Thoughtful Thursday: Civility

May 20, 2009

Thoughtful Thursday

(Pregnancy mentioned, but the post is mostly about infertility, so ICLW’ers feel free to dive right in)

I’ve been thinking a lot about incivility and civility lately, for several reasons.

  1. A spate of recent unpleasantness in the blogosphere, involving many people I don’t know at all, some that I know somewhat, and a few that I know well and care about. I’d prefer not to talk about it here, except to quote Mel’s advice to “chill the fuck out”.
  2. Anticipation of making The Big Announcement to our families in a couple of days. Some people will be unequivocally happy, but others will be rude, narcissistic, or intrusive.
  3. Anticipation of people asking nosy questions about twin pregnancy or, later, twins. I’ve already gotten my first, by one of my bosses. “Do twins run in your family, or was it fertility drugs…?” She didn’t ask it in a rude way, just a matter-of-fact no-big-deal way as if she’s familiar with such things, if not through her own experiences than via others. That question was fine, but “Are they natural?” will probably not be fine.
  4. Anticipation of people trying to touch my belly. It hasn’t happened yet, because my larger-than-usual stomach could pass as mere fat. One of DH’s twenty-something male friends looks way more pregnant than I do. But, when it happens, I will freak out, and if my husband is nearby I fear for the safety of the Grabby Gus.

My knee-jerk reaction to questions like, “Are they natural?” would be to respond with sarcasm. Perhaps, “Oh yes, my breasts are real!” Or, “Yes, I had a vaginal birth” (or “no, unfortunately I couldn’t have a vaginal birth”). I’m pretty sure that the word “vaginal” will shut most strangers up pretty quickly. 

If it doesn’t shut them up, I’ll probably hear, “That’s not what I meant.” Of course that’s not what they meant. But, a big part of me believes that if someone cannot properly articulate their question, and instead asks it rudely, they don’t deserve a real answer. I’ve faced the same thing throughout my life because many people can’t put their finger on my ethnic background. I got questions much more as a child than as an adult, which either means that people are less likely to ask about ethnicity now, or that I was more ambiguous-looking as a child, or that as an adult I’ve lived in places where people don’t think about (or care about) ethnicity. Here are the three questions I’ve gotten, with my snarky-but-true answers.

“What’s your nationality?” American.

“Where are you from?” [name of state]

the unimaginably offensive “What are you?” [name of career, or blank stare]

I value precision in language, and if some stranger in the supermarket can’t muster precision, I don’t give them the answer that they’re fishing for. Especially since the only reason for asking about ethnicity is curiosity.

That’s my knee-jerk stance. But, the ALI community has taught me a lot about giving people the benefit of the doubt. What if the person asking about the origins of my twins is asking because of their own troubles trying to conceive? The infertile population includes the articulate and the inarticulate, after all. There are nosy reasons to ask about assisted reproduction, and there are legitimate reasons rooted in pain and confusion. I have decided that my stock answer will be, “Why do you ask?” It leaves the door open, while keeping the door closed to those who don’t have a real reason.

What about the many questions I’ve gotten over the years to the tune of “When are you going to start having kids?” Instead of being straightforward or sarcastic, I’ve usually deflected. Occasionally, I’ve managed a zinger.

I like to think that I’m a straight shooter, but on certain topics I deflect like crazy.
I like to think that I’m a nice person, but sometimes civility is too much to ask.

My husband’s typical tactic (because he is a nicer person than I am) is to Kill ‘Em With Kindness. In his line of work, he is on the receiving end of quite a bit of incivility. He’s not an actor, but let’s pretend that he is. Let’s pretend that he is Kirk Cameron, circa 1986 (before Kirk found Jesus). Instead of fan mail saying, “You are so cute!” “That photo of you in Tiger Beat was so sexy!” and “You are such a good actor. Mike Seaver is so funny”, imagine that the “fan” mail said, “You suck!” “Who did you blow to get this gig?” “You are the worst actor on TV” and “Boner is way better than you.” Then imagine that Kirk wrote a detailed personalized reply to every single letter, including the mean ones. “I agree with you that Josh Andrew Koenig, who portrays Boner, is an outstanding comedic actor. I am privileged to work with him every day. Thanks for watching!” That, in essence, is what my husband does with the haters. Without fail, every one of them responds positively, as if their original sentiment had been completely different. “Thanks so much for writing back to me! No one has ever responded to my letter before. I have been a huge fan ever since your afterschool special ‘Andrea’s Story: A Hitchhiking Tragedy.’ Keep up the fantastic work on Growing Pains, and best wishes with your career. You are amazing!” It’s a pretty neat trick — take away people’s anonymity; fight incivility with civility, and earn a fan for life.

What I’ve said about my husband’s commitment to civility does not apply if someone tries to touch my belly.

How do you respond to incivility? Inappropriate questions? Nosy strangers? Regardless of how you actually respond, how do you wish you responded?


45 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Civility”

  1. WiseGuy Says:

    How do you respond to incivility? Inappropriate questions? Nosy strangers? Regardless of how you actually respond, how do you wish you responded?

    Nice Question there! I for one has been meek in dealing with incivility mostly, but it leaves me very upset. And I have trouble expressing how upset I am.

    The other thing here, is that esp with regards to when-are-you-having-kids scenario, culturally, it is grounded that most of the couples will score atleast once in the first two-three years of marriage…we are strange people…five years and no certificate of merit? How uncool is that…so, people take it upon themselves to remind us that we have perhaps forgotten to do it…

    I have very mixed reactions to incivility…for me, it hurts when close family asks these kind of questions…I would mind it less with strangers though….A friend, who has zero idea about what we are going through, asked me if I and hubby knew where babies came from? I laughed…and asked him to describe exactly!

    Another time, I was told to go do stuff on full moon nights, so that I got a boy….I smiled and said OK! That was one time, I wanted to buttslap this diamond wearing, grand-daughter toting, ritualistic acquaintance! She has whizzed past all the kid milestones if these stupid conceptions in mind, and God did not correct her?

    Most of all, I have started telling colleagues randomly crazy lies about what I am doing or not doing next.

    I smile. That’s my best response…but it hurts, and if I were to vile out, I would feel worse.

  2. WiseGuy Says:

    Third last para – “kid milestones with these stupid conceptions in mind, and God did not “

  3. WiseGuy Says:

    If I get twins, I can get away by saying that it is in the family…one of my aunt has identical twins, conceived naturally!

  4. WiseGuy Says:

    Ugh… *ICLW* !

  5. Heather R. Says:

    I usually just stare blankly then turn to someone else in the group and start a different conversation with them. Queen of Passive Aggression here.


  6. Heather Says:

    I’m honest about our twins being via IVF. Since I’ve had issues with infertility for over a decade, I like being honest as I’m sure there are a lot of others out there with the same problems. I like keeping that one open and out there.

    On the belly touching, if it’s not someone I really care for, I start backing up while they put their hand up. They’ve usually understood what that meant, LOL! Although I love what I recently read someone else did – they touched the other person’s stomach and when they looked offended they said, “See you don’t like it either!”

    BTW, my DH gets questions a lot about his ethnicity too. We’ve learned to make a joke out of it. My favorite question is “Where were you born?” That’s more getting to the point of what they are looking for, but when they answer is New Jersey, they are quite confused. Lately to ladies that ask, his favorite answer is “Where do you want me to be from?” We’ve gotten some good discounts from people just agreeing that he was from Puerto Rico, Spain, Italy and our favorite was Israel. That was a new one.

  7. Carrie Says:

    I hated that question (#3) and I still do. Any time someone finds out I have twins, they still ask.

    My response is no, they do not run in my family. Simple.

    People just need to shut the frick up and not ask questions when it comes to family building.

  8. Kristin Says:

    I try to politely or sarcastically (coated with a veneer of civilization) put them in their place. I had an answer all prepared for when people looked at me and said, “Haven’t you had that baby yet?” I was going to look straight at them and, with a deadpan reaction, say, “Why yes, I had him last week. But, I got so attached to that extra weight I was carrying around in front of me that I strapped on a bowling ball.” Then you have to cap it off by lovingly patting your “bowling ball” tummy.

    As for random people touching your tummy, get a shirt (and maybe some cards printed up) that says, “Touch it and you die!”

  9. strongblonde Says:

    i actually lived this same thing this past weekend at a friend’s child’s party. i got outed about being pregnant and with twins, and one of the guys asked if twins ran in my family. i hadn’t even predicted this question. i just answered it honestly: in fact my mom’s sisters are twins and my dad’d father was a twin. BUT it made me think about why someone even thought about asking that. Remember when there used to be this facisnation with twins? we totally don’t have that anymore. now, we just suspect fertility treatments and judge people right away.

    i like your response, though 🙂

  10. If I don’t expect it, I stammer like a simpleton. If I’m on my toes, I’ll reply with a smart a$$ remark. I’ve only been thrown off a few times. One by an old lady who told me “someone was hungry” when Nae was reaching for me and grabbing onto my top. I was shocked! I smiled and ran away..I had NO idea what to say!
    Happy ICLW!

  11. Rebecca Says:

    Deflection/I laugh it off. I’m reeeeeally good at that. But I wish I had the balls to say sarcastic things.

    Since my dad died, I’m better. If anyone asks how he died, I’m very honest. I need to be visible about suicide because he and his death deserve it.

  12. jaymee Says:

    i am honest to a fault about our surrogacy. the poor unsuspecting stranger who asks if i have children, because they are going to get the full story.

    other than the woman who asked how i could let my husband sleep with another woman (who i wanted to slap) i do not think there is such a thing as an inappropriate question. sure, some people are asking out of nosey curiosity, but others are asking as a way to reach out. IF is a lonely place to be and sometimes it is that chance encounter that can make all the difference. yes, there are times when i just do not feel like talking about it anymore, but usually those are the times that i need to talk about it the most.

    i am sure that once we have a child in our arms this response will be somewhat different. i just want to make sure that my child never has to be ashamed of the way he/she came into the world, because it is a beautiful story. the best way that i can think to ensure this, is to not be ashamed myself. this is not to say that the whole world needs to know, i am not taking out a billboard or anything, but i believe that being honest is always the best thing.


  13. Dora Says:

    ““What’s your nationality?” American.

    “Where are you from?” [name of state]

    the unimaginably offensive “What are you?” [name of career, or blank stare]”

    OMG! We are sisters! I used to get this ALL THE TIME from taxi drivers. And I responded EXACTLY the same. It seemed to stop after 9/11. Hmmmmm.

    On the belly touching, I think I might just slap their hands away. Ewww!

    As to the “are they/she/he natural?” Maybe we could brainstorm on snarky comebacks.

    “No, I’m feeding him only Cheetos. Not natural at all.”

    “She’s a droid. Shhhh, top secret government program.”

  14. Photogrl Says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as my first IVF cycle is looming in the future. I am starting to wonder if I’ll tell anyone about it.

    It depends on who’s asking the unwanted questions for me.

    If it’s a stranger, and I’m feeling snarky, I’ll be honest…otherwise I pretend I didn’t hear the question.

    If it’s friends/family, I’m more opt to be vague, or more informational about what I’m going through.

  15. becomingwhole Says:

    How do I respond to incivility/nosy strangers/inappropriate questions? How do I WISH I had responded? Hmmmm…Well, I think I am moving from a place of meek and mild politeness (i.e. ignoring others’ rudeness, a.k.a. enabling them) to a more in-your-face approach (yet, not rude). My new philosophy is that if someone makes me uncomfortable, it is ok for them to feel uncomfortable, too.


  16. Gina Says:

    First congrats on the twins, and happy ICLW!

    I am usually nice about prying answers, but every once and a while I’m not. When asked “why don’t you have any kids yet”, I have responded “I’ve had two m/c and we have been trying for 2 years”. When asked “why don’t you just adopt”, I have responded, “Because my husband and I are not ready for that step, and we will do everything possible in order to have a biological child”.

    Hugs to you, and I hope that you don’t have to deal with too many stupid people.

  17. KC Mom Says:

    As for the “Do twins run in your family question??” Your response could be, “They do NOW!!!”
    As for the belly touching—I don’t have a great response, although when my MIL repeatedly kept touching “her grandchild” over and over again (even after I asked her not to), I finally touched her’s back!!! She never did it again.
    One final story–after my son was born (the day after), my FIL came to the hospital, pointed to my belly and said, “Are you sure they didn’t leave another one in here???” WTF!!!! Some people have NO class!!!!

  18. MeAndBaby Says:

    I’m not as good with the quick comebacks. I find myself walking away and thinking on it and then coming up with the perfect response. If/When it happens for me, I’m going to try to prepare myself ahead of time. I expect some zingers since I am TTC as a single mom.

  19. Cat Says:

    I agree with BecomingWhole – if someone makes me uncomfortable with their question, they can expect to be made uncomfortable right back. I agree with you, Cass, on the “why do you ask?” response and will use it when a person’s question falls between the rudeness of “are they natural?” and other questions that have made it much easier to be open about our IVF. If the person is merely asking because they’re curious, I don’t know how I’ll answer but it won’t be polite. Perhaps I’ll ask them what sexual position they used to conceive their child/ren.

    Regardless of incivility related to IF, I pretty much stand up for myself when anyone is rude. The last few years have been hard ones, there were several family crises and dramas in addition to TTC, so now I just don’t have the patience to spare anyone’s feelings when they’re clearly not even considering mine.

  20. Mel Says:

    First of all, peeing in my pants over the whole Kirk Cameron part.

    I too get the ethnicity questions–still incessantly–and I tend to just answer everything with complete blunt honesty. I do give people the benefit of the doubt that while some are nosy, more are asking because they’re looking for a connection with you (I say this because people usually assume that I am their ethnicity when they’re asking).

  21. As a writer, I usually regard strangers as characters as opposed to actual living, breathing people. And incivility has always been a character trait to me. I rarely get offended by what strangers say — only by what my friends and loved ones say, since they’re the ones that count.

    So to that end, I find it more interesting than irritating that so many people ask me where I’m from. I’m not quite sure what it is about me that makes it seem that I’m from a foreign country, but most black people (and a ton of non-black people) think I’m African when they first meet me. The majority of the Africans I meet also think that I am African, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been approached by Africans on the street asking me “Where are you from?” I think it’s because I’ve worn a natural hairstyle since I was 17 and I just don’t come off as very American upon first sight.

    I think every person who is not white in America must decide whether they are going to be a teacher or a fighter when it comes to dealing w/ ignorant people outside of their culture.

    I grew up in an almost all-black community, so I remember making the decision sometime around my sophomore year at my mostly-white college that when people asked me ignorant questions or said ignorant things I would answer them in a way that made sure that they were so educated on the topic that they would never ask another black person this question ever again. In a way, I considered myself an anonymous protector of other black people on campus.

    I only bring this up, b/c I feel the same way about infertility. When people say something ignorant to me, I usu respond with, “Well, here’s the answer to your question, and here’s how you might phrase it better, so that someone who isn’t me doesn’t get offended.”

    For example, one of my many pregnant friends recently said, “I wish I could’ve gotten IVF, then I would be able to get an ultrasound at all of my appointments” — apparently spontaneous moms-to-be only get occasional ultrasounds and she’s dying to know her baby’s gender. I said, “No you don’t wish that [ignorant friend’s name]and please don’t ever say it again b/c it’s really offensive to women who’ve had to get IVF for this and this reason.”

    As for strangers touching my belly, it’s only happen twice. Friends are all over it though. Even some forever-bachelors and some couples who want to remain childless go in for the touch. Usually, they ask first, but sometimes they don’t. I find it endearing. I think it’s lovely that people are so compelled to connect with the life inside of you. I’ve always been pro-human, but pregnancy has made me even moreso.

    Also, I like all the free belly rubs.

  22. runamokamok Says:

    I have little tolerance for random snarkiness and all things mean. Husband says I have low tolerance for a lot of things in general but let me tell you, being rude or generally asinine is the quickest way for me to want to connect foot with your butt. I am never at a loss for word in the right times… often the opposite.

    WiseGuy- I’m not saying these mean comments don’t get to me, because they do. I take it all personally. But I refuse to let strangers or family members make inappropriate comments towards me, Husband, our fertility issues or how we choose to live our life in general.

    I have on several occasions set people straight because I have found that people tend to sound one way but only say those things because they are ignorant. Ignorant to the daily landmines associated with infertility. So I like to see it not as being defensive, but educating one over-fertile mind at a time. 😉

  23. Mr. Shelby Says:

    Great list, thanks for sharing it. Got a good laugh from a few items!

    Mr. Shelby

  24. Katie Says:

    I’m only 7 weeks pregnant with twins and I’m already getting really tired of the “do twins run in your family or did you take fertility drugs?” question. I am not at all hiding my infertility, but it’s just plain rude and none of anybody’s business!!!

  25. Jenn Says:

    I always hate it when people ask if twins (or babies in general for that matter) are natural. It makes me want to say, “NO! They are made out Leggos!” : )


  26. meepit79 Says:

    If it’s a stranger saying something stupid, I either give them a straight, and overly informational answer, or ignore it.

    With friends and family, I usually wait until they’ve forgotten what they said, and then try to educate them about why giving me advice about which positions to try isn’t a good idea. Last month, I peppered my facebook pals with suggestions for how to help a friend dealing with IF.

    Great post, and happy ICLW

  27. Caba Says:

    Hi! Here for ICLW. I HATE the natural question. I have 2 year old twins, and get it all the time. Umm, actually no, they are made of plastic … and someone OBVIOUSLY forgot to install the mute button!

    As a twin mom, an invaluable resource to me as been They have an expecting forum that is just choke full of great advice and people with all the same questions. And boy do things get heated when the “are they natural” question comes up!!!

  28. bellaandherfella Says:

    I like your idea about shooting a question right back to them, then maybe that’ll make ’em think about how rude they’re being!

  29. Missy Says:

    Asking why they ask would be a great response! If you are feeling more snarky about the “are they natural” questions you can say “I’m not sure; I got pregnant right after the aliens abducted me.”

    I respond to incivility by silence and deflection. I don’t want to make the situation more unpleasant, but can’t fight it by layering on the sugar.


  30. Mrs. Gamgee Says:

    Sometimes I wish I could be more creative in my comebacks to some people’s rudeness. My problem is that I don’t come up with a good response until after they are long gone.

    One of my favourite responses to an uninvited belly grope is the idea of reaching out to the ‘groper’ and touching them just as inappropriately… like squeezing her boob. (not that I have needed to do this yet… but man I think it’s funny)

  31. mekate Says:

    vaginal vaginal vaginal vaginal vaginal
    Oh my god you made me smile with your wonderful honest snarkiness. God how I wish I were so articulate. So yes, “why do you ask?” is the best possible thing to say– about breastfeeding or not, twins or not, kids or not, because really, why? if they have the balz to say “because I am nosy”, I might just answer.

    About the belly, yeah, that is a toughie– it somehow becomes public property, a place of awe and the laying on of hands. I am not sure how I would handle it. But I cannot wait to hear what you come up with. Good luck!

  32. I am forever amazed when I hear of rude remarks by people. I don’t know how I would handle some things that have been said to you. I just wrote a post regarding stupid things said to adoptive parents. It’s all around- stupidity, that is.
    Happy ICLW

  33. S Says:

    “are they natural” is kinda like asking adoptive parents “are you their REAL parents”. no, we’re totally UNREAL, we don’t exist, and STFU and die.

    its a stupid, ill-worded question, (one could argue its a matter of “semantics” but f*ck that) unless the asker is referring to your bewbs.

    I don’t usually give strangers the time of day with that sorta stuff. I usually temper my “none of your business is it” with a smile. That usually works. even with nosey family!

  34. Eve Says:

    Oh yeah, nosey questions are INEVITABLE!!!! I’ve realized that people ask nosey questions all the time, it’s just that the questions are often about topics that I don’t give a second thought to:

    Where did you go to high school? (This is a question to fit you into a social/economic status where I’m from…I didn’t even grow up here, so it’s been a non-issue)

    What do you do? (Again, sizing up question to see if you’re educated, working, a valuable member of society…whatever)

    What does your husband do? (Translation: how much money do you guys have?)

    I’m also honest to a fault about my IF, so if someone asks about it, they’re (like someone else said) going to get a HUGE ear full. THAT is punishment enough!

    I think that the answer to the question “Are they natural?” should be:

    “No they’re actually made of synthetic polymer.”

  35. Cara Says:

    Then – and – Now are very different responses.

    Then – “hell, they asked, they get what they get – straight, raw and uncut”

    Now – I take a minute to measure sincerity in asking, meaning – do they really want to know or was it just a ‘thing you say when you stand around’? Then, defer to “then”.

  36. FET Accompli Says:

    Hi there,
    I didn’t sign up yet for ICLW this month, but am easing in slowly by checking out the blog list. How do I respond to incivility? It depends on my mood. I try at least to be kind and realize that people just don’t know unless they’ve been there…

    I liked this potential answer of yours: “Oh yes, my breasts are real!”

  37. Erika Says:

    I wish I could be more articulate! Alas, I’m one of the infertiles who doesn’t know how to get out what she wants to say. Good luck, and enjoy all the excitement!

  38. Erika Says:

    I wish I could be more articulate! Alas, I’m one of the infertiles who doesn’t know how to get out what she wants to say. Good luck, and enjoy all the excitement!


  39. Nina Says:

    Well, I’m a nurse. And I’m one of those people who have an unhealthy fascination with the grossest parts of my job, nor am I shy. So, I’m more than ready to give them all they asked for and much, much more. People usually run the other way soon. One of the MD’s I worked with asked me how I’d lost so much weight (in front of a large group of people). He began giving examples. I replied “Nooo, I had an anencephalic pregnancy, then was placed on Well.butrin.” The whole group shut up and has avoided me since. Bet he never asks that question again without thinking.

  40. Katie Says:

    Good luck telling the family!

    As we undergo our first IVF- I desperately want twins (although I never did pre-infertility) so it could mark the end of our TTC days. I have thought a lot about the level of info I would share about any child that results from our IVF process. I would like to think I would be loud and proud- but only time will tell.

    How do you respond to incivility? Inappropriate questions? Nosy strangers? Regardless of how you actually respond, how do you wish you responded?

    I usually ingnore or deflect their comments- and sometimes I educate. Depends on how receptive I think the person would be to the “education.” What I wish I would have the balls to do: respond snarkily. I often don’t think that quickly on my feet though. And, in the back of my head I think: will that do any good anyway? I often think about giving a nosy stranger more than they bargain for if they ask a totally personal question and give them the full rundown instead, but I never have.

  41. Jess Says:

    I don’t respond to it, because I never know what to say. I wish I could be sharp and witty and come out with something fantastic, but then, I’d probably feel horrible afterward.


  42. well, since you’re asking, i’ll answer…

    I handle it with a blunt and simple “shut the fuck up!”


  43. caitsmom Says:

    Hmmm… in the word ‘vaginal’ and that will pretty much shut any conversation down….great advice, can’t wait to use it! I’m not a big fan of the hate parade on the blogosphere, and so try not to participate in it, though I have responded to defend the blogger when s/he gets attacked. Though, it always a difficult post to defend and not return the vitriol. Peace.


  44. Word Nerd Says:

    I’m fine educating people who actually matter in my life, but I have a pretty low tolerance for stupid, nosy strangers. Part of my non-TTC life involves owning and managing rental properties and I’ve learned that there are a lot of useless idiots out there. I say it’s none of their business. I like your idea of asking “why do you ask?”. If their answer confirms their stupidity, I say it’s fair game to let them know that it’s rude and inappropriate.

    And as far as strangers touching bellies – WTF makes people think that’s OK?

  45. InDueTime Says:

    Isn’t it funny how so many people think there are such simple questions and simple answers? I tend to lean towards the snarky side when I answer the “simple” questions.

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