You have no idea how frequently the topic of occupation comes up in casual conversation until you have no occupation to speak of. I have increasingly come to dread meeting new people because the question of what I do for a living will undoubtedly come up within the first few seconds of dialogue. The typical tête-à-tête usually goes as follows:
Me: Hi, I’m Shiko.
Idiotic Stranger: Hi, I’m (insert idiotic stranger’s name here), nice to meet you. How do you know so-and-so?
Me: Oh, we went to school together in Kenya, how about you?
Idiotic Stranger: blah, blah, blah.
Me: And do you live here in the city? (By this time my mind is frantically thinking of ways to steer this conversation away from the inevitable employment query. I could care less where this guy lives. All I want is to retreat from this conversation with some measure of dignity still intact. I’m trying to think of another question before he does but my stupid brain, having been dormant all day after another reality TV marathon, will not cooperate. Beads of sweat have already begun cropping up all over my forehead and the only thing going through my head is Oh Crap, oh crap…)
Idiotic Stranger: So, what do you do?
Me: (CRAP! Now, how should I answer this? I could say that I do nothing and laugh it off but that might just make him feel awkward. I could give him my life story in a manner that evokes a sympathetic and slightly condescending response like, ‘I’m sure you’ll get back on your feet again.’ Yuck. Or I could use the pregnancy and pretend that this was the plan all along — because I’m just so awesomely maternal like that. In the midst of my panic and despair, I usually mumble a variation of the following reply…)
Well, I’m a recent casualty of the economic crisis and with a baby on the way, I’ve decided (Decided? Yeah, right.) to take a break from the workforce. How about you?
Idiotic Stranger: I’m the V.P. of Marketing at XYZ.
Me: (Screw you! But instead I say…) That’s great. I love their stuff!
Why does the job question come up so soon during introductions? What does what I DO have to do with who I AM? Granted, there are some occupations that can give some indication of personality type e.g. lawyer, nun, fashion designer. But even those are just stereotypes; I’m quite positive that there are non-confrontational lawyers, bitchy nuns and boring fashion designers. Majority of people have obscure administrative jobs that do nothing to reflect their personalities. Yes, I’m talking to you Ms. Database Manager. If anything, all this question does is allow people to estimate which income bracket someone else most likely fits into…which is fine if you’re trying to decide who to invite to your baby shower (ka-ching! Just kidding! Kind of.) but otherwise you’re better off asking what someone’s favorite clothing brand is. My point being that the, ‘So, what do you do?’ question should not be one of the first questions to ask when getting to know an individual because it is quite ineffective as a character assessment tool.
Yes, my recent transition out of the workforce is probably making me touchier about this than I should be. Maybe it will get better when I can say ‘I’m a housewife’ in a less defensive/amused tone (right now, depending on my frame of mind, I either say it like I’m DARING someone to call me a loser or like I’m about to burst into laughter). Whatever the case might be, at this moment I am convinced that ‘So what do you do?’ is the dumbest question. Ever.