When is a question is not a question?
We all do it. Further, and more incisively, we all hear it in conversation directed at us. The most universal of these is, “Are you wearing that?” a close cousin to the more cutting, “Is THAT what you’re wearing?” The over use of this has made it more recognizable, even comic, but what about the more subtle ‘question that is not a question.’
At a recent Chanukah party one of the children asked me, “Is this all we’re eating?” Which really means, I don’t want latkes; I want you to offer me something else. Since I was busy serving a room full of people, I did not. Also, I had some preparation as she asked me this same question last year, and possibly the year before. She also asks me at the Seder, only this version is, “What else are we having?” usually during the second course. I’m not sure, but I have taken this to mean-I don’t know if I should ask for more soup or if I should wait and see if I like the meat course. It’s subtle enough that her parents and grandparents don’t correct her. (Although they don’t correct her about much, so I don’t know if this is a good measurement or not.)
I had a friend in the brief space between high school and college whom I sometimes traveled with. “Are you ironing your clothes to go to the beach?” She wanted to know. Since I was standing in front of the TV next to a full sized ironing board, my dependable and often used Sunbeam steaming away as it rested, and an opened suitcase on the floor next to me, I am pretty sure she wasn’t just curious. “Yes,” I answered, taking a moment away from my folding to look around at these artifacts then back at her over my glasses in answer. “Duh,” I wanted to add.
“Why would you iron just to pack for the beach?” she asked. “I would never iron all my clothes just to go to the beach…” she explicated.
“I would never wear a blouse I found under the couch out to dinner.” She had preformed this a few nights previous, shaking the dust and dog hair off before donning said shirt and it was as good a comparison as any.
“It fell there!”
“Clearly,” I answered and raised my eyebrows.
“We could never live together, could we?” she sighed.
“No, we could not,” I answered and her face fell. The receiving end of that comment was clearly a different experience for her than making it, which hadn’t seemed to bother her at all. Besides, the thinking goes, if it is in the form of a question you haven’t really said anything, right?
My friend was a smart girl. Well, she still is smart, but not my friend anymore. Unfortunately, she also asks questions under the disguise of asking what you would prefer and then tries to argue you out of it. After telling her several times that I don’t like this, it makes me feel manipulated. She not only couldn’t stop, but also defended this habit.
“I’m Italian,” she said, as if this explained everything.
“I’m not,” I answered. Sometimes the problem with being told you are smart your whole life it that one tends to start thinking of others as not so smart. Not only not the case, but not a great relationship maker. In all honesty, sometimes I didn’t care how we did things, one way or another; it was more the feeling of having my opinion discounted or my own choice wrench away from me, after being asked for them, that made me feel manipulated and disrespected. “Why not just SAY what it is you want?” I asked once. Then we could either agree or disagree, I thought. It would save a lot of time, not to mention feelings and eventually a relationship.
More recently my husband asked me, “Are you going to take the GPS?” when we were setting off on a short trip to a nearby city. I was a little prickly anyway as we had had a disagreement the evening before.
“Do you want me to bring the GPS?” I asked. He was, after all, the one driving. He nodded. “Why not just say so?” I said under my breath.
“What’s that?” he wanted to know.
“Nothing.” I muttered………… Uh oh.