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Whatever Happened To The Personal Question?


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Once upon a time, there were certain topics of conversation that were only discussed among close friends and family members, due to their personal, private nature. Those days are gone. I miss them.

 

My nametag at work says "Stevie", a derivative of "Stephanie". I have taken to putting it in my pocket instead of wearing it, due to the fact that about three or four too many times I've been asked by asshat customers if I'm called Stevie because my parents wanted a boy. The urge to reply "Yes, you bastard, and they reminded me EVERY DAY OF MY MISERABLE LIFE, THANKS LOT, JERK," and run off in a burst of tears, not because it was really true but just for dramatic effect and to teach the ignorant a valuable lesson, grew so irresistable that I was forced to remove my nametag to prevent it happening.

 

One of my coworkers lost an arm in the 1970's in a car accident. I was cashiering next to her register when a customer came into her line and found her unfortunate arm loss a fascinating and deeply cool 'n' awesome deformity in the same vein as circus freaks. "Wow!" he said. "You don't have an arm!" (Yes, technically speaking, this was an adult.) "Wow! How'd you lose it?"

 

She tried to clear her throat and ignore him, but he merely said the question again, and she told him. "Oh," he answered, "So you don't have a fetish or anything?"

 

WTF? I realize that I may see this more often than others due to the fact that I live in a small yokel town populated by inbreds and mouth-breathing idiots, but seriously, somebody has to draw a line here. I don't ask people how they got so fat or why they're paying with food stamps.

 

This raises another conversational dead-and-much-missed rule: the personal statement. Myself and a customer were once subject to another customer in a motorized cart (which she did NOT need) telling us, with very, very little provocation (that is, reason), why she hated her mother, how badly she mistreated her, how nasty she was, and how she died. Look, there's therapists, friends, family, and the internet for that, not Wal-Mart register lines. We tried to politely put her off with "mmhmm"s and dismissive tones, but to no avail. We, two perfect strangers, were going to listen to her long-standing grudge against her mom. What did she expect or want? A hug?

 

Please, when you go out in the world today, tomorrow and the day after, remember not to behave as though romantic breakups, marital status, STDs, children with mental disorders, and deep personal injuries (physical or otherwise) are perfectly acceptable topics to bring up at the urinal stall or when you're ordering at Taco Bell.

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It seems I often find out the more wildly personal details of my coworkers lives even before I learn their last names or what they do for a hobby. I feel your pain.

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I think the problem is that too many people don't have anyone to talk to, so they feel more comfortable talking to a total stranger. They may have friends, but nobody close enough that they would tell these things to. It's like the kids who make public journals online and put everything out there for everyone to see, yet get upset when mom or dad finds the journal. People are so contradictory.

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Maybe this is mainly just an American thing. The culture here does seem to have changed a lot in the past 30 or 40 years. I have heard that people in many other countries don't like the US cause we are arrogant, insensitive and just not very understanding. It's kind of funny, many people here in the US don't even like our own culture. So why should anyone else? The whole social structure of our society is out of balance.

 

Personally I feel that Amethyst is right. People just don't to have anyone to talk to.

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I've heard that in Spain people are very direct with their questions. They also point out personality quirks and the like that might be embarrasing. For them it's normal. It's just part of their culture. In the US it seems to be the trait of those with bad manners.

 

I agree though, good manners is a dying art and I wish more would be as polite as the British, yet as carefree as the Italians. That sounds like a nice combo to me.

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