There are many things I love about living in New York, and a few I hate. People who ask you what you do, immediately after meeting you, are one of the latter.
The question goes like this: “What do you do?” It comes right after you learn each other’s name, and it implies both “for a living” and “with your life” in equal measure.
Now, I love my job. But that hasn’t always been the case. Years ago, when I was an underpaid peon at a publishing company and a boyfriend actually broke up with me because he felt that I wasn’t serious about my career … not so much. Or, you know, when I got laid off from my first decently paying gig … not so much. But that was before I lived in New York, and in Boston, people don’t ask you what you do, because they don’t talk to you unless they already know you. So that was OK. I didn’t have to deal with it.
But in New York … oy. Five seconds after you meet someone, you’re giving them your CV. Everything is a networking opportunity.
Last night, I went to a party and had far too many Stellas for one who is trying to shed weight, and at least five different people asked me the dreaded question. And each time, I gave them my occupation and company name and a brief sketch of what I do. But by the end of the night, I was sick of it, and decided to think up a few substitute answers. Here are a few of my imagined responses to the dreaded question, “So what do you do?”
“I work at Wendy’s. Right now I’m doing the fries, but if everything works out, I’ll move to the register.”
“Oh, you know.”
“I’m training to be a Welfare Queen.”
“I perform unnatural acts with napkin dispensers for small fees. Because of the current legal climate, it’s best if we refer to this as ‘performance art.'”
“Ha! Ha ha ha. What?”
“Never mind that. What are we going to do about all these hurricanes, hmmm?”
I had lunch with my friend Cedric today, and I told him how irritated I was with this question, and he had an interesting perspective. A few things you should know, right off the bat: Cedric is German, uses the word “efficient” at least three times in every conversation, and believes that my desire to be known for my writing is evidence of “hubris.”
Anyway, Cedric said, “You know that this question is just people who are trying to be polite and cannot think of anything else to say, right?”
I sort of stared at him for a second, blinking. “So … then … actually, by making fun of them, I’m sort of being a snob because I can think of something else to say?”
He smiled kindly. Hubris!