Insulting Inquiries: How to answer rude questions

by epi on January 16, 2012

Q: I am a mother of five (17, 11, 10, 7, 1) and whenever I take my children anywhere all together people; total strangers, always ask me ‘how old I am’ or ‘are they all mine’. Both of these questions infuriate me, how should I answer?

A: It is understandable that you are insulted . Questions of this nature are both personal and none of those people’s business. Nonetheless, if you are asked these questions again, you might consider responding with something like “Why do you ask?” or with a bit of humor, “As far as I know!” You cannot control the poor etiquette of others but you can control your reaction to it. Your polite actions and levelheadedness will be an example and a reminder for others.

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

prettypinkponies January 16, 2012 at 12:36 am

I wish I was asked rude, distasteful and disrespectul questions less frequently. Thank you for this post.

Reply

Jerry January 16, 2012 at 10:44 am

With icy cold –

How old are you: “I’m as old as my tongue and slightly older than my teeth.”

Are they all yours: “How can one tell?”

Or if you don’t want to be bothered: “Do you know me well enough to ask these sorts of questions?”

Reply

Elizabeth January 16, 2012 at 10:49 am

People are naturally curious about things that are out of the ordinary. Not only do you have 5 children (not so usual today), but their ages are quite diverse (also not something you see everyday). If you are all out together, someone could not be faulted for thinking that the baby could just as easily be your eldest’s child as yours.

None of this justifies a stranger asking you a personal question, but if you’re already in conversation with someone, an acquaintance, and they ask you a question about your children, they may just be looking for information or to situate who’s who in the relationship so they don’t make a mistake and call your youngest your grandchild. That is to say, they may not intend anything rude by it, they may not be judging you (as it sounds like you’re thinking), but are simply curious.

This kind of curiosity manifests itself in a lot of ways: you hear an accent, and you ask where someone is from. You see an unusual last name, you want to know its provenance. You meet a person of ambiguous race, and you are curious about their parentage. All of these questions would be utterly rude in some circumstances and perfectly fine in others. But I don’t believe that simple curiosity is rude in and of itself.

Reply

karyn January 16, 2012 at 11:43 am

I also have 5 children ages 22,19,18,14 and 5.Someone asked me if they were all with the same husband………i was speechless—i don’t even remember if i answered.i have also been asked if my 5 yo is my grandson……..

Reply

Robin January 16, 2012 at 11:51 am

I agree with the original question, though. Asking personal questions is just rude, whether I think they’re judging me or not (which was not indicated at all in the original question). People do not seem to understand that bombarding someone with questions can be intrusive and uncomfortable. We need to practice, more, the art of presence. If you want to know something about someone, spend time around them and let them open up to you, naturally. Otherwise, how old that person is, where they’re from, if all of the kids are theirs, the parentage of their name, whatever, is probably really NOT any of your business. Just because someone has come out into a public setting does not somehow give anyone and everyone the right to ask/know anything about them. Another suggestion I heard was to smile politely and say, “Why would you want to know something so personal”?

Reply

Kristi February 11, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Good advice. I really like this approach.

Reply

Alicia January 16, 2012 at 2:20 pm

My favorite response to a too private question. ” Wow I’m surprised you asked….pause… Change topic back to previous discussion”

Reply

Kristina L January 16, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I think if it comes up in conversation, that’s one thing, but to just ask a stranger such personal questions is obnoxious. Maybe ignoring them might be OK, then if they ask why you’re ignoring them, say “I didn’t think you would be asking a stranger such personal questions.”

Also, never ever ever assume that a kid is someone’s grandkid if the kid could possibly be the person’s kid. If the kid is a grandkid, and you ask if it’s their own kid, it’s a compliment – the person thinks you think they look young.

Reply

Zakafury January 16, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Eyebrows raised “Pardon me?”

Reply

chara January 16, 2012 at 11:13 pm

My favorite response has been to simply look them in the eye- unblinkingly- and answer the question with a yes or no. And keep looking them directly in the eye. If they have any intelligence at all they will quickly realize how rude their question is and look away. You don’t have to say anything else.

Reply

Elizabeth January 17, 2012 at 12:24 am

All of y’all have such good comebacks to impertinent questions….I’d love to know some of the questions that you get asked that warrant such responses! I virtually never get asked questions that offend me. Except the one time my MIL asked if I gained weight. I skipped right over the pussyfooting and told her never to bring up my weight ever again, and not to bring it up with any other female in the family because she’d give them an anorexic complex. It’s been a few years and it hasn’t come up!

Reply

Alicia January 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

Elizabeth, At least for me the questions that prompt that type of response are.
Why aren’t you married yet? Why don’t you have kids yet? You are too picky about men why don’t you settle?

Reply

Jen January 18, 2012 at 2:19 am

I’ve wondered how to politely answer these questions too! Sometimes I feel that people are trying to be hurtful, especially questions about weight. I’ve not wanted to stoop to their level and answer something ruthless back. Maybe saying something like, “Well, why do you ask?” This might shut them down.

Reply

Elizabeth January 18, 2012 at 9:28 am

My in-laws are so oblivious that if I said “Why do you ask?”, they would answer with, “well, you look like you’ve gotten fatter, I’ve noticed that you’ve been eating more, etc…”

You can’t shame the shameless!

Reply

Heather June 2, 2012 at 1:11 am

My favorite. . .”Where does your daughter get her red hair?. . . .since I have dark brown/black hair. Instead of coming back with anything that shows how silly they are, I spend a good amount of time boring them with family history and my great-uncle and who in the family has red hair and how weird/rare it is. . . I’ve got my answer down pat.

Reply

Vanna Keiler June 2, 2012 at 2:48 pm

I like your question Elizabeth. I sometimes get these questions within a certain culturally demographic circle (won’t point out which demographic). My type of questions from strangers (after looking me over) seem to run along the lines of:

(order of questioning)
Are you married?
Do you have children?
How old are you?
What do you do (for a living)?

My knee-jerk response, if I feel particularly offended that day, is “Why are you asking?” Then the questioner usually laughs and responds with a shrug “Just curious”. I am tempted to tell them that in this country, it is not appropriate to ask these questions of strangers. But, I guess, universally, in any country….it is RUDE. :)

Reply

Susan August 14, 2013 at 12:06 pm

That’s fascinating. I never thought asking that question would be rude. I look at Jessica Alba’s youngest daughter all the time and wonder where she got her red hair. Thanks for letting us know that it’s offensive.

Reply

mary October 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm

i was reading some book in my office a guy comes up to me n asks if im really understanding wat im reading

Reply

Phyllis August 13, 2013 at 8:27 pm

How do you respond when someone asks you if your hair is a weave.

Reply

Elizabeth August 13, 2013 at 10:38 pm

“That’s between me and my hairstylist.” (said with a wicked grin)
“Why do you ask?” (look genuinely confused)
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” (best said dead-pan)

or you could just answer honestly…
or you could simply ignore the question and change the subject…

Reply

Sheila September 3, 2013 at 10:58 am

I have been in such situations so many times and I have no clue how to answer without being rude to someone. Where I come from people are so damn curious to know every single detail about your personal life and I am very uncomfortable telling. Please help!
1) A colleague of mine who is very nosy but a sweet talker, asks me when I will want to plan for a baby, next she immediately asks me what is my age. Well she is not the 1st to ask me my age can you imagine.
2) I recently bought a house, and most of my friends directly asked me for how much after a very quick congrats. People have even asked me what interest rate I got.

Reply

Winifred Rosenburg September 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm

Any time anyone asks you an overly personal question you are free to say “I’d rather not discuss it.” To address questions about having children in the future, I like to say “I prefer not to discuss my reproductive intentions.” Feel free to come up with your own equivalent.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: