Ice-breaker or nosy question?

Why is it that when most people meet someone new, one of the first “getting to know you” questions they ask is, “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?”

Is it because we as a society identify others by their job or career?

I was unemployed for a very long time during the last decade, and I absolutely hated it when I would go to any kind of event and someone who was trying to get to know me better would ask, “Where do you work?”

And I would always answer truthfully. “I’m unemployed right now, but I have a master’s in biochemistry.” As if it were any of the person’s business.

I remember one person to whom I gave that answer; the person immediately replied, “Hmmm…You don’t often hear the words ‘unemployed’ and ‘biochemistry’ in the same sentence.” Excuse me, could you stand over there for me? You reek of ignorance.

One gentleman I know in my hometown once said, “Why do people have to ask where you work when they first meet you? What if you’re unemployed? What if you’re on disability? What if you can’t work?” As I listened to him, the more right I realized he was.

This gentleman opened my eyes to the fact that it’s actually insensitive to ask someone where they work, or what they do for a living. It’s none of your business.

I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of this lots of times. I remember back when we lived in Baltimore and I asked a lady I knew from church where she worked. She replied, “I’m on SSI.” To say I felt sheepish was an understatement.

Here’s an alternative: Next time you are asked, “What do you do?” tell the person what your hobbies are—what you do for fun. It’s a much better answer, for it tells people what you are really like. If I told you that I am a scientific editor, what would that tell you about me? How about if I told you that I love to travel to the beach?

Please think about it.

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