Years ago, I was at a wedding where I was seated next to a man I didn’t know during the dinner. I felt nervous and out of sorts - I didn't know anyone seated near me and they all appeared sophisticated and accomplished. I was intimidated.
So I turned to the stylish older fellow next to me and asked him the only question I knew back then to ask a stranger at a dinner party.
“What do you do?”
“What do I do?!?” the man reared back as if I had bit him. “What do I do? Has there ever been a more boring question?” He began ranting about America's misplaced focus on work.
“Well, I love what I do,” I replied defiantly, “and I love to talk about it.” I was a public defender at the time and relished the opportunity to talk about the inequity of the legal system.
“What question do you wish I had asked you?” I said exasperated.
“Asking how I’m connected to the bride or groom would have been a better question,” he said, rolling his eyes. Sure - that’s a good question to ask at a wedding. I've used it since.
I don’t remember much after that (except that he got a lot friendlier when he realized I was connected to someone he thought important - Grade A asshole).
But I do remember that moment for many reasons.
I was making assumptions about how people spend their time - and the importance they place on what they do.
I was making assumptions that people love the things they do - and want to spend their social time talking about their work, as I do.
But the biggest assumption I was making was that people live and work as I do. As I am privileged to do.
So now I’ve got loads of questions I ask strangers at weddings:
- How do you spend your time in or out of work?
- What lights you up about how you spend your time?
- What question do you wish someone would ask you right now?
- What question do you hate being asked at weddings?
- What’s the best question you’ve ever been asked by a stranger?