Many of my friends from University days will recognise the question "so, are you going to wear that shirt?" I cannot quite remember the origin of the phrase, other than that it was addressed by a girl to her boyfriend on observing what he had chosen for an evening out. I think we all know what it means, but perhaps the non-British readers may not be quite so familiar with the full nuances of the question. Broadly, it translates to "Dear God! What the hell do you think you look like? There is no way I will be seen dead with you dressed like that. Go back to your room and choose something more appropriate. Now. Ideally ask me to come and tell you which shirt to wear."
I don't know whether it's a particular British thing, or an English thing, or just a passive-aggressive thing, but I do seem to experience a lot of this kind of question. Sometimes it's obvious what it means, other times less so. And sometimes it's a downright sledgehammer, that's abandoning all pretence of "passive" and moving directly to "aggressive". So today, I'm going to take a little tour through some of my favourite examples (with translations).
Are you going to eat all that cheese?
- option 1: Don't you think you're more than fat enough already? I really think you should consider cutting back on your cheese intake.
- option 2: I haven't bought enough lunch for myself, and I would really like to cadge some of your lunch, despite the fact that you have shown the foresight to buy enough food for the whole week, and I haven't even managed to bring enough for today.
Do you use that china?
- My own life is so chaotic and my children so badly behaved, I find it incomprehensible that you might be able to use fine china in your lives. I am therefore going to assume that the fact that you have a glass-fronted cabinet full of Royal Doulton is just pretension on your part, and try and embarrass you about it, in an indirect fashion. [Note: this attempt fails, as we do use the bone china, and allow LittleBear to use it, on the grounds there's no point having it otherwise, and by treating him as a responsible human being at times, I find he behaves like one.]
Are you testing the new scientific instrument?
- I can clearly see that you're sitting at your desk, on a different floor of the building to the instrument in question, and therefore cannot possibly be testing anything downstairs, however, rather than asking you directly what you're doing or when you're going to start testing I shall be obtusely oblique, and leave you utterly bewildered about what the point of this question is. Other than nagging. I'm pretty sure nagging is involved.
Were you getting a cup of tea?
- easy one this - please make me a cup of tea.
Does LittleBear still <fill in the blank>?
- I believe my child is more advanced than yours and I am going to attempt to draw your attention to this fact in the least subtle way I can imagine, beyond actually pointing and laughing. The utterance of a question of this nature almost instantly relegates the speaker into the category of "parents I have no interest in spending time with". I don't need this rubbish. There are enough ways in which I can feel like a rubbish mother on my own thank you very much, I don't need anyone's help. Besides, today I am an absolutely bloody awesome mother, so there.
Do you let LittleBear <fill in the blank>?
- this is a tricky one, as it can have two clear, and diametrically opposite meanings, that all depend on the intonation. If there's a slight air of incredulity, then we're looking at option 1. Option 1 is therefore much the same as my previous example. This is a parent (usually a mother) who wishes to claim the moral high ground for her parenting choices and condemn any other choices to the heap of neglect, stupidity or failure. She (as I said, it usually is) can bugger right off with her faux outrage at whatever it is you've chosen to do that she thinks is inappropriate. On the other hand, if there's a slightly plaintive tone, or a hint of desperation, or indeed simple curiosity, then we're firmly in the territory of option 2. Option 2 means you're talking to a normal human being who is looking for advice, validation, help or information. This is not a passive-aggressive question, it's just a question and should be welcomed with open arms (open ears?) and responded to kindly.
You don't actually wear leggings do you? With your knees?
- this is one of the classic sledgehammers. Uttered by my "best-friend" at school. Perhaps the fact that she was 6 inches shorter than me and with legs of double the circumference might explain the source of the question, but still. With friends like her I really didn't need any enemies.
You can eat a lot can't you?
- I have genuinely no idea what this meant. It was uttered by a Chinese work associate. It was uttered as I prepared a plate of fish pie and steamed vegetables. Did he mean I was fat? Greedy? Thin enough to get away with eating a lot? I remain mystified by it, along with some of his other declarations, such as "Why have you worked here so long?" and "Why don't you have a PhD? Everyone has a PhD!"
Have you put the bins out?
- I know perfectly well that you haven't put the bins out, and I'm going to draw your attention to it, so that you can leap into action, rather than actually just being direct and asking you to do so.
OK, I admit it, the last one is me. I blame everyone else though. Their bad habits are rubbing off on me. Perhaps my late-May-resolution should be to try to be more direct. Sorry BigBear.