run some errands at lunch.”
“Sorry, I can’t do it on Sunday. Have a great time!”

Rather than trapping them first by making them say they don’t currently have plans.
And then they are stuck with a less polite truth of:
“I’m exhausted today and just not up to company over lunch.”
“I’m more likely to dance the hula naked in my front yard than willingly attend a State Fair.”
or even “Sorry, I’d rather hang out in my pjs watching Netflix with my dog than do anything this weekend.”

Rather than a blank stare, I have a standard response of “Why do you ask?”

Q: “What are you doing for lunch?”
A: “Why do you ask?”

Q: “What are you doing this weekend?”
A: “Why do you ask?”

Q: “Why aren’t you married?”
A: “Why do you ask?”

It pushes the onus back on the questioner without giving any information.

Unfortunately I have a couple friends who have noticed and will groan when I say it.
“UGH! Why can’t you just tell me what you’re doing tonight?”
“Ummmm, because I may not have plans, but I also may not WANT to do whatever you are planning. So why don’t you just tell me, up front, what you’d like to do. Then I can tell you if I have plans or not. No reason for you to know that your ‘wine & crafts’ night comes in a distant second to my ‘watching old episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with my dog’ night.”

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EllenS February 9, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Sorry, the fact that you don’t like the question, doesn’t make it rude. It’s normal conversation.

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Lerah99 February 10, 2016 at 9:08 am

It’s not that I don’t like the question, it’s that it’s a rude question.

There are certain items of etiquette that may not be properly taught anymore – but that doesn’t stop them from being valid.

So let’s talk about things that may happen every day, but are RUDE:

1) “You look like you’ve lost weight!” – Rude. It is RUDE to comment on anyone’s appearance beyond “You look lovely.” Why? Because often a side effect of being seriously ill is losing weight. And you wouldn’t want to complement someone for their pancreatic cancer making them look more socially acceptable.

2) “Congratulations” to a woman in response to her engagement – RUDE.
You offer your congratulations to the groom to be but your best wishes to the bride to be.
This is because congratulating the woman carries an undertone of “Good job snagging this guy into marrying you and paying all your bills”. It’s old fashioned and left over from pre-women’s lib, but still valid.

3) “What are you doing on X date or at X time?” – RUDE.
Why? Because it’s a personal question. If you want to make plans, the polite thing is to invite the person to join you. Not ascertain ahead of time if they are free so they are unable to politely decline your invitation.

4) If you call me, it is your responsibility to end the call. You called me, you have something to discuss. To force me to be the one to say “Well, this has been lovely, but I really must go” is rude. If you have concluded what we have to discuss, you then need to wrap up the call.

I’m sorry that so many people seem to think these things no longer apply, but they are basic etiquette.

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Goldie February 10, 2016 at 2:15 pm

“What are you doing this weekend” is 100% small talk. Trust me. Everyone asks this question of each other on any given Friday where I work, because it’s an easy conversation subject, and gives the person a chance to talk about something pleasant (their weekend plans). There’s never any assumption that one can invite themselves along to join in on their coworker’s weekend plans. It’s really no different than people asking “how was your weekend?” on Monday morning.

Not sure about “what are you doing for lunch”. Uh, eating lunch? what am I supposed to do for lunch?

Re #2, I changed my last name back to my maiden name after my divorce, went to my bank to have it changed there, and had a new account mgr helping me. She asked me how she could help me, I said I needed my name changed and she responded with a hearty “CONGRATULATIONS!” Now that was over the line! I responded with a confused stare and a “what for?” That seemed to take care of the issue!

Goldie February 10, 2016 at 2:20 pm

My personal favorite was from a utterly filterless coworker at an old job. I’m in the bathroom, sitting in a stall doing my thing. She may have been there already when I walked in, and must’ve seen me go into the stall (at least I hope it was the case!) Out of nowhere, she asks “What are you working on?”

I assumed she was talking to someone else (because why me…) and didn’t answer. So she repeated the question louder.

I didn’t say anything because, honestly, I was speechless. Who does this? My friends later suggested that I should’ve said “on that burrito I just had for lunch”… not etiquette-site-appropriate, I know!

Anon February 10, 2016 at 2:41 pm

I disagree with all of these except the first.

2. Congratulations simply means: “I acknowledge that a good thing is happening in your life, and I’m happy for you.” I have never said congratulations to a woman and meant anything other than that, nor have I ever taken it (when said to me around the time of my wedding) as anything other than that. To think of women ‘snagging’ men is so far out of my orbit, no one I know would ever even think such a thing.

3. I agree that to ask this question as a means to making plans is rude. But sometimes I just ask someone if they have anything fun planned over the weekend or whether they have any Valentine’s Day plans as a way of making conversation.

4. I have never heard the rule that it is the caller’s responsibility to end the call. There’s no way I’d allow myself to be held hostage like that. If someone calls me, whether to discuss something in particular or to chit-chat–if I have to go, I just say that I have to go!

Just because something was once a rule of etiquette doesn’t mean that they hold authority in perpetuity. Times changes, rules change. That’s the way it is!

Startruck February 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm

There is nothing rude about saying congratulations to a women who is newly engaged. Forgive me, but What Load of crap. Everything else I agree with you. But that’s just crazy.

Serryce February 9, 2016 at 8:12 pm

LOL “trapping”. I gotta tell my friends I’m trying to “trap” them when I ask them what they’re doing on the weekends.

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Lerah99 February 10, 2016 at 9:20 am

It is not rude to ask “How was your weekend?”
That is normal conversation and leaves it open for as much or little detail as the other person wishes to provide.

But to ask “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?” is rude.
Because it’s a set up for “Hey, come do this thing with me.”

It’s a way of forcing people to admit they DON’T have plans before springing your event on them.
A: “What are you doing this weekend?”
B: “Nothing special”
A: “Great! There’s a retrospective of French New Wave films at that little theater downtown. We should go together!”

The proper thing to do is to say “Hey, there’s this awesome thing on Saturday. Would you like to attend with me?”
Then they can tell you if they have another engagement or not.

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Michelleprieur February 10, 2016 at 1:05 pm

Wow. I had no idea that people thought those questions were rude. I frankly find that absurd. No one is trapping you into anything.

Mal February 10, 2016 at 3:09 am


Actually “What are you doing for lunch?” is rude.
Just as “What are you doing this weekend?” is rude.

Here is why: It’s a trap!!!

YES! Thank you! I thought I was the only one who thought that way about questions like this!

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Mary February 10, 2016 at 11:00 am

I completely agree! The way it is asked is a trap. If it was phrased. “What did you bring for lunch?”, “Would you like to go out for lunch with me?’, those questions are phrased in a way that aren’t a trap.

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shhh its me February 10, 2016 at 11:34 am

It’s only a “trap” if the person asking has formed the plan “If I just ask them to join me , they will have the chance to say “No” therefore I will intentionally remove there ability to decline gracefully before I ask them. Hopeful if I surprise them they will be unable to come with a alternate way to decline and they will awkwardly accept. For I love lunching with people who are desperate to avoid me.”
For the vast majority of people “What are you doing for lunch?” is a really innocent question with no nefarious motives.

BTW “Nothing” is one of the few answers that’s almost guaranteed to get you an invite. Because the answer is never actually nothing. “I plan to sleep in then decide at noon , probably go back to sleep”, isn’t nothing. There have to be a few hundred socially acceptable and vague alternatives to “nothing”…. “Have to check with SO.” , “Have to check/check my calendar.” “Me time” , “busy with super secrete squirrel stuff”, “going out”, “staying in.” , “house stuff”, “family stuff,” , “girly stuff,” “manly things.” or ………….

If you are more direct ,and you’re open to something but all things and need more info , “Why, what are you planning?” or exactly what you’re doing “Why do you ask?”. If you do say nothing and the reply with “Want to come …..” you can still reply “Ohhh by nothing I meant….” or “No thanks” if you’re funny and/or sincere “Sorry no I was really looking forward to my nothing day.” It’s a very informal social convention and conversation not a trap. It can be either a signal “I’m about to invite you somewhere” or small talk.

Absolutely though “What are you doing this weekend?” followed with “Good, then you can help me move.” is always a trap.

I don’t think OP could have predicted her example would be met with “It’s a trap!” (Which I keep reading in Admiral Ackbar’s voice) but it is a valid point. So going back to her original question if all the questions LW friend replies to with silence are the type that proceed an invitation then it’s better to just invite her. I still think silence in reply to a normal question from an acquaintance/friend is very rude. If she does it with other small talk question “Did you enjoy the weather this weekend?” then its much deeper and I think ruder then an inappropriate mechanism to discourage un-screened invitations.

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Michelleprieur February 10, 2016 at 1:13 pm

If some of you honestly feel this way, please don’t be surprised when people don’t speak to you at all. Or invite you anywhere. I was raised by a southern mother and military dad who were very strict on manners and I find it ludicrous that normal small talk would be rude.

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Lila February 11, 2016 at 10:00 am

Completely agree with you. If these were questions in which no suitably vague answer exists it would be a different story but “What are you doing this weekend?” is easily answered with, “I’m not sure what SO has planned for us” or “Just catching up on some things on my to do list.” It’s not hard to be courteous and also not convey anything overly personal that you would not like to reveal. Have some pat answers in your back pocket. Sometimes you have to practice a little to be a functioning member of society.

AthenaC February 11, 2016 at 5:35 pm

“If some of you honestly feel this way, please don’t be surprised when people don’t speak to you at all.”

Agreed.

“You have now put this other person in a situation where if they say “Nothing” you can then commandeer their time.”

Ha! When my (much older, married, male) boss asks me, “What are you doing this weekend?” I guarantee you that he is not trying to “commandeer my time.”

Leigh February 12, 2016 at 11:14 am

It *is* a trap! How dare someone try to engage you in small talk, or Heaven forbid, any type of conversation at all. If I ask what you’re doing for lunch, I may be looking for ideas for myself; that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to join you or you to join me; however, I may extend an invitation because you might want company. Is it a command performance on your part? Absolutely not, you can decline, happily. Why are so many people so inclined to look for malice on the part of others? What’s wrong with being polite and engaging in polite conversation without looking for ulterior motives or assuming the worst of the other person? I just don’t get it.

I'MM February 11, 2016 at 9:33 am

I’m not sure I see where you are coming from. Maybe some people ask with the intent to invite or be invited. However, an invitation offered does not have to be accepted, nor does one need to allow a tag-along. A polite spine can get you out of awkward situations.

However 8 times out of 10, people ask these things just to have something to say to fill the silence.

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Mags February 11, 2016 at 12:40 pm

100% agree. Definitely a trap. And admittedly, I do this too, quite a bit, but at least if the person hesitates at all in replying, I immediately say, “The reason I’m asking is . . . “

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essie February 9, 2016 at 6:30 am

Something as simple as, “What are you doing for lunch?”, might be met with a silent stare.

My son will do that. It’s not because he thinks the question is too personal, but because he’s trying to analyze it, so he can give the right, non-offensive answer. “I haven’t even thought about lunch yet; I’ve been busy with the Johnson account. What if she asks me WHEN I’m going to lunch? I ‘ll go to lunch when I finish working on the Johnson account, but I don’t know what time that’ll be. Does she want to have lunch with me? What if I have to make her waste time waiting on me to finish? What if I suggest we go to Sub Shack – and she doesn’t like Sub Shack? What if she wants ME to join HER for lunch and wants to go to French Fry Palace? I don’t like going there. Does she want to buy me lunch? Does she want ME to buy HER lunch? What if she doesn’t really want to join me for lunch; we’ll both be embarrassed that I presumed she was interested when she was just asking out of curiosity.”, etc.

And then there’s the apprehension that the conversation will turn into one of those ubiquitous cartoon scenes if he returns the question: “I hadn’t thought about it; what are YOU doing for lunch? I don’t know…what do you want to do? I don’t care…what do you want to do? I don’t care either, so what do you want to do? I hadn’t thought about it, what do you want to…hey, wait a minute.”

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Tabitha February 9, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Essie, I do this exact thing! And sometimes people react with “is there a problem?” When no verbal answer has yet surfaced. I tell them I was just thinking and they usually say “oh, of course.”
But some people just don’t think as much as others. Over analyzing, being very aware of all possibilities…some might say anxious…I feel like there is nothing wrong with that.

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Dawn February 10, 2016 at 11:43 am

My husband did this when we first were married. I’d ask a simple question and he would just stare at me. “Do you want chicken for dinner?” I finally understood he was trying to anticipate my response to whatever answer he would give (he’d had a very bad childhood and first marriage). I told him there were no wrong answers! So when he would just stare I started saying, “Yes? No? Maybe?” and he would smile and pick one. Poor baby. He’s okay now (18 years of unconditional love can do wonders!).

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Tabitha February 9, 2016 at 7:05 am

OP has gotten friendly with the strange co-worker and the stares have stopped. My theory is the stares, (rude, sure) are a quirk. She may have been victim in another work place to the equally rude thing where one bean dips, only to be brought back to the same unwanted topic again.
If this woman does give OP the stare again, OP should definately return it. My bet is it will all end in laughter.

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EllenS February 9, 2016 at 7:26 am

In the “language” of etiquette, a silent stare is a pretty strong statement that the person has said or done something so obnoxious that the only way you can remain civil is to actively hold your tongue. For intrusive personal questions, bigoted remarks, etc., it is a very good tool. It is supposed to be noticed and felt.

To do this for innocuous conversation is a surprising over-reaction. At best, tone-deaf and at worst, passive-aggressive. Yes, whether she knows better or not, it is rude.

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Jinx February 9, 2016 at 7:57 am

This sounds horrible.

I agree with previous comments; if the question is obviously terrible, it’s understandable to say nothing (or at least looked shocked into saying nothing).

If the question is “normal” like “what are you doing for lunch” and you don’t speak it’s SUPER rude. It would even be a little weird to say “I don’t feel comfortable discussing that” over such an innocuous question. I mean, completely effective if you never want people to talk to you ever again.

I could be sacrificing live chickens for lunch and still muster up the social niceties to lie and say “Oh, I’m not sure yet, I have a lot of errands to run”

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Shoegal February 9, 2016 at 8:42 am

This person is missing the beauty of a good bean dip. The conversation moves on effortlessly without anyone feeling awkward. Some people don’t even notice that the subject’s been changed and no one feels awkward or embarrassed.

Although, I have to give her credit in that it is a difficult thing for most people to do but this method only would only make me want to avoid her in the future.

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Linda February 9, 2016 at 8:56 am

I think she’s rude. I would much rather have someone bean dip, say “I’d really rather not answer that.” or even, “That’s none of your business.” than sit there and act like I never asked them anything.

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Ai February 9, 2016 at 12:11 pm

Parking POD right here. This is very rude to me and I’d even find it hostile (‘Why is she just staring at me? I only asked what she was doing for lunch! Does she really not like me?’). I would not want to work with her if that is how she responds to questions she doesn’t know, or doesn’t feel like answering.

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Wild Irish Rose February 9, 2016 at 8:59 am

I doubt I’d give her more than one opportunity to do this to me.

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Outdoor Girl February 9, 2016 at 9:08 am

I think the silent stare should be reserved for incredibly personal and/or invasive questions. Kind of like saying, silently, ‘I can’t believe you just asked me that!’ More from shock than anything. And then follow-up with bean dip.

But to answer something innocuous like ‘What are you doing for lunch?’ with a blank stare? Incredibly rude. If you don’t want to answer the question, redirect the conversation. ‘I had a large breakfast. So has it started snowing yet?’

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Cat February 9, 2016 at 9:17 am

I have to agree with those who feel silence is a rude response to a normal question.
People do odd things. I once asked a friend if he would like to come to Thanksgiving dinner at my house. He stared at me and said, “No!”
I thought that was rude. One expects him to say, “No, thank you” at the very least. Someone told me that “No” was a complete sentence and was perfectly correct. I was not thinking of grammar, but of good manners.

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Michelleprieur February 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm

I was always taught to say no thank you. I agree with you that is rude.

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Green123 February 10, 2016 at 3:18 pm

At least he said *something* 🙂

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DaDancingPsych February 9, 2016 at 10:13 am

I think that this is totally appropriate for questions that cross the line. “So how much weight have you lost now?” “When do you plan to have a baby?” “How do you stand that ugly haircut?”

For innocent questions (that one doesn’t want to answer), I think that there are better replies.

“What are you doing for lunch?” “Why do you ask?”
“We missed you at Jane’s party; where were you?” “Maybe I can attend the next gathering.”
“Where did you get those amazing earrings?” “I don’t recall.”

Even a quick search of this site will give you a dozen excellent answers to innocent questions that will not come off as rude and have the bonus of feeling nature carrying the conversation elsewhere. I think that this silent answer just leaves everyone uncomfortable (which is fine for wildly inappropriate questions) and can leave you with co-workers who suddenly have an issue with you (for no good reason.)

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Miss-E February 9, 2016 at 10:32 am

Incredibly rude. Plus it brings the conversation to a grinding halt and makes for a really awkward moment. The nice thing about bean-dipping is that it keeps the conversation flowing in a nice way. If that happened to me I would probably avoid interacting with that person altogether in the future.

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LadyV February 9, 2016 at 10:37 am

Sorry to mention the “competition”, but as I recall, Miss Manners has said that the appropriate response to a too-personal question is an icy stare, and a counter-question of “Why would you ask that?”.

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Cami February 10, 2016 at 5:42 pm

Asking about lunch is hardly a too-personal question. It’s not asking for details of your digestive processes or sex life.

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LadyV February 11, 2016 at 9:23 am

I wasn’t actually supporting the OP’s coworker – just providing another response when someone DOES ask a personal question. I agree that a stare when an innocuous question is asked is at best odd.

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Louise February 9, 2016 at 10:42 am

I’m sure this is a completely different situation, but I used to have a co-worker who drove me crazy asking about my lunch plans.

We were admin staff and one of the three of us needed to be in the office at all times to cover the phones/door. As there were three of us, this was no big deal and we never bothered with a rota or set times for lunch as it just didn’t seem necessary – lunchtime was typically between 12pm and 2pm and we’d often overlap without issue.

But this one woman liked to have her lunch at 1pm every day. Which should have been fine, except rather than just agree this, she would just badger us from 11.30 onwards about when we would be taking lunch, how long we might be gone etc.

The problem was, our work often fluctuated and so during very busy periods we simply wouldn’t know when we’d get a chance to break for lunch, so having her ask every single day was really annoying!

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AnaMaria February 9, 2016 at 10:44 am

Agreed that this is a really strange way of handling “normal” questions- as others have stated, she has no obligation to answer any sort of question, but she almost sounds anti-social.

I admit I recently used a similar tactic when someone said to me, out of the blue, “You never talk about your anorexia or bulimia. I’m curious.” (I struggled with disordered eating as a teenager.) Notice that he didn’t say, “I have a friend who has an eating disorder and I want to help them,” or “I’m a healthcare professional and I want to find better treatment for eating disorders.” Just, “I’m curious.” I only had to stare at him in silence for a few seconds before someone else started chewing him out for asking such a rude question.

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Shalamar February 9, 2016 at 10:44 am

Personally, it drives me nuts when someone doesn’t respond to a comment or question I’ve made. If this person did this with me, I’d quietly drop her as a friend.

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Willynilly February 9, 2016 at 10:55 am

This is such an extreme reaction, I can only imagine it’s the result of social anxiety or something.

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Danielle February 9, 2016 at 11:03 am

I’ve had people give me the silent stare when I opened my big fat mouth and asked a question that was none of my business, but I’ve never gotten it from a pretty innocent question about lunch. It does seem a bit odd, but I’m not willing to send the offender to ehell. It’s entirely possible that she has some social anxiety where even a simple question can cause a person to panic and not know what to say. I think the fact that you get that response less often now that you are more familiar with her shows that it is possible that she was just nervous around you at first.

In the future, if you get the blank stare, try rephrasing your question. You asked, “What are you doing for lunch?” and that caused an issue, so follow it up with, “I was just thinking if you didn’t have any other plans that we could meet at the Sub Place, but if you’re busy we can do it some other time.” In this way you make it clear what you wanted, and also give her an exit strategy if she doesn’t feel comfortable.

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Goldie February 9, 2016 at 11:13 am

This is interesting, I’ve just had a very promising, two-year LTR end on me (in the high hopes we’d both had for it to work, we’d both overlooked some serious incompatibilities that didn’t surface until recently…) and I used the opportunity to get my… erm… behind in gear, and get into therapy for a few issues I’d been wanting to work out. Among other things I’m now being introduced to assertiveness training. It’s a set of techniques you use for, among other things, fielding persistent invasive questions or unsolicited advice (believe me, I’ve been getting more than my fair share of that in the last month! the multiple variations of “why can’t you keep a man” alone are enough to drive me batty.)

Anyway, nowhere in my training that I’ve seen so far, does it say that you start right off by silently staring the person down. That is actually an act of aggression – kind of like what the dogs do – I had a dog that I took to dog parks, and all of us owners knew to quickly intervene when our dog and someone else’s were silently staring each other down – because that’s a sign of bad things that are about to happen! Otherwise, divert (i.e. bean dip), keep diverting if needed; if the other person keeps pushing, verbally and nonverbally, calmly but firmly say you don’t want to talk about it and end the conversation. And, unless the question is obviously out of line, for crying out loud, give the other person some warning – by diverting, saying “I’d rather talk about something else” etc. They may not even know that they’ve crossed the line with what to them is an innocent question. If they keep pushing and prodding, then you can stare or tell them off. But not right after they’ve asked it once.

Answering “what you’re doing for lunch?” with a blank stare at work is not only rude, it’s how rumors start. “OMG she’s doing something so heinous during her lunch break that she can’t even talk about it.” OP’s coworker needs to change her tactics before she’s antagonized everyone in the office for no reason. There are better ways to avoid sharing your lunch plans. Falling silent on the phone is not assertive, it’s just silly and confusing to the person on the other end. Like OP said, the other person doesn’t know if the phone went dead, the other person fainted, or what on earth happened that there’s suddenly no answer.

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Becca February 9, 2016 at 11:26 am

As a painfully anxious person in my earlier years, I probably fell silent over the oddest questions that others find reasonable.

I have ED and extremely high strung when food is the topic. I literally didn’t eat lunch at school unless it was in a secluded area every once in awhile.

I hate talking about my personal life. “What did you do this weekend?” “Nothing…” “oh come on, you did something! ” I never felt okay with the truth of “I watched 10 hrs of Netflix and tweeted about it.”

Just to shed light on awkward silent people out there. Yes it’s rude.

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Mal February 10, 2016 at 3:08 am

I’ve had good results with the response “Just some quiet time at home. What did you do?”
Which is usually all the person asking was waiting for anyway because, in my experience, that question’s typically asked if someone’s eager to tell you all about _their_ weekend.

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Becca February 10, 2016 at 1:26 pm

That’s good advice as well.

I’ve gotten world’s better about deflecting with similar responses. “Caught up on sleep and chores, what about yours?”

I know that I alienated myself all those years and reading the comments here probably have become judged even more than I originally thought.

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Goldie February 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Nah… one thing I learned over the years is… people don’t care. Coworkers especially, unless it’s a rare work friend. You’re not even a blip on their radar unless you’re both in line for the same promotion. They ask you the first thing that pops out of their mouth, and forget about you before you’ve done answering. Which is perfectly fine with me! So, I wouldn’t worry about being judged. “Sleep and chores” was probably what they did on their weekend too, anyway!

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Goldie February 10, 2016 at 5:21 pm

“Which is usually all the person asking was waiting for anyway because, in my experience, that question’s typically asked if someone’s eager to tell you all about _their_ weekend.”

+1000!

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Cat February 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm

You don’t owe them a reply but, if you feel you must say something, try, “I don’t remember. I woke up in X (a town fifty miles away) wearing a cowboy hat and boots.
You didn’t happen to see me there, did you?” or, “I’m not sure, but I got two dozen roses from Johnny Depp and Tom Cruse yesterday. Weird, huh?”

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Becca February 11, 2016 at 12:06 pm

LOL thank you for that, you’re awesome

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Miss-E February 11, 2016 at 11:45 am

While I respect that your struggles with an eating disorder make it difficult for you to answer a seemingly simple question I think this falls into that realm of ignorance on the askers part. I assume most people don’t know about your eating disorder so they don’t know that they are asking something that is difficult for you. Asking about lunch is a totally bland question for most people, even some people with a history of eating disorders. My BF was bulimic all through high school but she got through it and now she loves to cook and go out to eat and asking her about lunch wouldn’t bug her at all.

Reminds me of the time I asked a coworker (a young 20-something) what he was doing for his mom for Mother’s Day and he responded flatly “my mom’s dead”. I felt pretty bad but I don’t think I was being rude because this wasn’t information I had known.

My point is just that even though your reasoning totally makes sense, in the grand scheme of social etiquette answering a basic question with a blank stare is still rude.

And btw I bet if you said “I watched 10 hrs of Netflix and tweeted about it” most people would respond with “me too! Isn’t House of Cards addictive?”

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Anonymouse February 11, 2016 at 7:32 pm

Agreed! Also, don’t feel too bad about the Mother’s Day question. My mother-in-law passed last year, and my husband has actually enjoyed people doing things like “Your Mom…” jokes. He seems to like watching people squirm when he tells them “My mom is dead.”

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Becca February 15, 2016 at 11:53 am

That all makes sense to a normally socialized brain and in my current state, I understand that wholeheartedly, sadly when you’re trapped in the cycle of self terrorism, with a history of being bullied for being a clunky red headed doofus over the years, you withdraw and over think, constantly assuming the worst.

So being rude and just staring at someone is the decision you land on, instead of deflecting. It could also be because they have a slower way of processing and you are thinking about your response, the other person expects a faster response and then suddenly, you’re just “staring at them” in their eyes.

I had a coworker from my previous job that constantly acknowledges what I have on my desk if they catch me trying to having lunch. I still tend to sweep it into the trash when that sort of thing happens.

Thankfully I’m in a safe zone now with coworkers who are all non abrasive and we can chatter peacefully.

The OP makes me wonder about the coworker in question, since Coworker seems to have opened up…so she may indeed just be shy and awkward.

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Devin February 9, 2016 at 11:35 am

I wonder does she do this with all questions, or does she answer some ‘small talk’ questions then just stop responding? If she is just not answering any questions from you, I don’t think she wants work place friends and she’s going about it very rudely. If she is engaged in conversation (the usual back and forth of questions and answers) and then abruptly stops at a random unobtrusive question, then she seems socially awkward at best. If she is trying to avoid having lunch with co-workers, a normal bean-dip or vague answer would server her better than silence.
I am very private at work with my personal life, but I have many stock answers for personal questions I don’t wish to go into with a coworker. Plans for the weekend? Oh just knocking around the house, maybe catch a movie. Dating? No one in particular. Thoughts on politics? That reminds me I need to update my voter registration information. Join us for church? Thank you for the offer, I’ll keep that in mind if I’m ever looking to join a congregation.

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Annie February 9, 2016 at 11:39 am

My mom told me that when she was a teenager, my aunt (who was about 8) would stare silently at any boy my mom brought home. It would totally unnerve the boy. When my mom brought my dad home, he stared back at my aunt for the whole visit. My mom said that was one of the signs that she had found the right guy.

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MEGS February 9, 2016 at 4:07 pm

LMAO! This is so awesome!

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NostalgicGal February 9, 2016 at 7:19 pm

I agree, awesome!

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Princess Buttercup February 9, 2016 at 12:16 pm

If she had been asked something wildly inappropriate like “what is your favorite brand of tampon” then a silent stare would be acceptable. But a non-intrusive question that gets a silent stare I would think means she is thinking of an answer and it would be rude to start talking again. As such, I would stare back quietly. If the silence lasted a long time I’d laugh and ask her if she got lost in thought there since she still hasn’t answered the question.

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Anon February 10, 2016 at 2:45 pm

Why would that be wildly inappropriate? I find it wildly banal. Similar to “what is your favorite kind of dish soap?” Umm, whatever one is on sale?

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Library Diva February 9, 2016 at 12:58 pm

Geez, I hope this isn’t my co-worker writing in, because there are a few reasons why I’ve done this to her.

The first reason is an innocent one. She has a habit of talking to herself, constantly, under her breath. She speaks in such a manner that it’s incredibly distracting to me, as I’m never sure whether she’s addressing me or not. So I’ve learned to either tune it out or put in my headphones. Either one may be a reason why I don’t respond.

The other one is considerably more deliberate. I share an office with my co-worker. I had always believed that office etiquette dictated that when the other person is on the phone, you tune it out whether you can hear it or not. Unless it’s work-related and you need to tell them something about their conversation, you don’t butt in, you don’t ask them follow-up questions when they get off the phone about who they were talking to, what they were talking about, etc. and you ESPECIALLY don’t do it when it’s clearly a personal call. My co-worker is apparently not a believer in this rule. I have a pet peeve anyway about other people overhearing my phone conversations, and about overhearing other people’s. I don’t like either one. When I’m at home ordering a pizza for me and my husband, I take the phone into a separate room. When he gets a phone call, I get up and leave unless he does it first. Anyway. I had trouble coming up with a way to ask her to curb this behavior, especially since asking her to butt out of conversations that people were having with me in person didn’t go very well, so I just ignore anything I don’t want to answer — personal in nature or not.

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Becca February 9, 2016 at 3:43 pm

I haven’t shared an office in a decade, so going to a shared office with a new firm last year was horrible for my phone anxiety. I don’t like talking on the phone with others around either.

I have always had to listen in though, even years ago when my boss would be an office away on the line. I was his memory for the later years given his development of Dementia. Thankfully that still helps me since everyone in this office listens and chimes in about various things to add or correct.

I think many think they’re being helpful or came from a different environment that works together differently. I hope you can find a way to ask your coworker to butt out!

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Dee February 9, 2016 at 1:02 pm

I know people like this. But I’m not friends with them. Anymore.

Life is too short to spend time willingly with difficult people. There are so many good ones out there to replace them. That co-worker will find herself lonelier and lonelier and even shunned when it comes time to inviting her to parties and events. Her loss, no one else’s.

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Tabitha February 9, 2016 at 1:03 pm

OP asked if there is a social expectation to respond to questions, even if the response is not actually answering the question. I would say yes, the expectation is certainly there, or the question wouldn’t be asked. But I would also argue that no response is actually a response.

I’m going to going to go ahead and say I’m fine with silence as a response. It would be something I’d get used to. As long as there is no hostility in it.

And as long as the stare ends when I go about my business. (Is it really a stare or is it a look?)

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Mal February 10, 2016 at 3:16 am

I’d say the same if the silence was at least accompanied by a noncommittal smile, but if it’s an all-out stare it would make me feel like I was the rude one and I would avoid any conversation in the future.

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Cora February 9, 2016 at 1:18 pm

The entire point of etiquette and good manners is to show respect to everyone, including yourself. So, when someone badgers with rude questions, the polite spine gears up and a good response is, “I’d rather not discuss it,” while calm, no attitude. Repeat like a broken record. You’ve provided a response, which is the respectful thin to do when asked a question; and you’re honoring your own wish not to give personal details. Explanation is unnecessary.

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Vicki February 9, 2016 at 1:39 pm

I think I’d respond to dead silence on the phone with “Hello? Are you there?” and if that got no answer, hang up and redial, in case it really was a network/hardware problem.

Someone who thinks “what are you doing for lunch?” is too personal needs to learn to deflect: “I don’t know yet. So, how are you doing on the Smith project?/So, have you heard from Mary lately?/But you were telling me about your new puppy….”

“So” is like the newscaster’s “and now this” after a story: it sounds like a connection, but actually means “Change of subject here.”

With an actual friend, I might say something like “I’ve noticed that a lot of the time, when I ask what seem like ordinary questions, you just sit there and don’t say anything. You don’t have to answer my questions, if they feel too personal, but please say something, about almost anything. We can talk about the weather, or quote Monty Python skits even. If I call at a bad time, you can tell me ‘Vicki, this is a bad time, I’ll call you later.'”

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lakey February 9, 2016 at 2:41 pm

I’ve never known anyone who does this. It’s rude because it makes the other person feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. If you don’t want to answer a question you can bean dip, or just say that you don’t want to talk about it. Doing it for questions as innocuous as, “What are you having for lunch,” is strange.

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Saucy Minx February 9, 2016 at 3:23 pm

SM: What are you doing for lunch?

Rude Person: (silent stare)

SM: I see your silent stare & I raise you an eyebrow. (can be done silently or aloud)

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Lennie February 10, 2016 at 5:37 am

I must LOL at this one, especially as it is one that I would use 🙂

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Miss-E February 11, 2016 at 11:33 am

I like this. I feel like I’d be inclined to have an imaginary conversation:

Me: What are you doing for lunch?

Rude Person: (silent stare)

Me: Oh yeah? I hear they have great fries but their salads are way overpriced.

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mark February 9, 2016 at 3:25 pm

It certainly isn’t the normal way of dealing with questions. I hesitate to overanalyze it, there are a lot of possible reasons why she reacts that way, and I would be reluctant to ascribe malice to her response.

It may be worth just asking her. “Why did you stop talking and start staring at me when I asked you about lunch?” Depending on my mood and relationship with the person I’m talking to I might be tempted to add some snarky comment/question? “Is my zipper down?”

I will admit when I get busy at work, I’ve been known to pretend my headphones are louder than they are and I didn’t hear questions.

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Kimberami February 9, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Oh my. This is my nightmare! I have a horrible time making small talk with people. I dread it. Asking about lunch would seem to me to be a very neutral topic that I could ask someone about. If I got a blank stare, I would assume that I had made a major faux pas. It would make me feel sick.
Your friend needs to lighten up.

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Julia February 9, 2016 at 5:26 pm

No, I’m sorry. Staring at someone in silence is never, ever OK (unless, I guess, you feel someone’s going to attack you with a knife or something if you speak–but then we’re not talking about etiquette anymore, right?). If you ask a question and the other person doesn’t want to answer, there are hundreds of things they can do in response. The “dead-eye stare” is a conscious choice to be rude. Smile, move on, and don’t deal with that person again unless you want them to be rude to you again.

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stacey February 9, 2016 at 6:08 pm

I’d be more inclined towards the view that this coworker is rude if OP hadn’t commented that she could hardly wait for a repetition so that she could stare back at her. Why does it even register? This reminds me of people who complain that children and teens won’t greet them, hug them, or answer their questions. Most conversations flow in a give and take of remarks, reflections and the occasional question. If your “need to know” is an irritant for someone else, then it’s you, as the inquiring mind, who need to adjust your standards. If this person is unpleasant or controlling in other situations, it seems better to stay away from her rather than to engage in petty little schemes of staring in return in order to be more provocative. (And then what? This conversation appears to be scripted from your perspective. But I doubt the lady will fall at your feet in repentance of her prior disinclination to answer questions…)

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Anon February 11, 2016 at 5:57 pm

I SO agree! I wonder if the letter writer is one of those co-workers who JUST WON’T STOP TALKING.

I like to keep some distance between co-workers and my personal life. I’m happy to discuss work-related matters, but they don’t need to know everything about my personal life. And I don’t really want to know that much about theirs.

Anecdotally, I have a close friend who worked with someone just like this commenter. It drove her nuts because this constantly asked question was responded to by, “oh then, will you pick me up a chicken nuggets and small french fries since you’re going there?” Usually also accompanied by not enough cash to cover her share of the lunch. Is it any wonder that my friend stopped answering this question?!? My friend remembers and dislikes this former co-worker, 15 years later. No one appreciates being manipulated and used!

P.S. Is it possible this woman has a hearing disability?

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NostalgicGal February 9, 2016 at 7:27 pm

The stare for ‘everything’ is just so wrong.

I was in hospital the last time for surgery, and a young aide stepped in the second day and asked if she could ask me a personal question. I replied nicely she could go ahead but I reserved the right not to answer it. That said she proceeded, and I did indeed answer the question as a) it had taken some bravery on her part, b) girl to girl type stuff, c) I gave her an honest answer then d) a heartfelt reason for my answer. I hope it helped her. My point was I was at least asked first and gave a polite reply that indicated I could decline to answer first, before she proceeded. Ms. Silent Stony Stare or ‘silence on the line’ for ANYTHING they don’t want to answer no matter how innocuous is not the way to face the world. “What are you doing for lunch?” “I’m not sure right now.” is a lot better trade.

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yankeegal77 February 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

Well-handled!

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Tracy W February 10, 2016 at 3:42 am

I’ve done it, in response to the girlfriend of one of my husband’s co-workers demanding to know what gender of baby we “really” wanted (we were discussing the coming baby) and repeating said demand in response to my two bean-dips.

It was rather satisfying watching her realise she couldn’t make me respond but not so much fun as to make me want to expand the situations I’ve used it.

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stacey February 10, 2016 at 1:07 pm

It’s been interesting to read the replies because it seems to me that every one of them is correct! I guess the moral of this tale is that “staring IS rude IF…”: 1) the person doing it is intentionally trying to be provocative or hostile, 2) the person doing it is needlessly inferring bad motives for the normal give and take of conversation and 3) the person doing it is using it primarily as a power play to embarrass or coerce the other party. Conversely, “staring is NOT rude IF…” 1) the person staring has been insulted, shocked to silence or outraged by the question, 2) the person staring is resorting to this ploy after having tried to deal with a repeatedly difficult or intrusive behavior on the part of the other party, 3) the person is reflecting or mulling over an answer for a variety of reasons. Also took this away as a reminder- do NOT assume that personal questions are innocuous. Simply because they don’t offend one person or group doesn’t mean that they are appropriate for every person or in every circumstance…

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kingsrings February 11, 2016 at 6:48 pm

Funny this should be posted here, because I just encountered odd, rude silence last week. I was standing in line after work with a bunch of other workers waiting for our cars to be retrieved by valet parking, and I tried to initiate small talk with the lady behind me. She completely ignored me. I know she heard me, but was just oddly silent. And I didn’t say anything rude, it was just innocent small talk. If she’d had a problem with what I said, she could have politely told me so.
I remember something similar years ago at another job. A co-worker would never respond to any talk that was non-work related. She would just flat-out ignore you. Another co-worker told me it was because she worked two jobs and wanted to just concentrate on work and not talk to anyone. Understandable, but this lady could have politely told us this herself instead of just ignoring us.

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yankeegal77 February 12, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Well, my two cents:

1. The silent treatment is not always a bad idea. There are some horribly rude, intrusive people who won’t let us and this is unfortunately something I have had to resort to. But this is really something that, like a strong spice, should be used sparingly.

2. The “friend” the OP mentioned is being rude. Very rude. Asking about lunch and getting a silent stare–really?!? If the OP were asking, say, why the friend isn’t pregnant yet, or when will she finally marry her boyfriend, that would be different.

I, too, am questioning why he/she would want to associate with someone like this, but to each their own.

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MPW1971 February 13, 2016 at 3:11 pm

When is smalltalk a “trap”? When it isn’t really smalltalk….
I can think of two examples – one is when it deals with the backhanded invitation for a date. You ask if a person is busy, and once they categorically state that they have no plans, you ask them out. Then a polite person – often female – feels like they have no choice but to say yes. It’s different when asking “Would you like to go out with me this weekend?”, because the polite let-down may very well be “Thank you for asking but I have plans”.
The second is the moocher – people with skills, tools, pickup trucks, pools, cottages, and so on, will know what this is about. Your acquaintance, distant friend, co-worker, or brother-in-law asks what you are doing on the weekend. When you reply that you have no plans, they immediately ask something if you – something which involves their help or involvement. It’s fine once or twice, but someone wanting your strong back (and your pickup truck) to help move a refrigerator, can get a little repetitive. Worse than this is the subtle request for an invite – to use the person’s pool or cottage, even without their being present, but these too get repetitive.
The OP has neither of these situations – there’s no romantic subterfuge implied or explicitly stated, and there’s no request for help or fishing for an invitation. It’s tragic that some people see some level of malicious request for any such question, but after the first time some co-worker suggested we go somewhere for lunch, then forgot their wallet, I’d be reluctant to go. However, that first time I give people the benefit of the doubt.

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NostalgicGal February 14, 2016 at 9:55 pm

A side tangent, my DH and I are two separate entities. If I offer to help a friend move or move something, you get just me, NOT me and DH. Has surprised more than a few. If DH wants to help too that is different but the offer if I say I will help you, is me. Only me. Same for some of his plans, I’m not automatically included unless asked and given my yes.

As I said elsewhere, to a reply of ‘What are you doing for lunch?’ if I don’t want to go round and round on it is to say ‘I’m not sure right now.’ That allows the whatever to be sprung on me and I can repeat ‘I’m not sure right now’ or ‘I don’t think I can do that today, thanks anyways.’ and leave or bean dip or something. Usually pick up a folder and excuse self worked for ending it or thread something into typewriter (pre computers everywhere) or pull up a file of boring text (post computer) and start some intense like time is of essence editing of it. I kept a boring work looking text file for those emergencies (just don’t hit save to your edits).

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Zoe February 18, 2016 at 8:06 am

I don’t believe we are obliged to answer questions we are not comfortable with answering – but in my personal opinion, a simple “I’d rather not speak about this” or something similar works a whole lot better than the passive-aggressive silent staring thing. If someone was quite obviously going out of the way to make the other person uncomfortable with the questions, then sure – don’t engage and remove yourself from the situation. But if I innocently asked somebody something which they simply decided they didn’t want to answer – and thus just looked at me – well, I’d find that pretty rude and I wouldn’t want to associate with that person again.

Just be straight with me. Don’t want to come to lunch with me? Don’t come to lunch with me! It’s okay to tell me No! Don’t want to speak about a topic? It’s fine, make your feelings clear and i’ll steer clear of that topic. But look me dead in the eye and not respond? You’re being weird. And a little threatening.

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