DEAR MISS MANNERS: I live in a city famous for the nouveau riche materialism of many residents. When I meet such people, their inevitable first question is, “Where do you live?”
I think of this as the “doggie-sniffing-new-doggie question.” It’s a puerile form of “conversation” and a crude attempt to discern net worth, social status and the desirability of my acquaintance.
I have been handling it this way:
Them: Where do you live?
Me: In City.
Them: Well, of course; WHERE in City?
Me: Central City.
Them: Where specifically?
Me: Neither north, nor far north, nor south; Central.
Them: What is the nearest landmark? What are the cross streets?
Since they are so dogged, how may I answer to shut them down? I’ve an address in another city and am considering, “My legal address is in That City. Do you need the P.O. Box?”
I’m very tempted, at their first question, to say with a big smile, “Oh, you’re asking the ‘doggie-sniffing-new-doggie question!’” And repeat that every time they try to pry.
Also, such people never, but never, discuss their own addresses.
GENTLE READER: There are not a lot of safe questions for opening a conversation.
“Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” and “Where did you go to school?” can also be used unpleasantly to evaluate strangers. And we won’t even mention “Who are your people?”
But you, too, are passing harsh, instant judgment on people you are just meeting. Some of them might just be looking for common ground on which to converse. Miss Manners notices that the benefit of the doubt is in short supply these days.
But if you must play your teasing game, just say “Across town” or “Not far from here,” followed by “And you?” with a deeply interrogative stare, to see if they are worthy opponents.