What do you do?
June 6, 2003 12:25 PM   Subscribe

What do you do for a living? Yet another dreaded weekend approaches, bringing with it invitations to parties. Inevitably, I will attempt to strike up a conversation with someone new, and the question will be asked. As a web developer, I usually get a response about someone's personal problems with their own computer, much like doctors usually get a response about a person's xxxx not feeling right. What do you do and what are the responses you get back? Are you ever tempted to lie about what you do?
posted by strangeleftydoublethink (101 comments total)
Dreaded weekend? Implied dreaded invitations to parties?

I have an idea: have fun or don't go. Stay home, rot. It doesn't matter to the people who actually ENJOY socializing. I'm a developer too, guy, but that doesn't mean I'm gonna fester at home in front of a different type of screen.

If you don't like being asked what you do, call them on it. If they have a question about their computer, tell them to knock it the fuck off. I've done that. "Knock it the fuck off."

Live a little.
posted by jon_kill at 12:34 PM on June 6, 2003

Yes, I lie.

I work (indirectly) for Paul Raymond Publications as a web designer. When I'm asked what I do for a living I tend to tell them I design web sites for "several large london publishing houses". This then always goes off ona conversation about FHM and Maxpower...

This is irl of course. On the net I don't give a damn who knows.
posted by twine42 at 12:36 PM on June 6, 2003

Federal Breast Inspector?

Trying to pass off 'grad student' as an occupation is always fun in and of itself, however.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:40 PM on June 6, 2003

I sell condoms. The stories are great. Folks love to have me around for dinner parties. I can make mouths fall open and milk stream out nostrils at the same time. Good fun! Wouldn't change a thing! After some adjustment even my parents like what I do now. My son the "programmer" has slowly evolved to my son "the lord of all things condom."

I never lie about it.
posted by filchyboy at 12:40 PM on June 6, 2003

If you're asked in Dallas, just tell them what you make, that's the real answer being searched out.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:40 PM on June 6, 2003

I always tell people that I'm a proctologist for the IRS.

That's a great conversation-killer.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2003

Sorry, jon_kill, I forgot to include irony tags around "dreaded weekend."But I'm sure people enjoy talking to you.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:45 PM on June 6, 2003

jon_kill, I don't think he stays up at night worrying about it.

I usually hate those 'what do you do' questions because what I do for work is quite different from what I am involved with socially. So it's usually a way-too-lengthy answer to a short question.
posted by widdershins at 12:48 PM on June 6, 2003

But I'm sure people enjoy talking to you.

Uh, yeah, they do. Or did you forget your irony tags again?
posted by jon_kill at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2003

This "dreaded weekend," is it something you'd need to have a job to know abou? 'Cause I don't have a job.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:49 PM on June 6, 2003

I'm generally vague about what I do, I'll answer something like: "I check email and surf the internet" if I don't like the people who're asking or "I'm a project leader working mainly in IT" if I do--rather than tell people directly I'm a programmer. Both answers are true to a certain extent--but each is definitely a "non-answer". Not so much to avoid computer questions (though that is a nice benefit), rather it is to avoid the possible pissing contests that sometimes occur when I encounter someone in the same field. Yes, your array is bigger than mine; go populate it.
posted by Ms.JaneDoe at 12:50 PM on June 6, 2003

When I tell people "I teach poli-sci," I inevitably get asked when I'm a-gonna run for office, or get treated to whatever political diatribe is at the top of Mr.Wossname's head. Which was amusing enough the first 2723094238974238 times I was asked that / heard it.

So I usually answer more vaguely, "I work at the university," and go straight from there to "I build mathematical models of internal organization of legislatures."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 PM on June 6, 2003

I usually reply "whatever I want to". Responses vary but it's better than saying issuing insurance contracts and design web sites.
posted by infowar at 12:56 PM on June 6, 2003

Stalking. I'm big on stalking. Do you have a stalker?
posted by blue_beetle at 1:06 PM on June 6, 2003

People seem to think the answer "mindnumbing drudgery" is funny. I don't know why.
posted by stavrogin at 1:06 PM on June 6, 2003

I've always felt that the subtext of this question is: "People always love hearing about MY fascinating career. After you complete your answer (briefly, please), you should ask me about it!"
posted by Oddly at 1:08 PM on June 6, 2003

That's a great conversation-killer.3

...heard: A Catheter Rep., be surprise the different colors we carry.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:12 PM on June 6, 2003

I tell people that I circumsize elephants at a zoo.
Then I add "The pay isn't too good but the tips are big".

Usually this ends the conversation.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 1:13 PM on June 6, 2003

I had a friend who worked as a counsellor for convicted pedophiles out on parole. He fought very shy of telling people what he did.

I'm an editor at a legal and professional publishing company, and while I enjoy my job it does sound a little lacklustre. So, to dress it up a little, I used to tell men who were chatting me up that I was an editor for a lesbian porn mag called Bosom Buddies. It usually went over quite well. Until the time I said it within earshot of a woman who turned out to be a lesbian. It did not go over well that time. I don't use that line anymore.
posted by orange swan at 1:17 PM on June 6, 2003

I sell condoms ... I can make mouths fall open and milk stream out nostrils at the same time.

Setting aside the peculiar images and associations that brings to mind, what vaguely worries me is that a condom salesman is dining with people who drink milk at dinner.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:23 PM on June 6, 2003

If I don't feel like answering the question I just use a classic line from Clerks:

"I manually masturbate caged animals for the purpose of artificial insemination."

It usually gets a laugh from those that have seen the movie, strange looks otherwise. Either way though, I avoid the whole "my computer's been doing this thing lately..." scenario that inevitably comes when I tell people I'm a programmer.
posted by turacma at 1:26 PM on June 6, 2003

It could be the froth on their cappucinos. Or something.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2003

I had to come out of posting hibernation. I triple-hate this question with a passion.

Where I live now, you don't it as much (Florida may be slightly boring, but at least strangers know how to strike up a conversation). In DC where I used to live, however, its almost the only conversation-starter anybody knows. Maybe I took the question in the wrong spirit, but I always looked upon "So, what do you do?" as shorthand for: "Let me see where you stand in my mental pecking order, so I can determine whether it's worth my time to talk to you, or move along."

I've always been tempted to lie, by the way. Not because I feel my job is worth concealing from strangers, but because unoriginal boring questions demand flippant, obnoxious answers.
posted by contessa at 1:27 PM on June 6, 2003

er...dont *hear* it as much.

*goes back into hibernation*
posted by contessa at 1:33 PM on June 6, 2003

People generally ask this to start a conversation-see if they have something in common with you that they can use as a jump-off point. It's not necessarily that they're trying to figure out what you make-they just need something to start talking about.

I ususally say "Network Engineer" and they inevitably say "what's that?" So I say "I'm a computer geek." That usually shuts most people up (after they say "You have a job right now?")

My job bores me so I generally don't like to talk about it much.
posted by aacheson at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2003

Once someone considers you smarter than them about computers/technology, that's it. Even if they know you're no specialist on a given topic, like how to make their new printer work, you're at least smarter than they are about this kind of stuff, so they begin by asking you.

I used to work as a tech support guy. The people I supported around the office treated me like their own personal ambassador into the world of technology. I fixed spouse's laptops in my spare time, hooked up broadband access in people's homes. Made their digital cameras behave. At first I was just trying to do my job and be nice, but it became way too much after a while.

There is a definite shortage of computer know-how in the world. If you let on that you know ANYTHING you will be swarmed with requests, questions, complaints. It doesn't hurt to ask, after all, does it?

Actually, it does eventually.
posted by scarabic at 1:35 PM on June 6, 2003

I'm sure all the people who receive your clever responses are missing out on some great conversations.

Seriously, though, for those of you who think 'What do you do for a living' is a bad conversation starter, what do you suggest?

I don't think it's such a bad way to get to know somebody you've just met. Not that what I do is that interesting, but there's enough stuff about my life that I like to share with people. What I enjoy more is hearing about what other people do, especially if its something I don't know much about.
posted by drobot at 1:39 PM on June 6, 2003

In "Meet the Parents," whenever Ben Stiller's character tells people he's a nurse they get a certain "look" on their faces, a look of, "Oh, but isn't that a woman's job..." This is the look I almost always get when I tell people I'm a librarian, right before they adopt a condescending "isn't that cute!" tone and say "I haven't been to a library in years..." I've been tempted to use one of the new euphemisms for librarian ("Information scientist," "Information professional") but those either sound stupid or lead to confusion ("Oh, you're in IT!"). So, I say "librarian!" as proudly as I can, then accept the fact that nobody's interested. Maybe it's just a DC thing (what contessa alluded to).

Maybe it's also why I haven't been invited to parties in so long. Except by other librarians, and, really, who'd want to hang out with librarians? ;)

so lonely...
posted by arco at 1:40 PM on June 6, 2003

I usually tell people I'm a consultant on a government project. They either:
a) don't know what that means, so don't ask
b) think it's hush hush and don't ask
c) realize that it's probably too boring to talk about
posted by blue_beetle at 1:44 PM on June 6, 2003

I do computer programming work for a large defense contractor, specifically, I work on re-configurable training simulators for the Navy, and the Army. Boring as hell.

I also go to college full time, and occasionally tend bar, but I'd much rather be living in Ayashii, Kobe, and working at Nova.
posted by SweetJesus at 1:51 PM on June 6, 2003

I just say I'm a writer. Of course that leads to the inevitable question, "Would I have read anything you've written?" To which the only proper response is. "No, I write computer manuals. Nobody reads those. But hey, it beats working for a living." Or, if it's a hot female Mac geek, I might say, "Ever heard of BBEdit?" Because women love a man who groks grep.

But yeah, it's a lame way to start a conversation. I'd much rather talk about, say, photography, or traveling, or whatever than what I do for a living. I like what I do, but the subject matter is really pretty esoteric.
posted by kindall at 1:53 PM on June 6, 2003

Rather than tell folks I write technical documentation, I point out that major IT companies are desperate to make their systems foolproof . . . and I've made a comfortable living for 20 years as a professional fool.

If pressed for details, I'll launch into a rambling explanation of the credentials one needs to be recognized as a professional, and how trying it was to be a mere journeyman fool.
posted by ahimsakid at 1:54 PM on June 6, 2003

If you don't want to talk about your job, or the implications thereof (i.e., you must know about computers), talk about theirs. Conversation goes two ways.

I know a radio interviewer who is notoriously hard to get to know in person. Because he turns every question you ask him back at you. He does this in a charming way, of course, so that you usually feel compelled to spill your whole life story. Once I realized that he had mastered the technique of conversation without self-disclosure, I found that I could do it, too. All you need is practice with follow-up prompts.

"Me? I work for the University. But you work in Profession X? Tell me about that...
Do you know so and so...
How did you get started in that field..."

Or if you really don't care about job talk, change the topic of conversation.
posted by Ereneta at 2:01 PM on June 6, 2003

I've always worked in areas that are rather abstruse (previously quantum chemistry, currently environmental forensics). I usually just tell people I'm a chemist and that's that.

If someone really wants to know what I do, the short version takes a few minutes to explain, just long enough for eyes glaze.

The long version can go on for hours. Wind me up and I forget to stop. I have this nifty set of powerpoint slides, and, oh, you'll want to read these papers, and hey, we could setup a lab tour, maybe see the suits and the airplanes, make glove balloon animals for the kids...
posted by bonehead at 2:03 PM on June 6, 2003

for those of you who think 'What do you do for a living' is a bad conversation starter, what do you suggest?

I forgot to mention, the dawn of The Dreaded Question (or at least, its overuse) seems to have coincided with that time -- the 80s? -- when people were encouraged to network the hell of any gathering they were at, as if that were the only benefit of socializing.

There is plenty of juicy, clever conversation material in the world, except that too many people can't get over the impulse to mentally stay at work while their bodies are playing.
posted by contessa at 2:04 PM on June 6, 2003

Work is for suckers.
posted by ubi at 2:08 PM on June 6, 2003

At parties, I just usually just tell people I'm a "major Wall street player" and give a lot of free inside information and advice about Money, Markets, Capitalism, and How To Get Richer Quicker.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 2:13 PM on June 6, 2003

So, I say "librarian!" as proudly as I can, then accept the fact that nobody's interested.

I was surprised years ago when I looked into it as a career, very smart folks. Yet, how do you do with trivia buffs?
Work is a trivial question. Like asking an artist; what do you paint?... would be a vague question especially if the artist worked with metals for material. The artist, especially if well known would probably blow the person off by saying: paintings of rust.

On preview similar to boneheads situation.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:14 PM on June 6, 2003

It's the strangest thing ... I am also a programmer and no one has ever asked me to help them fix a computer. Perhaps I am hanging out with too many other computer people? Or maybe I just strike people as incompetent.
posted by rks404 at 2:14 PM on June 6, 2003

Contessa - For example?

Maybe a better phrase would be 'what do you like to do?' - I don't think the problem is w/ the question - 'what do you do for a living' - it's with the answer. Too many people are bored or uninterested in what they do for a living, maybe they should talk about the aspects of their lives that are worth sharing? I like to hear about other peoples lives - I've met a ton of people w/ really interesting jobs (photographers, artists, ketchup scientists, astronauts) that at least for me, were worth hearing about.
posted by drobot at 2:14 PM on June 6, 2003

rks404 - me too. I think it's because people view computer programmers as the ones who made computers difficult to understand in the first place.
posted by drobot at 2:18 PM on June 6, 2003

Great post. I love what I do and I'll talk about it, but man when you say webmaster it turns into superhero and S&M jokes. So I just say I work for a furniture company.

Besides...I can't stand it when a uber-geek starts quoting Monty Python lines at me to either bond or show dominance. Can't we just talk about the weather?
posted by Yossarian at 2:23 PM on June 6, 2003

I'd like to add that "What do you do?" fills me with a deep ambivalence.

One one hand, being in an abstract line of work, one knows that most people are just being polite, have great difficulty relating to what one does, and really aren't interested in any case. So one answers briefly, then changes the subject, or misdirects, as Ereneta illustrates (Perhaps your inquisitive radio friend doesn't think what he does is interesting. By skipping over personal details, he might feel that he's moving the conversation on to more fruitful ground).

There are those few, however, whose eyes light up, and inquire further, and with these interested parties a lively and diverting conversation can often be had.
posted by bonehead at 2:26 PM on June 6, 2003

Yossarian-in the same vein-when people find out I work on Microsoft (gasp!) servers, I love it, really, when they launch into anti-Microsoft/pro-Novell/Pro-mac/pro-UNIX or LINUX tirades. Like I'm personally responsible for all the Microsoft wrongs of the world simply because I'm a Microsoft Certified System Engineer (which was just a good career move.) Talk about trying to show dominance.

I usually just smile and say, "There are problems with every OS. But I really don't like to get into it" and then they feel like they've "won" because I've backed down. *tiresome*
posted by aacheson at 2:29 PM on June 6, 2003

When I tell people "I teach poli-sci,"

I answer back, "Cushy job, 'cause there's only one book: The Prince."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2003

My guy is an engineer, and I love how he answers casual queries about what he does. He usually says, "Do you remember those crappy heaters at the back of your school bus that never worked? I design parts for those!"
posted by clever sheep at 2:46 PM on June 6, 2003

My short answer is "I'm a graphic designer." When pressed further, I say most of my work is on web sites. If that leads to tech support questions, I just say "I don't know... I use a Mac" and that's usually the end of that. Otherwise, quite often, I'm suprised how often these sorts of conversations lead to new business. Does that make my annual beer intake tax deductible?
posted by spilon at 2:47 PM on June 6, 2003

I have two jobs - web design/development weekdays, classical music (oboe) nights, weekends and whenever the orchestra needs me.

I don't exactly lie, but I give the answer that either stops or extends the conversation, depending on my mood. Usually, I just say "classical musician," since my "free tech support" dance card is full for the next few years. Plus, I'd rather try to get people to attend the symphony than understand the difference between graphic art and web development.

It's also the more interesting of the two careers and is a bit of cognitive dissonance to throw at someone since I'm fairly young and very much the geek... but frustrating as hell to say I play "that instrument that sorta looks like a clarinet."
posted by Sangre Azul at 3:16 PM on June 6, 2003

I'm a software developer. I usually say "I type professionally."

It's true.
posted by n9 at 3:19 PM on June 6, 2003

I'm surprised by the number of people who don't like "so, what do you do for a living". It's never particularly bothered me, but maybe that's because I'm lucky enough to have a job doing work I enjoy. It's a reasonable getting-to-know-you question, anyway: most people spend half or more of their waking hours doing their job, so it represents a fairly significant piece of your life whether you believe it defines your personality or not.

I am a programmer, but I can't remember the last time I got a "can you help me fix my computer?" response. Most of the people I know are either techies or creative types; if the former, they know how to fix their own computers, and if the latter they use Macs. The real trick is trying to figure out how to explain the program I work on - which is a programming tool - to people who aren't programmers.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:22 PM on June 6, 2003

When I tell people that I'm in the Air Force, the odds are usually 50/50 that the next question will be either:
(a) What kind of plane do you fly?
(b) Do you know Sgt (or Col or Chief) John Doe...?

In truth, very few people in the Air Force actually fly the planes...and in an "organization" with over 350,000 employees, well, it's kind of hard to get to know everybody :-)

And for the record...no, my company doesn't have any gay pride weeks/months/etc. Oops...sorry - wrong thread. Dang, how did so many job-related posts wind up on MeFi on a Friday, of all days...?
posted by davidmsc at 3:22 PM on June 6, 2003

I do the calling-up-businesses part of market research. I don't lie about it, but then I get bitter pleasure from bitching about it and so lying would only deny me pleasure.

I get a lot of subject-changes, occasional sympathy, and, once, a "What? Seriously? Oh. Oh man. I hate you. I mean, I HATE you." But in a jovial sort of way. Kind of.
posted by cortex at 3:30 PM on June 6, 2003

I work in cancer research. People are either usually really interested or get really quiet.
posted by Skot at 3:32 PM on June 6, 2003

It depends on the situation. In most cases I'll say something non-work related or I'll say I sit in a cubicle and stare at a computer all day.

What I hate is when I mention my company name [or where I'm from] people will ask "do you know such and such". I work for a Fortune 50 company so it extremely unlikely I do know the person.
posted by birdherder at 3:34 PM on June 6, 2003

Seriously, though, for those of you who think 'What do you do for a living' is a bad conversation starter, what do you suggest?

I steadfastly avoid opening conversations with "what do you do for a living." I like plowing right under the surface and giving someone lots of room to answer, so I'll ask a stranger sitting next to me in a bar something along the lines of "What are you passionate about?"

This almost always leads to an interesting, open, and energy-filled conversation about something, and rarely does it turn out to be about that person's job.
posted by donovan at 3:35 PM on June 6, 2003

My theory is that people who dread the question, dread their jobs.

I like my job, and I don't mind answering the question or discussing a related subject.

posted by Witold at 3:50 PM on June 6, 2003

I'm a drunken sailor.
posted by pekar wood at 3:52 PM on June 6, 2003

I find that people who ask "What do you do for a living?" actually want to talk about what they do for a living, more often than not, because they happen to come from a profession where the answer to that question is simple and a good conversation starter. Like: "I'm a reporter."
posted by scarabic at 3:54 PM on June 6, 2003

I just say, "I do computer stuff", and either go into more detail or let it drop, depending on the interest level shown. I'm more than happy to talk geek talk with another geek who's interested in geeking out about the same kind of stuff that I like, but like the Bob Black linker said up there, work is for suckers, and talking about my "job" is just boring.

As an added bonus, a lot of the people I come across these days are unemployed - not just the webernet types, but degenerate friends of friends in general - and I've found that the more vague, "So, what have you been up to lately?" is a lot friendlier, less likely to immediately slide into bitching about being out of work, and possiby lead to an actual interesting conversation.

"I tend bar at Club Foo on Mondays and Thursdays, but I've been spending a lot of time with my bees lately..." I want to know what people are actually interested in doing, not just what they get paid to do.
posted by majcher at 3:55 PM on June 6, 2003

davidmsc, by your name, I took it you're in the military...but I was wrong with which branch.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:56 PM on June 6, 2003

Give me a break. Try telling folks you are a housewife and see the eyes glaze over, right before they then look around to see somebody worthwhile to talk to.

Meanwhile my 18 year old who knows how to set up and do minor fixes on computers gets nagged to death by all the helpless people with computers.
posted by konolia at 4:02 PM on June 6, 2003

It's never particularly bothered me, but maybe that's because I'm lucky enough to have a job doing work I enjoy.

Nope. I enjoy my work. A lot. Especially this time of year, when I can completely set my own schedule while most people (or as I like to call them, "the dirty people") are still pluggin' away 8--5.

What I don't like are the drearily predictable questions or comments that follow "I do poli-sci."
"So you're going to run for office, right?"
"That's not really science."
"Let me tell you my pet theory about how it all really boils down to *foo*."
"So you're some sort of politically-correct commie, right?"
And now, of course, "Cushy job, 'cause there's only one book: The Prince."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:41 PM on June 6, 2003

Try telling folks you are a housewife

Good god! You're married to a house?
posted by kindall at 4:43 PM on June 6, 2003

I have a friend who's a news radio anchor and reporter. She's very pretty and young for her job, so she tends to get one of two replies: 1. "No way!" or 2. "Oh yeah? (insert competitive one-upmanship here)." Someone recently suggested that she just say, "Oh... I'm kept."

I usually say that I'm a professional student. I've been in and out of college for thirteen years and have done everything from political consulting to running ski lifts to playing pool. I'm finally getting my BS (how apropos) next month and will have to come up with a new line.
posted by swerve at 4:48 PM on June 6, 2003

I search job listings for hours on end, never applying because my self confidence is shot.
Then while glancing at the clock, realize that my wife will be home soon, so I put on some pants.
posted by ducktape at 5:20 PM on June 6, 2003

I've become partial to replying with "worker bee" for some reason. Mostly, I think, due to the fact that if I am not at work, I'd rather talk about something else.
posted by sillygit at 5:36 PM on June 6, 2003

As I am preparing to attend my high school class reunion next month, I have to thank you all for some wonderful ideas for answering that question ... which I know will be asked at least 100 times that night.

I think I have decided to just say "I'm the same geek you knew in high school, but now I occasionally get paid for it." It's much easier than saying "I'm a starving artist who does graphic design/web design/programming/computer repair, but I moonlight as a cleaning person for a construction company."

Yeah ... definitely leaving the "cleaning person" part out. It's the only part of "what do you do for a living" that I am somewhat embarrassed by. I hate cleaning ... but it pays well, I set my own hours, and it's a steady paycheck (whereas the others aren't).

And no ... I won't tell you what year reunion it is ... it's a secret.
posted by Orb at 5:47 PM on June 6, 2003

I like to reply that I am a bureaucratic obstacle in the university administration. If it doesn't get a laugh, its at least fairly honest.

Oh and ROU_Xenophobe, as a fellow poli sci major, may I say, congrats on having a job ; )
posted by MetalDog at 5:55 PM on June 6, 2003

I am a pharmacist. I prefer not to tell anyone this, as it often leads to people asking me questions about their medications at inappropriate times, like in the receiving line at my brother's wedding. It's easier to just say "I work in a hospital," and leave it at that.
posted by mokujin at 6:16 PM on June 6, 2003

I notice none of the lawyers have piped up with anything remotely resembling "I happily tell people I'm a lawyer! Folks at parties and even informal get-togethers are always happy to hear about my profession! It instantly gains me the respect of the crowd as well as breaks the ice to many interesting conversational topics!"

'cause we don't, they aren't, and it doesn't.
posted by yhbc at 6:34 PM on June 6, 2003

The advantage of being well known in a small country is that everyone you meet already knows what you do. The disadvantage is that they demand you tell them what it is exactly you're doing right now, as if you belonged to them. ("I bought one of your books, you know!")

So, far worse than asking you what you do - "I'm a writer" - is being asked straight off "So what are you writing right now?" To which there's never, ever, a good answer.

"Mostly Metafilter posts" is the best flummoxer so far.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 6:52 PM on June 6, 2003

--So, what do you do?

--I'm a professor of English at the college.

--Oh, gee, my grades in English were awful!


--Gosh, I'd better be careful what I say around you! I mean, my grammar's just dreadful...
posted by thomas j wise at 7:04 PM on June 6, 2003

Is there ever a good reason for starting a sentence with "So..."?

"So... what do you do?"

"So... I'm hemorrhaging rather badly right now and I was wondering if you could send an ambulence by my way, if it's not too much trouble."

"So... any of your friends or loved ones died of cancer recently? I was thinking about quitting smoking."

"So... am I on COPS because I'm wearing a wifebeater or because I beat my wife? ."
posted by stavrogin at 7:09 PM on June 6, 2003

So... yhbc, could you help me with my wifebeating problem? I swear I didn't do it. I'm looking for the real wifebeaters at this very moment.
posted by stavrogin at 7:11 PM on June 6, 2003

"Ambulance", rather. My grammar's just dreadful.
posted by stavrogin at 7:13 PM on June 6, 2003

th: What do you do?

m: I'm an architect.

th: What kind of architecture do you do?

m: Good architecture.

pekar, but what do you do? ... with a drunken sailor? /break into song
posted by Dick Paris at 7:16 PM on June 6, 2003

Good god! You're married to a house?

Fine then. Make that "domestic executive."

Years ago I worked at a company that made those horrid little sandwiches found in convenience stores. Which would make me a sandwich maker-or so I thought.

For some reason I let my husband-to-be take care of taking our wedding info to the newspaper. Imagine my surprise to find out I was actually an "assembly technician."
posted by konolia at 7:20 PM on June 6, 2003

"I write video games."

Which is true.

I find it's a bit like jumping into the void. Blank looks, genuine interest, fanboy drool. Still waiting for the "what do you think you're doing to the children", but then I don't really mix in those circles.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 7:25 PM on June 6, 2003

A lot of computer geeks here, huh. I shouldn't be surprised. I am impressed with you people, though. I don't understand it...I buy a new piece of software, I can't get it to work, I call support, they are nice or they laugh at me, then it works, or not...

I like talking about what I do (teaching) and finding out what others do because we spend a lot of time doing it...it's like...so, are you a hunter? a gatherer? It's a natural thing to talk about. What we do.

But, like some have menioned, if you are stuck in a job you don't like, well, that is a conversation stopper.
posted by kozad at 7:26 PM on June 6, 2003

[web developer] Whenever someone asks what I do as an introduction, I say I valet park cars at the drive-in.
posted by yerfatma at 7:38 PM on June 6, 2003

It depends on how much knowledge people have of the Korean educational system when I tell them I'm a professor at a university in Korea.

If it's low, they're all like "Cool!"

If it's more, they're all like "Heh. And what's your day job?"
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:59 PM on June 6, 2003

I don't go to parties that much - like arco, I'm a librarian, a high school librarian - if anyone does ask, they roll their eyes at that answer. I rarely tell how much tech support I do at work; I'm always fixing printers or doing other computer/network-related tasks.

I also write a weekly newspaper column, play mandolin and sing backup vocals.

It kind of depends on what sort of party I go to - if it's my work, everyone already knows what everyone does, and if it's with my husband, a recording engineer/producer and web designer, no one asks because it's all musicians, who are too self-absorbed to care what anyone else does.

And konolia, I used to be a housewife and stay-at-home mom also, and how well I remember the eye-rolling when I gave that answer!
posted by Lynsey at 9:40 PM on June 6, 2003

Yeah ... definitely leaving the "cleaning person" part out.

Orb sir, (or ma'am,) tell everyone you see that you are a cleaning person and leave everything else out. You'll have a much better time, and the day after your reunion you will thank me for this advice!
posted by spilon at 10:34 PM on June 6, 2003

i generally only attend parties where people know what i do for a living or if they don't know me they're in the same business so it's not an uncomfy question... but when i'm at a party with regular people i will often lie and say i'm unemployed since the 2 main reactions when you say you're an actor are both annoying. 1.) they instantly get defensive and want proof, such as a run down of your entire career so they can determine if they've seen you in anything - this also goes hand in hand with the assumption that you think you're better than they are, so pile on some more defensive crap, yay. 2.) they want you to perform like a trained seal and "do voices" (i work primarily in toons...) and or sing a little ditty (...and as a studio singer). then i get all cranky and say i don't work for free, do you...? people are just so much nicer to me (and vice versa) when they think i'm an unemployed loser, so it's a harmless party lie. but then i get a lot of "wow your voice is so familiar, have you ever done something on tv or radio or something?" or "you've got a crazy personality, you should be an actor or something" doh!
posted by t r a c y at 11:44 PM on June 6, 2003

whats a good answer when you are "in between jobs"?
posted by dabitch at 3:00 AM on June 7, 2003

dabitch: You're taking a sabbatical. :D
posted by Orb at 4:32 AM on June 7, 2003

I'm a programmer for a cable company.

Never, ever say you work for a cable company. I've learned to lie about it really good now.
posted by sebas at 5:32 AM on June 7, 2003

I work in an industry most people don't know about, doing a job that even less people know about. Often when someone asks what I do, someone else is so pleased to have gotten the story straight that they tell it for me.
posted by loafingcactus at 7:23 AM on June 7, 2003

I want people to ask me about my job. Unfortunately that never happens. And when it happens the conversations usually goes something like this:

Other guy: So what do you do?
Me: I'm a music journalist! (Thinking: Please ask me some follow up questions! I travel to exotic locations! I meet all sorts of interesting people! I hang out backstage! Maybe you've even read one of my articles? Let's discuss the new Rafael Toral album! I want to brag and boast about my fulfilling and interesting career! Talk to me!)
Other guy: Oh... (Probably thinking: So what will you do when you grow up?)
posted by soundofsuburbia at 7:44 AM on June 7, 2003

Lobbyist. Always leads to an explanation of what it is and how it works. Reactions vary.

In nightclubs and when I can't bothered to explain standards in public life I'm usually unemployed.
posted by dmt at 10:00 AM on June 7, 2003

When I was unemployed I used to tell people I was a pirate. They would laugh. Then I would say, "No, seriously. Have you ever thought about a life of piracy? Sailing the open seas, shooting people you don't like. Saying 'arrrrgh' a lot. All the rum you can drink, singing that 'yo ho ho' song. It's great! We're always hiring. Show up at the dock Friday morning with a travel bag and you won't regret it."

Then they would look at you like they couldn't decide if you really meant it or you were crazy.
posted by nyxxxx at 10:25 AM on June 7, 2003

I grow germs for a living. Don't like to tell people - they tend to back away as if I might be contagious (which I'm not, because I make every effort not to bring work home with me!)
I also write, but if I tell anyone that, they always ask if I write childrens' books. That Potter woman has a lot to answer for....
posted by tabbycat at 11:32 AM on June 7, 2003

Here's an anecdote that I found to be balm for all those occasions when someone with no experience assumes they could just do your job no problem.

Canadian author Margaret Atwood was at a party and talking to a doctor who hadn't heard of her/hadn't learned her name (don't know which).

Doc: So what do you do?

Atwood: I'm an author.

Doc: Oh, that's interesting. I always thought I'd be an author after I retire.

Atwood: Oh, that's interesting. I always thought I'd be a doctor after I retire.
posted by orange swan at 2:48 PM on June 7, 2003

whats a good answer when you are "in between jobs"?

I prefer "fuck off."
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 4:30 PM on June 7, 2003

I work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I sell biscuits and gravy all over the Southlands. . .Hi. I'm, uh, I'm a pet psychiatrist. I sell couch insurance. Mm-hmm, and I -- and I test-market positive thinking. I lead a weekend men's group, we specialize in ritual killings. Yeah, you look great! God, yeah! Hi, how are you? Hi, how are you? Hi, I'm Martin Blank, you remember me? I'm not married, I don't have any kids, and I'd blow your head off if someone paid me enough.

I work in TV news. People either seem to think a.) that I have a semi-interesting job, and we end up having a pretty good conversation about mass media, journalism, or the like; or b.) that I really really want to hear all about what they think of "the media", my employer, television in general, cable companies, the DMV, Mayor Bloomberg, President Bush, Osama bin Laden, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, et cetera ad nauseum.
posted by Vidiot at 5:58 PM on June 7, 2003

"What do you do for a living?"

"I'm an actor."

"Really! What restaurant do you work at?"
posted by Dirjy at 7:55 PM on June 7, 2003

In between jobs?

A: Self-under-employed. Alternatively, self-unemployed.

baffled looks will ensue
posted by Dick Paris at 10:25 PM on June 7, 2003

I tell people I'm a writer, and once they've ascertained that I've actually written books and depending how much they've had to drink, here's what comes out:

"We should collaborate on a book together! I've got a great idea!"

It's typically not a great idea, incidentally. The second most common response here is:

"You should write a (drunken person's favorite genre), just like (drunken person's favorite author)!"

To which I usually respond that since (author) is already writing (genre), me writing in the same field in the same way would merely be duplication of effort. Either that or that I'm already busy imitating Heinlein in Science Fiction, and couldn't possibly find the time to ape someone else in another genre entirely.

Unlike Ms. Atwood, I don't typically denigrate people who think they'd like to write when they retire, or on the side. If someone expresses a desire to further the cause of literacy, even only as an aside in a drunken state at a party, I'm all for that. Good writers have typically been other things during the course of their lives, so who knows? Maybe Mr. Drunken Party-Goer will be one of those.
posted by jscalzi at 6:47 AM on June 8, 2003

"I'm a consultant: I answer peoples' questions for a living. What's your billing address please?"
posted by moonbiter at 1:29 PM on June 8, 2003

It's an ice-breaker. Most people spend their days at a job, and it's a pretty safe question. Do you propose "nice hair, who's your hairdresser?" as an alternative?

Also, if the question really bothers, people love talking about themselves so it's easy to do the reverse-ice-breaker, and get them to talk about themselves.
All part of the social game.

( maybe one day I'll get a real MeFi account and won't have to post as "demo" :( )
posted by demo at 6:55 AM on June 9, 2003

Nice dress always works for me! [deluxe icebreaker - free of charge]
posted by filchyboy at 10:40 AM on June 9, 2003

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