Sunday, September 02, 2007

Shifty Spaniard

There's nothing - and I mean nothing - I hate more than being asked what I do. I mean, really! Why does anyone want to know?

If I'm face to face with someone, and I'm my usual benign self, I tend to look shifty-eyed and start to wind one leg around the other like a bashful flamingo. If I'm feeling belligerent, I try hard to follow a friend's advice, and fix the questioner with a beady eye while saying, "I'm a housewife." I've considered saying hausfrau but sometimes I feel that might land me with more talking to do in the way of explanations and that goes very badly with the beady-eyed look.

To my eternal regret, I've never managed to say any of this. Mostly, I hem and haw and watch people look at me with vague sympathy. The trouble, I've realised, is that I try to be honest about the answer, as if people really are interested. I tend to assume that if they've bothered to ask a question, they really want to know the answer. I've yet to reach the zen state of treating such questions in the same way as one would pleasant enquiries after one's health.

If only one could answer a "what do you do" in the exactly the same way one would a "how do you do": with a "good, good! And you?"

As in,

"What do you do, Space Bar?"

"Good, good! Great! And you?"

It would be a wonderful, wonderful world. It would be a wonderful world.

Aha. But.

So this morning there was a birthday party at a pizza place. I dropped my son off and two hours later, when I went to pick him up, the party hadn't wound down. Some other mothers were there to pick their kids up, so we huddled in one corner. The inevitable question arrived. I wrung my hands like Uriah Heep and said, "I work from home."

"Ya? What do you do?" came the next question, with just the faintest suggestion of caution behind it, as if I might reply, "Tupperware. " In fact, note to myself: I should say Tupperware the next time.

"Freelance," I say.

And then, I do something I would never have done with an adult; with a child of four almost certainly, but never with an adult. I look at a point over the lady's shoulder and I say, with widened eyes, "Oh, look! They're having a balloon fight!"

Then other things happen, and I don't have to make more explanations. And it's time to leave.

Next time, I'm going to wear Sophia Loren sunglasses and make up the most improbable stories. After all, I have no compunction about telling the most shocking untruths about myself on train journeys where one has to exchange life histories and family ailments.

In the meanwhile, I know I will have nightmares tonight. In it there will be an old crone pointing her talons at me and and calling me a Hausfrau! in a cracked, shrill voice.


Cheshire Cat said...


Yeah, I'm not brave enough to say that either, though it's true, almost.

Space Bar said...

Cat: there's um, nothing I'd rather say! But like you, I'm not brave enough. Perhaps I'm not that truthful after all.

Alok said...

What about people who do something but it is so stupid and boring and so totally uncool like writing software?

cat: nice, specially coming from a person who has at least a couple of degrees too many :)

Space Bar said...

Alok: Ah, but in Hyderabad, that would be terribly respectable.

km said...

Next time someone asks you "what do you do", take a deep breath and say loudly:


Then sit back and enjoy the mobbing.

//YMMV, but my experience is that most people are absolutely intrigued by the word "consultant". (Except consultants themselves, of course.)

Anonymous said...


progga said...

I LOVE the idea of making up improbable stories for random people. Super hero who fights for the rights of people cornered by intrusive questions from strangers? Underground atomic scientist? Pornographer under a pen-name? All with such potential!

Space Bar said...

KM: I was wrong. I hate being mobbed more than I hate being asked what I do. This is why I never learnt to play the guitar and become a rock star.

Anon: What is?

Progga: Heh! But what is an underground atomic scientist? Sounds like the goblin version of Ratatouile.

Achala said...

Came across this post via India Uncut.

Being unemployed and unmarried, this is easily the question that pisses me off the most, closely followed by "so, when are you getting married?"

Do say "nothing" once. Then sit back and watch the fun. Saying "nothing" shifts the embarassment from you to the person asking the question and effectively closes the topic. :D

Anonymous said...

How about a leery "what would you like me to do?"

rs said...

:) i usually have a more humiliating experience.
of being asked which class i study in, thanks to my height. i started saying class 11 sometime back. the first reaction was 'you don't look that old'

Banno said...

I think "Tupperware" is a damn good idea. It will be the questioner's turn to say, "Look, look, balloon fight!"

Space Bar said...

Achala: I so know what you mean about the second question!

Anon: That might backfire.

rs: You should say class five or something and see what happens. But my sympathies - height queries are plain nosy.

Banno: It is, isn't it? And I shall refuse to be distracted by the questioner who will be forced to think up innovative excuses to edge away from me. Ha!

??! said...

why not shoot back with "Guess?".

be interesting to see what people come up with, no?

dipali said...

"at the heart of this matter of identity: Is my occupation what I get paid money for, or is it something larger and wider and richer- more a matter of what I am or how I think about myself?
Making a living and having a life are not the same thing. Making a living and making a life that's worthwhile are not the same thing. Living the good life and living a good life are not the same thing. A job title doesn't even come close to answering the question"what do you do?" Robert Fulghum in "It Was on Fire when I Lay Down On It".
Since I'm not 'gainfully employed' as the (nasty) term goes, I am very often tempted to call myself a kept woman.

SUR NOTES said...

hausefrau with an incomprehensible accent- they might think you have a contagious cold and leave...
oh please do say " i am good, and you?" atleast once and let us know the response...

or then just say oh look a balloon fight before you answer!

Arthur Quiller Couch said...

You lack initiative. Take your pick of these answers -
- I sandpaper cat's claws
- proofread suicide notes for Al Qaeda
- design transvestite lingerie. Both sexes.
- teach ethics to lawyers and stockbrokers.

There's the easy way out, too - 'if I told you I'd have to kill you'. Said with a 'smile that doesn't reach the eyes'.

Shweta said...

How much in empathy I be... my least favourite question too! Now I'll probably have the added trouble of trying to keep a straight face.

Space Bar said...

??!: Naah. Too tame.

Dipali: Kept woman sounds delicious. Nice to see you here!

Sur: Shall instantly tell you when it happens.

AQC: Of course I do. But there will be stories when I have the Loren ask on.

Shweta: :D

Revathi said...

Get pregnant! Then no one asks you "what do you do" as if it is really too obvious. Doesnt work before the 5th month though.

Space Bar said...

revathi: thanks. i've no intention of going to such lengths to ward off a dumb question.