When to Hold Your Tongue

Recently at work I was asked one of the most ignorant things I have ever been asked by a customer. I have a tattoo of a date on my forearm and lots of people ask me if it’s my birthday. One day I was ringing a woman through and she asked me what the date on my arm was for, I told her that it was the date of my adoption.
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Here’s a little context: My sister and I are from Taiwan, we were adopted separately and just by coincidence, we are blood related. My sister was born in 1988 in Taipei where my parents adopted her and brought her back to Holland where they were posted. Three years later the woman who set up my sisters adoption had a cancelled flight and was stuck in Holland. My parents put her up for the night and expressed their interest to adopt another baby. When the lady flew back to Taiwan she had lunch with one her friends who also worked at an agency and just so happened to know a family who had to give up a baby. That baby was me. Turns out the family had already given up a baby three years before and that baby was my sister. So of course my parents jumped at the opportunity to adopt me and raise me with my sister.

I told the story to this customer and when I was finished she stood there silently, putting her credit card back in her wallet, looked up at me and said “what was it like growing up without a real mother?” I was taken aback by this question because no one has ever asked me that question before. I just stood there with my mouth open wondering if maybe I heard her question wrong, not sure if she was actually expecting an answer. She eventually walked away from me, I suppose the awkward silence was too much for her.
My parents raised me and loved me like any parent would with their children. They gave me a life my “real” parents couldn’t. I think back to that day and think about what I should have said to that lady in my store. I get rattled and angry when I think about how this woman has such nerve to go up so strangers asking these ignorant questions and not even realizing that it’s rude. I find myself getting upset even writing about this. Should I have responded? Would I have gotten in trouble if I got defensive and upset because I should be professional at work?

My question is: how would you have handled this situation while at work?

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2 thoughts on “When to Hold Your Tongue

  1. Wow… First of all, why be angry at someone for asking a question that they didn’t even realize was rude. Their lack of enlightenment isn’t your problem. Here’s a helpful phrase I use when someone asks me something that is completely out of bounds and none of their business:
    Rude person: So what was it like growing up without a real mother?|
    You: Why do you ask??

    “Why do you ask”…. use that as your response and let THEM tell you why what they’re asking is any of their business. It really works.

  2. Some people. I work in customer service so I totally understand the incredibly stupid, rude, and ignorant things people say. “The customer is always right” so it is hard to truly voice how you feel (plus there’s always the risk of being fired). There are days when I flip the finger at customers when they aren’t looking. Doesn’t do much to teach them a lesson but sure makes me feel just a teensy bit better.

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