What Are You Doing?

A vehicle in the high pressure rinse stage of ...

The genesis of this story, or a Toyota in a car wash. You be the judge. (Image via Wikipedia)

There are times where people feel awkward. They don’t know what to say, but they feel like they should say something. That’s where it becomes unfortunate. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

Let’s talk about one of those somethings people say and an example of it in use. Let’s talk about this question –  “what are you doing?”

So, What Are You Doing?

There are times the correctness of asking the question in question is not in question. Suppose I am walking down your street wearing a chicken suit, waving a wooden spoon in one hand, carrying a dog under my other arm and singing a Tibetan lullaby. It would be completely appropriate of you to ask what I am doing.

It would also be appropriate to ask that question if we were talking by telephone and you did not want to interrupt something important. You can’t see me over the telephone so you have little evidence by which to judge if you’re intruding on something critical.

For some, asking the question “what are you doing?” is an automatic part of greeting someone. They just ask, even when it is readily apparent what it is you’re doing. There is not really a good way of answering this question. If you tell them the obvious, you’re being a smart alec. If you give them a smart alec answer, well, there you are again.

Car Wash, Yeah.

The other day I took my car to be cleaned. The car wash I went to is set up so that you hand your car over to the car wash professionals and walk across to this bench. You sit on the bench like you’re in a hockey penalty box while they dry your vehicle. When they’re done, they let you know when you can leave the penalty box and be reunited with your car.

An ice hockey referee signals a penalty for hi...

Omawarisan, two minutes, high sticking. (Image via Wikipedia)

On this car wash visit I drew a five minute major for roughing and a two minute minor for high sticking. I sat on the penalty box bench with a woman who had gotten two minutes for tripping. A guy I know drove up to the car wash, looked over and rolled down his window called my name and waved.

I did not see any car wash official that was in position to stop me, so I left the car wash penalty box bench and walked over to where my friend was. “Hey man, how are you?” I asked. He answered “I’m good. What are you doing?”

Inside my head, the possible answers dueled. I could embarrass us both by saying “I am at the car wash, I come here for the washing of my car”. I could just answer “nothing”and look like a dope sitting on a bench. I could let him into my imagination and say two minutes for high sticking and five minutes for roughing.

Naturally, I went with “nothing”.

The Last Straw

Mammoth Urinal

I'm holding my own, thanks for asking. (Image by C Jill Reed via Flickr)

I’ve had enough of feeling like a dope because people ask me socially inept questions. If I am at the car wash, I am going to say I am getting my car washed. If I am pushing a cart full of food at the store, I’m going to tell people I am buying food. If I am at work I am going to say “feeling miserable”

Ask an obvious question, get an obvious answer. That is my new policy.

God help the next guy who comes into the men’s restroom, sees me standing there doing my business and asks what I am doing. He deserves whatever I decide to say, the guy rules clearly state that we do not talk in there anyhow.

44 Comments on “What Are You Doing?”

  1. Todd Pack says:

    I know your buddy was a) being nice and b) asking what you’re doing generally, not specifically, but, still, it takes a lot of will power not to give a smart alecky answer to a dumb question.

  2. madtante says:

    At my job, it always cracks me up how so many people answer this question (you can imagine that’s what was asked by the disgusted answer)…”working. Duh.”

  3. writerdood says:

    I usually go with, “I’m talkin to you!”
    It’s not an intentionally smart ass comment. I’m just being honest.

  4. If I am at work I am going to say “feeling miserable” <– I'm not religious but to this I say Amen!

    I prefer the obvious answers, it reminds me that I'm being lame and mutilating conversational etiquette.

  5. shoutabyss says:

    They wrote a song for those sorts of occasions. Here’s your sign!

  6. jacquelincangro says:

    You know the old adage that goes, there are no dumb questions? Well, sometimes, there are.

  7. Thypolar says:

    LMAO! I’ve been answering stupid questions with seriously obvious and unexpected answers for quite some time already. Its entertaining. You definitely need to give it a go.

  8. pattypunker says:

    i get that question in the coffee room at work all the fucking time. so now i’m torn between “wishing i could have avoided you” or “feeling miserable”

  9. Kim Pugliano says:

    “I am at the car wash, I come here for the washing of my car.” I really really wish you had answered exactly like that.

  10. tangyorangesour says:

    I don’t know how you do it, but every single time I read this blog it simply brings about a smile.

  11. When I asked “What are you doing?” my mom used to answer “riding a bicycle” or “baking a cake”. I had a friend who used to say “running around the house with an eggbeater pretending I’m a motorboat”. My 16-year-old son usually snarls “WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE I’M DOING??!!!”

    I’m totally inspired now to start answering with something more clever than “not much, you?”

  12. thejaggedman says:

    I usually ask “What’s up?” A neutral question in most situation unless you are do roof work or something . Then I go with “What are you doing?” since I have no natural skills that apply to anything above ground level. Great post and you are right about men’s room etiquette.

    • omawarisan says:

      What’s up is great. It opens discussion in a much less narrow way than “what are you doing?”

      Walk in, do your business, no talking until the handwashing begins.

  13. My standard answer when my kids ask me that extremely irritating question is “Ironing.” I NEVER iron!


  14. Little kids take that line of questioning to a whole other level because no matter how sarcastic your response is, which they won’t get anyway, they then follow up with, “Why?” And I really have nothing for that.

  15. jaerae1971 says:

    I’d rather give a smart ass answer then ask a dumb ass question. Besides, being a smart ass has its perks.

  16. We found him Captain!! says:

    Hey! When are you returning my chicken suit, dog and wooden spoon? It’s been over a year. What are you doing?

  17. planetross says:

    I usually say “Birth to Life” when it’s not my boss asking me the question … and I’ve been watching Shawshank Redemption.

    note: why don’t prisoners get “20 to Death” … the use of “life” in that phrase is misleading?

    double note: cat burglars must get “9 lives” sentences sometimes.

  18. planetross says:

    oh yeah! I like the hockey analogy. It’s playoff season!!! Go Canucks!!!

  19. Jane says:

    Here’s an idea: Work about 25 miles out of your home town, Don’t make any friends in your home town, Change grocery stores / gas stations often so no one will recognize you, Never look out of a window in a public place and/or Never go anywhere without wearing a hat and dark glasses.

    I’m sure I’ve missed something in the list, but the only reason why anyone is asked that question (unless dressed like a chicken . . .) is because he or she is acquainted with someone else.

    Problem solved!

  20. omawarisan says:

    No, I get that the issue is that often that people who im friends with are the ones saying this and they’re kind to see me. I just struggle with the awkwardness of the question.

  21. Gemma Sidney says:

    Great article! I like how you tackle this subject, a problem that I’m sure many people can relate to. As a teenager I worked in a supermarket and was totally in love with an older guy that worked there. Instead of saying “Hello” or some other form of normal greeting, he would drawl “Hars it gaan?” (Translation: “How’s it going?” in Australian). Sometimes I’d manage a weak “Good, and you?”, but he’d already have moved onto the next checkout chick, to whom he would say the same thing. I eventually realised that no response was required to his question. And I eventually got over the guy.

    • omawarisan says:

      Hi Gemma, thanks for stopping by and subscribing.

      Maybe your no response answer is what is needed here. I’ll have to give it a shot.

      You’re in Paris? We’ll need to arrange for The Jolie to visit you on her round the world trip!

  22. Katybeth says:

    What ARE YOU doing? and by the way How are you?


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