Dear World at Large,
We’ve been slowly getting on a little better over the past few years. I’m learning to navigate your tricky social world and you’ve been learning that I can be pretty cool sometimes.
Sometimes, though, we just don’t seem to get along. I do really try to live by your rules and your standards of how people are supposed to be, but sometimes I really need you to take a few steps towards me. This is one of those areas.
Stop asking people about their job as an ice breaker!
Seriously. I am not very good at making conversation with strangers in the first place, but this ice breaker really does not help. Not everyone works, not everyone has a job that they are happy with, and not everyone has a job that they can talk about. I know you want to think that it’s good enough since it works for most people, but it can be seriously alienating for those of use for whom it does not work. It is also an area with a lot of social baggage stuck onto it, and it can be expletive difficult to avoid feeling shame if you happen to be one of those people who does not have a job.
Sometimes people ask what sounds like a more general, “what do you do?” type of question. I would like this if it were actually general. Then people could answer with their job, or with their hobbies, or with their advocacy, or whatever else they could talk about in terms of how they spend their time. Sounds great, right? Except that I have learned that when people do this, they are not actually meaning it as generally as it sounds. They are still asking about a job.
Story time! Once, I was chatting with a stranger and she asked me the “what do you do?” ice breaker question. I chose to answer in terms of one of my hobbies, so I said that I crochet. The rest of the conversation went about as follows:
Her: Oh, you crochet for money?
Me: No, it’s a hobby.
Her: But what do you do for money?
Her: But how do you get by? What do you do?
Me: I’m a hobo.
Eventually a friend of mine stepped in and said that I am “between jobs” and the interrogation ended. However, this should never have happened in the first place. If I choose to answer what I “do” with a hobby, please just go with it. Why is it so important to pursue the job question, even when I have clearly chosen to not answer? What is so important about knowing how I do or do not make money?
A similar thing happened another time when I was chatting with a stranger. The usual “what do you do?” question came up. This time I was blunt and simply said that I do not have a job. I was then subjected to yet another interrogation regarding why I don’t work, and am I looking, and how hard am I looking, and how long has this been going on and honestly, why is that necessary?
This is one of the reasons why I rather dread talking to strangers. The pervasiveness of this question is rather frustrating for me. I already find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know, and I already find it difficult to cope with my jobless status. Combining the two into one horrible interaction just comes across as unfriendly.
I don’t think I’m asking something terribly difficult. It can still be a job question for all those people who want it to be a job question. Just please let it be a hobby/other things I do with my time question for the people who need it to be. If I choose not to answer in terms of a job, please just go with it. Be ok with it. It can still be an ice breaker if two strangers find themselves talking to each other for whatever reason. In fact, it will be a better ice breaker, because it will no longer be excluding people who are disabled and don’t want to talk about their medical status, or otherwise don’t have a job and don’t want to be interrogated about it. It’s not friendly, it’s not nice, please stop.