I am definitely not your go-to person for witty comebacks if you need one at the spur of the moment. My reflexes are too slow. If someone hurls an insult at you as a joke, sorry, I can’t salvage your pride even if I’m your best friend. I can hardly defend myself. You might see me laughing at you but please know I’m feeling really guilty and helpless that my nerve synapses couldn’t deliver a decent response in time to save you.
Want something snappy from me? You might have to give me a few days. It might even take weeks, and in this case, a few months to think of a good response.
I’m also a very poor conversationalist. My jokes are bland, my humor dry. I can think of more reasons why you would not want to be my friend or hang out with me, but it would make this post really long. I’m talking 10,000 words or more. And a super lengthy blog post can break a friendship before it even starts.
So let me just jump to the story of how I’ve finally thought of the perfect answer to an unusual question that I have often received at my previous job. Maybe the question isn’t so unusual after all.
Shortly after graduating college, I felt confident, competent and ready to tackle any challenges thrown my way. I was excited to begin my new job, a per diem position that forced me to become acquainted with a different set of co-workers each day. It was great to be able to meet so many new people, many of whom were quite awesome while others…hmm puzzled me.
I must have received this question three times over the course of three months from three different co-workers, which means it took three trials and three errors for me to arrive at the best possible answer to a very unusual question.
Take 1: “How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” from a co-worker who was visibly much older than me but still my subordinate. We hadn’t even begun a conversation yet. I had ony greeted her with a smile and a good morning. So you can imagine the deer-in-headlights expression on my face when I heard this question for the first time.
She had a heavy European accent and looked friendly enough, so I revealed to her my true age. “Ah! That means you must be very smart,” she said as-a-matter-of-fact.
She was just innocently curious, inquistive but lacking the vocabulary to pose the question more subtly, or perhaps Europeans are not so up-tight about revealing their age, I thought to myself. She was a good worker, respectful, and didn’t challenge my authority so I would like to believe my assumptions are true.
Take 2: “If you don’t mind me asking, I was just wondering how old are you?” from the co-worker who was visibly younger than me by a few years and clearly my subordinate. She was two weeks into her job and not fully trained yet, so I dismissed this question as an inability to decipher what questions are appropriate for the workplace.
I paused and replied with a smile, “How old do you think I am?”
This was followed by an uncomfortable pause and a reasonable guess accompanied by a lot of grimacing. There was much more adrenaline involved here than guessing the weight of a pig at the county fair.
Guess wrong, awkward. (Alright, maybe I could’ve left her guessing but that doesn’t make a great story, does it?)
Guess right, splendid job! I can’t give you any prizes but I can treat you to lunch.
By the way, she ended up guessing correctly. I applauded. I don’t know who was more relieved – me or her.
What I learned from Take 2: Never ever say, “How old do you think I am?” There’s no situation that would allow for it to work. For what it’s worth, I hope the cringeworthiness would deter this chick from asking another employee the same question.
Take 3: “How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” from another co-worker who also had a thick foreign accent. It must be a cultural quirk, I guess. Americans are touchy about age. Mind you, personality-wise she resembled the co-worker from the first take in many ways, although they were from two different continents. So I thought if I told her my true age, she would lavish me with praises (i.e. smart, young, accomplished).
My assumptions shattered before me as she said, “Oh…I have a son your age.”
I said, “So what does he do exactly?” Needless to say, the awkwardness hung in the air for a few hours until her shift ended.
Skip to the present moment…Friends have proposed various answers such as,
“…none of your beeswax!” – sounds like a fight brewing and time to call security
“…old enough to be a [insert job title].” – too cheeky for my liking
Suddenly while driving to the supermarket this morning, I thought of the perfect response:
“I don’t mind telling you. But according to [insert profession] legend, a [insert your job title] cannot tell a [insert his/her job title] one’s age because it’s bad luck. I don’t know why, but I just heard it somewhere that we will be cursed for the rest of the day, if not 7 years, if I decided to tell you. We got lots to do today so we can’t afford to jinx ourselves.”
If your co-workers doubt the legend, refer them to this blog because this stuff actually happened to me. It’s the truth.
Come to think of it, you can dodge almost any personal question you don’t feel comfortable with answering and blame it on superstition.