It’s Not THAT Personal

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It's Not THAT Personal, ask away!

It’s Not THAT Personal, ask away!

It’s funny the number of people who ask permission to quiz me. “I’m sorry, I know it’s personal but…” “I hope I’m not being rude, but…”

No! You aren’t being rude or nosy! I share snippets of life with hundreds of people and there are more or less flattering pictures of me-around-the-world floating online. Trust me, you’re fine. Your question is unlikely to be that offending.

Maybe it’s just me. I’m quite straightforward. If you ask me a question, I’ll answer it. I’ve been trained that way, it’s the result of navigating a multicultural relationship and being an immigrant. To top it all, now I’m dealing with a curious kid. So ask away—I’ve heard it all.

When you are dating someone from another culture or with different beliefs, beyond love, attraction and all these soapy feelings, there isn’t (yet) a mutual understanding regarding etiquette, customs and rules. Feng and I couldn’t assume we were on the same page since we had been reading a different edition of the “big book of life”. What’s perfectly fine in a culture may be completely taboo in another. For instance, Chinese and North American talk about money matters fairly freely, while the topic makes many French uncomfortable. But French have zero issue with nipples while North Americans are quite prudish, and Chinese have superstitions that Westerners would never understand.

Therefor, to avoid misunderstandings and to get to know our cultures better, Feng and I have always been matter of fact. At the beginning of our relationship I’ve asked very naive questions, including “are you parents going to kill each other or are they just chatting in a friendly way?” (the latter, Chinese are just damn loud) and “am I supposed to insist I don’t want this gift that I don’t want in the first place in order to eventually accept it and save face?” Feng quizzed me about “all this Jesus shit” he never truly understood as well as the “true” French way of life (sadly, much less sex and cheating than foreigners assume).

Chinese can be extremely blunt. It’s okay to tell someone he should lose weight, to tell a woman “she isn’t pretty but smart”, to tell a loved one he is a complete failure and he should do something about it. There are intricate rules of politeness, the famous “art of being keqi“, but political correctness and a social filter aren’t part of them. I learned not to get offended every time I was told I should have kids soon because I was getting old (this was obviously before Mark). In a similar vein, I had warned Feng that my parents would not make a huge deal of us visiting, at least not like Chinese do. They are genuinely happy when we come, but they don’t buy us gifts and prepare meals with twenty-thousand delicacies because, well, they are white people and white people don’t do that, tough luck.

Even these days, after living together for fifteen years, we still discover cultural differences we didn’t even know we had, especially regarding education. With Mark, our instincts are at odds and of course, we had different childhoods too, in China and in France. We constantly have to remind each other that what goes without saying for one of us can be completely puzzling to the other. Feng’s family couldn’t stand hearing Mark cry because it may damage his voice later on in life. I didn’t like to hear him cry either, but to French, it’s acceptable to a certain extend—babies cry, period. Now I can’t stand the way Chinese spoil kids rotten, French tend to put a lot of emphasis on training them to be polite and cope with frustration—no, you don’t buy them whatever just because they throw a tantrum!

When I came to Canada, I also had to ask a number of naive questions to avoid obvious faux-pas. “Okay, so do I HAVE to tip even if service sucks?” “Is this word a really bad racial slur or is it acceptable in the right context?” “If I can’t say ‘the Indians’, how do I call the people who were there before the Europeans?” “What’s with you guys and Vimy?” “Do I have to reciprocate these awkward hugs?”

Leaving things unsaid would have make life difficult for us. I’m all for openness.

If you ask me a question, I’ll answer it. It depends on the context, of course. I’ll show my middle finger to a random dude who asks me how much I weigh but I’ll answer truthfully to a friend or someone who is trying to figure out the sizing system in a store. I share my income with other freelancer friends and my family, if asked. I shared my true feelings about motherhood, good and bad, on this blog because I highly suspected I wasn’t the only one going through the adventure feeling that some days, there should be a generous return policy for kids (indeed, I keep on receiving emails about the less rosy side of motherhood…).

Now Mark is curious too and I usually answer truthfully but only explain further if requires. No, dead means dead. Monsters do not exist. That’s your pee-pee and yes, mine is different. Trust me, everybody poops.

It’s liberating because differences shouldn’t be taboo. We should talk about them to avoid misunderstandings.

There is only one line of fine print in my book. If you ask a question, listen the answer and accept it. Don’t criticize, don’t judge. I don’t mind people asking about my immigration story but I may get annoyed if I’m told that it was a stupid decision, and why didn’t I do this or that. I’m fine with polite inquiries about the possibility of other kids but when I reply that no, I don’t plan on having other children, don’t claim that Mark will be lonely or that I’m missing out. You get the picture.

How about you? How do you deal with personal questions? Where do you draw the line?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

26 Comments

  1. I think I’m pretty open 😉 I discovered that talking about things and sharing them means finding like-minded people, women who have gone through the same struggle and can either give me advice or benefit from my experience.
    And while the Scottish and the French culture probably aren’t as different as the French and the Chinese culture, we still after all these years misunderstand each other sometimes.

    • Indeed, you do seem to be the kind of person who is open about life experiences, good or bad. I noticed it when reading your blog 😉

      • Only problem is I worry I might share too much and it might come back and bite me in the ass haha
        But I also think you can make great virtual connection with people and I try to see the good in everyone

  2. BTW I think there is an issue with your blog. I keep being redirected to one of those fake microsoft pages (there is an issue with your computer, call us and pay us money to fix it) when I click on your links. So far it’s only done that with your blog…

  3. Loved this article!
    I’m quite reserved, both online and irl. I will never talk about personal matters unless asked very politely or with close friends. Where I draw the line only depends on the impression I got from the person who asks!

    Also, free the nipple!

    • I noticed too how you share quite a bit about your environment, your feelings, your state of mind… without getting specific. This is kind of what I do as well, I guess, although over the years I shared more snapshots of life. But they are just that, snapshots, and many are in the “private” box!

  4. True that I rarely spoke with French people about money when I was living in Paris, except: rent! They would often ask how much each other’s rent was. When I traveled to other French regions, people (who I was in a social situation with, not strangers) would sometimes ask me how much my rent was. It is a much less personal question than salary, but I still wouldn’t be the first one to bring it up. I’m sure part of why it’s such a popular topic is that rent is notoriously high in Paris.

    *awkward virtual hug to you*

    • You made a very good point about rent in Paris! This is very true, now come to think of it, it is one of the only times money was discussed openly. I can see why, prices are outrageous in Paris! Now I do have to ask… how much rent did you use to pay? 😉

  5. Je suis sans retenue, je peux répondre à à peu près tout, et discuter de quoi que ce soit (argent, sexe, regret d’avoir eu des enfants ;)). Je ne suis pas très à l’aise avec le fait de parler de mes faiblesses, par contre. J’ai horreur qu’on se mette à mon chevet alors je dis le minimum! Quant aux différences culturelles… C’est ce qu’il y a de plus compliqué je trouve, en termes d’acculturation, bien plus que le mode de vie, l’accent ou le froid.

    • Je trouve aussi sur ton blog que tu es très ouverte et franche, c’est ça qui m’a attiré dans tes articles! J’ai beaucoup de mal avec les textes consensuels, genre “moi, mon mec et mes enfants, la vue tip top”. Ce n’est pas pour autant que la vie n’est pas belle, hein, juste pas très réaliste. Tu es souvent très touchante dans tes observations et tes moments pris sur le vif 🙂

      • C’est gentil merci beaucoup! J’ai plus de retenue en vieillissant qd même, heureusement que je ne bloguais pas à 15 ans 😉

        • Es tu sur Instagram? Je trouve que c’est tout à fait ce qu’on ressent en regardant les photos. L’impression que les gens vivent une vie juste parfaite. A ce titre j’ai lu récemment un article sur le quotidien des instagrameuses pro qui m’a bien plu. Je l’utilise un peu, et je mets de plus en plus une parenthèse “coulisses” (l’ainée se roule par terre, le bébé vient de vomir sur le chien qui se leche consciencieusement le poil…) 😉

          • Je viens de me taper une crise de fou rire en imaginant la scène bébé + chien 😆

            Non, je ne suis pas sur Instagram. Ça fonctionne avec Facebook, non? Je crois que j’avais essayé de m’inscrire, mais n’étant pas sur FB…

  6. OMG, I also have Asian in-laws and you MUST tell me the answer to the dilemma – do I refuse this gift I do not want only to accept it later? I have never managed to navigate the gift-receiving thing ever in the correct manner. BLURG.

    • Same here. With my in-laws, I tend to decline unless it’s for a special occasion (Christmas, birthdays, etc.) I also gave up on telling them to stop buying stuff for Mark BUT their clothes and toys stay at their place.

  7. I love answering personal questions, especially more with a glass of wine !

    Honestly though, I don’t mind personal questions because people get to know more about me. We are all multifaceted and we all have different sides of us. I don’t answer questions or I don’t give more thorough answers if I sense that I will be judge or shamed.

    Hmmmm I think I draw the line at sex. Sorry but can’t tell you what I like in the bedroom unless you desperately need to hear it or it is a life or death situation.

    • Ah yes, I’m a bit private when it comes to sex as well. It’s funny because I’m not a prude at all (I’m known for going topless and I’m fine with nudity in the right context) but I don’t share much.

  8. In the Indian Sub Continent, once you get acquainted for the first time, there’s a strong possibility that once the “Get to know you better” questions such as “What do you do for a living” is asked, it’ll be followed by-in my personal opinion- the VERY PERSONAL question of “How much is your salary?”
    Personally, I’ve always found it uncomfortable when I was asked this question when I had worked in Bangladesh(I never asked this question to anyone I had met, not for the first time, at least), and would try to avoid it by either saying something like “I make a little over…” or by being direct and saying”I’m sorry, but I can’t answer that question”.
    In your opinion, how should someone answer this question? Should you answer that question at all?
    Just wondering….

    • This kind of question would be super improper in France as well, as money is a big taboo. And I can totally see why it makes you uncomfortable!

      I’d say you don’t have to answer. You could deflect saying something like “I think I’m compensated fairly”, or even jokingly say “I’m not paid enough for all the great work I do!”

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