So, what do you do?

March 12, 2011


I really hate it when I meet someone and  their first question is “So, what do you do?” I always want to say “Well, I do a lot of things. I breathe. I walk. I talk. I sing in the car sometimes and, when I’m really bored in meetings, I push back my cuticles.” I understand that it’s like the least common denominator of questions, but I just hate the way it’s phrased, as if what I’ve chosen as a profession defines actually who I am and what I do with my life.

Since graduating from college I’ve only really had three professions: a video store clerk, a graphic designer and my current career as an architect. And with every one, that ubiquitous, ice-breaking question has haunted me.

I was living in Miami Beach, dating my loser ex-boyfriend (see Facebook and Ex Boyfriends for more information) when I worked as a video store clerk. That was when I was in my early twenties, which meant I ate nothing but McDonalds without ever gaining a pound and was able to go out every night of the week until 3am and still make it to work the next morning. Miami Beach in the late 90s was a hot bed of hot guys all high on something, which meant they were usually pretty chatty and nice. Night after night I’d go out and meet new people. Inevitably, they’d ask what I do and, when I told them, they’d instantly blurt out some schpeal about a late-movie fine on their account and ask if I could take it off for them. That, or they’d ask if I could give them free popcorn the next time they were in the store. Sometimes, if they were really cute or had a job that I could use to swap favors (waiters at good restaurants or bouncers at the hottest clubs) I’d say yes, but mostly, I’d just sit there and listen to how so-and-so wasn’t good in this movie or how everyone thought they shouldn’t have to pay for a movie they rented but didn’t like.

A little over a year of working in that job, I fled Miami for the oppressive suburbs to New Jersey to live with Homo Honey and work as a graphic designer in medical advertising. HH has always been extremely social and well-liked which meant we went to a lot of parties. As she is the cat’s meow and desirable in every aspect of the word, HH would disappear throughout the night talking to random girls or cute boys and I’d get stuck talking, usually, to the only other gay person at the party. I’d stand there, waiting for the question and when the homosexual would ask “So, what do you do?” I’d tell them that I was a graphic designer for a pharmaceutical company. Then, as if they were at a confidential doctor’s visit, they’d start asking me about what medication they should take for whatever ailed them. One guy asked me about the best fungal cream to remove athlete’s foot. At one party, this very homely lesbian asked about how to get rid of her chronic halitosis which was really, really bad. And one guy who, after several cocktails I imagine, asked if I had and Viagra on me. It was like they asked me what I did and then totally didn’t listen to the answer. I said I was a graphic designer, not an effing doctor, or even a medical scientist.

Although the parties sucked, living with HH was a blast, but like all good things, our time came to an end and I moved down south to become an architect. After three years of sleepless nights and horrible design reviews by my Ewok professor and his stupid role of playing the devil’s advocate, I graduated and started my third career. In that same time I met BF and made some good friends. My friends have friends and those friends have friends, which means I’ve met a lot of people. And all those friends of friends of friends only ever seem to be interested in one thing: what I do for a living. When I tell them I’m an architect, I don’t get asked for favors like when I was a video store clerk, or asked for medical advice when I was a graphic designer; instead I get one of three responses. The first is “Oh my God. I love Frank Lloyd Wright. He’s totally my favorite architect.” To that I ask “Who’s your second favorite architect?” Usually they can’t name another. The second response is “Neat.” And that’s it. I don’t know if they’re waiting for me to ask them what they do for work or if they don’t know exactly what an architect is, but that’s all I get. We stand there for a few awkward seconds until I excuse myself to get another drink or go to the bathroom. The third response I get and, this one fascinates me the most, is just a blank stare, like I just told them I was Jeffrey Dahmer’s cousin.

It’s taken fifteen years, three careers and a millions times beings asked “So, what do you do?” for me to realize a universal truth: people don’t care what I do. They ask me that stupid question because: 1) They think they’re being polite. 2) They don’t understand the concept of comfortable silence. Or 3) (and I think this one is usually the case) They only ask me, thinking I’ll ask them, so they can talk about themselves.

So, I’ve decided, the next time I’m at a party and someone asks me “So, what do you do?” I’m going to smile and say either “I’m a phone sex operator” or “I work in sanitation.”

My advice to those of you who feel the need to always ask “So, what do you do?”: First, stop asking that. Ask “What do you do for work?” Second, don’t ask unless you really care and are willing and able to follow up their response with at least two questions related to their career. And third, if you’re just asking so you can talk about your job…get a life. No one want to hear about your stupid job.

My advice to everyone else: The next time you’re at a party and some d-bag asks you “So, what do you do?” follow my lead and think of the most obnoxious career and see what happens.

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One Response to “So, what do you do?”

  1. mom Says:

    AMEN AMEN What they really want to know is , how much do you make and are you rich.


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