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What Do You Do?

 

How often do we ask someone we have just met: “What do you do?

That is a common icebreaker used by most Americans to begin conversations with strangers on elevators, at parties, on airplanes, etc. Never occurred to me that this open-ended question is an USA habit. I thought it was a universal practice to want to know the employment status of people.

But, alas, not so.

While visiting in Australia and New Zealand years ago, no one ever asked what I did. They were more interested in where I lived, or if I like sports, or what I did on my ‘holidays’ (vacations to us). Where I worked was of little interest to them. I had heard that Aussies ‘work to live’ while Americans ‘live to work’. And this lack of interest in jobs was clearly evident in how they started conversations.

I remember asking an Australian taxi driver why the stores closed at noon on Saturdays, and he answered with some confusion about why I would ask such a dumb question: “We have to spend time with our families and go to sports games!”

Gosh, isn’t that a unique concept?

Then, recently, I asked someone: What do you do? And she answered: About what?

If you want a conversation stopper, that response will do it! That answer opens the door to a much broader array of topics, such as what books you read, where you travel, how you spend your free time. But, I don’t ask those questions, because what a person thinks or feels is just too personal! Instead, I go to a neutral topic: work.

The next time someone asks me what I do, I think I’ll respond with “I walk my dog” or “I go to music concerts”, or “I watch hours of TV”. This may start an entirely different kind of conversation.

How do you start conversations, other than commenting that someone needs a new hair stylist?

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7 thoughts on “What Do You Do?

  1. It can also cause issues if the person has a rotten job. I remember being at a dinner where a woman was asked what she did — turned out she was a telemarketer. There really is no way to politely continue that conversation.

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