There are many questions people ask in an attempt to be polite and fulfill their social obligations on par with proper social etiquette, but many of these questions upon further inspection prove to be quite rude, at times even insulting.
This is a very innocous question right? Seems quite polite to ask someone how they are, but answering it in fact poses quite some problems for the askee. First they must consider the level of acquaintance between you so as not to divulge too much information while at the same time not divulging too little. They must consider whether you're just being polite or are actually interested (this question often seems to get used instead of hello). Furthermore, they must consider why it is that you are asking them, do you not know them well enough to see how they are from their body language, tone of voice, etc.? If the acquaintance is so close that you are interested in their actual state of mind, shouldn't you intrinsically already know?
Personally I only ask this question as a conversation starter. I try to give the person a chance to speak up about what's troubling them, or simply a chance to smile, shrug it off, and say they're alright.
Gift giving is a time honoured tradition meant to deepen acquaintances and inter-personal bonds. In this light people often ask what somebody would like as their present thinking how polite it is of them to be so considerate as to ask rather than buy the wrong thing. But this is wrong, instead of being a polite move it implies that you do not know the person enough to know what they'd like, that you don't even have a clue as to what might brighten their day, that you can't even think of anything bland and generic that nearly everybody likes. It implies, obviously, that you do not care to put any sort of effort into gift selection. The only thing worse than asking is giving money because that ... that's just lazy.
See the thing with gifts is that they're supposed to be a way to gauge your care for the person whom you are gifting, it shows how much you are willing to spend on them (needs to be tried against how much you can afford), it shows how much thought you are willing to give and if you plain old ask then it is upon the giftee to put a value on your relationship and that's just mean. They're supposed to be the one enjoying your gift, not the one doing all the work.
I often ask this in one way or another after sexual coitus, I'm just curious, but it implies that I don't know my partner and that I can't tell from what they're doing whether it was good or bad and, what's worse, that it perhaps wasn't good for me and I need to ask if it was for them - seeming as how I wouldn't be asking if it was prefectly great for me and I'd rather be enjoying it. Seriously, whomever ever thinks this question is polite is an idiot, I don't even know why I put it on the list.
People will sometimes ask this question when somebody in their company breaks conversation to receive a phone call. Seems perfectly polite right? Not. Asking this is an invasion in privacy, it asks the person to divulge certain information they might not want divulged, because if you had clearance to know who it was, or if it was in some way important, the person would tell you anyway without being asked. This question is doubly tricky when asking a boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse since it implies distrust, sure you should technically have security clearance to know anything, but this particular call might just be unimportant to you. However it is similarly impolite for the other person not to tell you because that implies they have something to hide and whenever somebody in such close relationship is hiding something dark clouds start brewing.
Alright, I'm afraid I can't think of any more impolite polite questions even though I've been brewing this post for a week. You got four questions you should be careful asking and a pretty clear guideline to discover your own questions of this kin. Yes the number ten in the title was pure sensacionalism, but screw it, I'm pretty sure you can fill in the gaps.
I write articles with real insight into the career and skills of a modern software engineer. "Raw and honest from the heart!" as one reader described them. Fueled by lessons learned over 20 years of building production code for side-projects, small businesses, and hyper growth startups. Both successful and not.
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