Friends and family, long lost acquaintances, new people you find really interesting, they tend to ask legitimate questions.  Then there are those other questions, the ones with the potential to embarrass, make you look bad, or start an argument.  Having learned how to avoid or quickly escape most of the nosier people I know, I still find it surprising when strangers or recent acquaintances ask me something that’s none of their business.  I was floored when a customer in my recently opened store (the Oasis Mile Gift Center) asked me where I order my stock from.

The only reason for asking a retailer that question is if you think you and your friends and family can buy wholesale instead of retail.  It’s a surefire way to put someone out of business in a smaller community.  What’s the big deal?  A store owner like me has worked to establish a relationship with suppliers, paid for things like rent and/or property, business licenses, utilities, etc.  And, endeavored to do it all within the confines of what is legal.  Once a small business start making profit, which generally takes a while, it has to hire people, which creates jobs that would not otherwise exist.  At the start, any profit is incredibly small.  It’s not surprising when someone like me refuses to give out contact information.

There are a lot of other questions people ask that don’t deserve an answer.  In fact, answering any of the following can lead to big trouble (this is only a partial listing, but you’ll get the idea…)

Any kind of unusual question regarding your business: someone you suspect isn’t from the bank asking about account information, equipment like your debit/credit machine, or computers; anyone asking for your staff information–this is particularly important in Canada, as PIPEDA, the federal privacy of information act came into effect a few years ago; sales data, which could be harmful to your company’s reputation or give the competition an unfair advantage; someone claiming to represent the government without proper credentials–a voice on the phone is not good enough.

Questions regarding your health are your business, and not the affair of other people waiting for the doctor.  Someone who calls your phone and asks who you are is definitely not deserving of an answer–they called you, they can tell you who they are.  Generally the busybody mumbles something about a wrong number and hangs up.  Pyramid schemes by their nature–using names and addresses of people who should have been able to trust you with them–are a violation of privacy.

Unless you’re comfortable discussing your personal beliefs, you don’t have to.  As a scifi author, people often ask if I believe in aliens.  You might be surprised how many are disappointed that I don’t.  If I did, all the fun would go out of it for me, and I’d have to argue with my publisher about the fiction label.  Just recently I met someone who wanted me to listen to a ‘qualified astronomer,’ in the hopes it would convince me of her beliefs.  My indifference seemed to upset her, but she can believe anything she wants.

Questions about one’s personal life sometimes get too personal.  My advice to younger celebrities, when the media asks if you’re still a virgin, just tell them it’s none of their business.  That might just be the biggest ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ question out there.  I applaud George Clooney’s recent response to a rude question about his single status.

Be extremely wary of questions asked by strangers over the Internet.  Obvious phishing (looking for information with the intention of using it for criminal purposes) includes requests for your password, birthdate, confirmation regarding contests you didn’t enter, etc.  Not so obvious might be questions on social networking sites.  If something feels ‘off’ call your friends to confirm.

Even more astounding than the invasive questioning is the answer I usually get when I ask why the person answered it.  “Well, you know, they asked me,” as if that explains the person’s momentary lapse of sanity.  So what?  Being asked a question doesn’t require you to answer it, especially when it’s not in your best interest.  You have the right to remain silent in the free world.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to use it.

Thanks for reading.  🙂

Phyllis K Twombly

About Scifialiens

Author of the Martian Symbiont series: three titles, so far; Been Blued, Martian Blues, Martian Divides. Currently writing screenplays. 'Mating With Humans' can be found on her account. Enjoyed writing from the start. Also a Star Trek and Doctor Who fan. Canadian so far. Paternal grandparents were American. Feels more at home in the States. Loves dogs and most other animals. Loves cats from afar--allergies. Plays flute and saxophone; 'messes with' keyboard and electric guitar. Single so far. Not really looking at the moment. Age: irrelevant. Not to be confused with the fictional comic book character, Phyllis Twombly, who lived for 600 years in the American Midwest.

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