Open Thread

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  1. Joanna

    I know this has been brought up before, but it’s an ongoing issue for me, so I’m always looking for fresh thoughts…

    I’m a woman in my early thirties, who has been battling a serious chronic illness for the past decade. One of the most noticeable effects is in the way that I walk. I have extreme difficulty climbing stairs or rising from a chair, and even when I’m walking on a level surface, it’s slower than most people and with a stiffness/limp.

    I often encounter random strangers, asking me “what’s the matter with you” or else asking me if it’s “a sports injury.” (Apparently, despite everything that’s going on in today’s world, many people are still under the delusion that only the elderly might have serious medical problems.)

    To the latter, I usually respond with a curt “no.” And then lapse into silence. The idea isn’t really to be rude, but to discourage further discussion. I’m quite open about my issues with people who are actual parts of my life, but I’m loathe to get into my entire medical history with every Tom, Dick and Harry I pass on the street.

    The problem, of course, is that if Joe Clueless had no issue opening his mouth to inquire in the first place, he’s not likely to pick up on a subtle hint such as a curt non-response, so he’ll keep badgering. Again, I don’t want to fight rudeness WITH rudeness, but I really don’t want to answer either.


    • Elizabeth

      How about, “Sorry, I don’t discuss private medical information with strangers.”
      “I”m sorry, but that’s none of your business.”

      If you want to have some fun:
      “I don’t want to spoil your supper, but let’s just say that if anyone suggests skinny dipping in the Mekong River/marshes of Louisiana, just say no!”
      “I used to work for the circus, and let’s just say that they use better locks on the tigers’ cages now…”
      “Actually, I have a very contagious illness, you may want to keep your distance!”

      In all seriousness, I think you’re doing well with your curt “no.” To the person who keeps asking, “I’d rather not discuss it” is also useful.

    • Winifred Rosenburg

      I would just look at them with a raised eyebrow and walk away. My sister’s infant son had casts on his legs for a few months because of a birth defect and she encountered people who would ask “what happened to him!” (with a tone that implied “what did you do to him!”) I was disappointed when she gave actual answers.

  2. Vanna Keiler

    Hi Joanna. Sounds like you certainly have an ongoing problem with enquiring strangers. Unfortunately, due to your age, I’m guessing the enquiries won’t cease, or desist. People’s perception of what is acceptable to mentally absorb has been rattled when they encounter you, so they must rationalize what they are seeing with why they are seeing it (e.g. “She is young, should not be walking stiffly…must be an injury). This is not to justify their response, but rather to understand it.

    Since these people are complete strangers, you need not respond at all if it makes you uncomfortable/angry/resentful/just don’t feel like it. It is not being rude to simply smile and continue walking. Or nod vaguely, (no smile), and continue walking. Or continue walking.

    We need not acknowledge every human being we encounter on the street. It is not being rude to continue walking on in the face of unsolicited enquiries, particularly those of a personal nature. Were it an enclosed, social setting, I would suggest a smile and some other options to address the enquiries. But certainly not to the general public, in a public venue.

  3. Nina

    Joanna, I definitely wouldn’t engage with strangers in a public place about such things. I have a similar issue, because it is not immediately obvious by looking at me what race I am and some people feel the need to ask. I have learned that no one who would ask a personal question or a stranger with no other conversation is trying to help me out or means well. They are probably (at best) just bored and killing time. Smiling and shrugging, I think, is just fine.

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