The Answer to Rude Questions

The Answer to Rude Questions

Way back when I was writing Orthogals, we were asked for advice on how to handle inappropriate questions. We had a dozen real-life examples at the ready. A decade and a pandemic later, I have far more, and I was asked to update this article.

The short answer is that the best answer to rude questions is a refusal. We do not owe anyone intimate information.

Examples, all from real life:

  • A coworker asks if you have gained/lost weight.
  • Someone unnecessarily asks about your or your kids’ vaccination status only in order to judge.
  • Anyone not looking for product recommendations asks what kind of undergarments you prefer.
  • A spiritual advisor asks about intimate physical details of your life. (Even in Confession or marital counseling, the priest doesn’t need any details in order to serve your spiritual needs.)
  • An acquaintance asks when you intend to get married or have children, or what you think of Bob over there.
  • Someone asks about your sex life.
  • A stranger asks about your finances.
  • A non-expert on your problem asks if you’ve tried coconut oil for that.

Sometimes the rudeness is well-meaning, an awkward attempt to connect. Of course, we want to be gracious, but you still don’t have to share private information. 

Other times the other person isn’t even being rude; the topic just hits on something personal, and it’s useful to have a way to gently deflect. Certain questions touch a nerve, like “Are you seeing anyone?” after a breakup, or “When are you planning to have kids?” when you’re dealing with fertility issues or miscarriage. 

Useful deflections and subject changes:

Hmm, interesting.  


Thanks, I’ll think about it. 

Hard to say.

That’s private.

I’m not comfortable sharing that.

(Without any transition, eyebrow raise optional) So, the weather’s been really nice lately.  Any weekend plans? 

Did your sports team win this weekend? 

How is your garden growing?

What are you reading lately?

Tell me, how are your pets/kids/neighbors doing?

Excuse me, I’m going to go get some water. 

Back to work, do you have _____ for (project) ready? 


At worst, the question is ill-intentioned, and rude questions turn out to be the first of many boundaries they cross once they know they’ll get away with it. (Please read Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear.) 

What’s the harm in answering? Honestly, there’s very little benefit.

Once you share information, it’s no longer yours alone. We all know how uncomfortable it is to end up as grist for the rumor mill, whether it’s yia-yias talking or an asterisk on your professional reputation. The internet is forever, and information travels fast. 

It’s okay for it to be awkward if you don’t answer. A boundary-crossing question causes awkwardness. Your refusal to answer simply acknowledges that it is already awkward for you. Speaking up can be hard, but it’s easier if you practice 2-3 responses in front of the mirror so you don’t have to come up with an idea on the spot. And it’s always okay to just change the subject, no transition or acknowledgment is needed. If they meant well, pair your response with a warm smile. If they were miles out of line, preface it with a long, uncomfortable silence and change the subject extra graciously to save them from their faux pas. Putting up with bad behavior silently means the badly-behaved people get away with it, while everyone else has to feel uncomfortable.  That’s backward, don’t you think? 

More assertive ways to respond to real boundary-pushing:

…Wow, awkward.  


Excuse me?

That’s personal, thanks.

Not cool.  

I don’t understand.  Why would you want to know _____?  Keep asking naïve and sincere questions until they realize how far out of line they are.  Works well for racism and sexism, too, ie “Huh, why is that funny?  Do you think all _____ are _____?” 

Sorry, I didn’t catch that.  What did you say? Bonus points if you can get them to repeat it three times before they realize they were out of line. 

Gee, if someone didn’t know you, they might think you’re (a predator, racist, creepy). 

Oh! You don’t really mean that! 

Did you really just ask that? 

Whoops, that was your out-loud voice. 

Oh, gross! 

Oh, dear.

This seems to really stress you out. It’ll be okay! Here, let’s talk about _____. Say it soothingly, interpreting their anger as panic.  Works best when someone’s gone off on a rant. 

Yeeeahh, no. 

Thank you for sharing. 

That’s a third-date question.

That’s inappropriate.

Ew, why are you asking?

I don’t feel a need to share that information. 

Buzz off, you’re being creepy. 

That’s enough.

Time to stop.

I’d like an apology. 

While the questions we’re fielding change as we age (“What do you plan to do with your estate?” comes to mind), I don’t think boundaries ever become optional. It’s not like someday we will be done with the work of balancing openness and privacy, or done with the work of listening to our needs and communicating what they are.

We have a responsibility to ourselves to honor our boundaries. And while listening to ourselves about our needs is reason enough, our boundaries do matter to more than just ourselves. Our participation in respectful relationships shapes the community around us, just as our beloved communities shape us. 

We are icons of Christ, and our neighbors are icons of Christ. We can’t diminish ourselves by ignoring our needs, and we must not diminish others by refusing to ask them to love us, too. 


Brigid Strait Johns is an Orthodox Christian writer from Washington State. She writes at Mild Regards, where she aims to support people in honoring their imperfect relationships just as they are. She lives with her family, a dog, and four opinionated ducks. The ducks are rarely in a row.


Brigid Strait Johns author photo