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I'm unique in a lot of ways. I don't like sports, I'm not in touch with the current affairs, I don't have any opinion on most things and I don't know about most of the things that people talk about.

However, I'm sure that there is a reason to all of this. I'm never disrespectful to elders. I'm willing to listen if anyone wants to share something and I can help someone in any way then not only do I volunteer but I sometimes go out of my way.

Despite me not offending anyone, people get offended by the fact that I don't know xyz. It could be anything of the topics that I mentioned in the first paragraph. This is usually followed by judgements like "oh my God! You don't know xyz? Don't call yourself a man", or "how on Earth do you not know this? Everyone knows this". Even if I try to ask them "oh, do tell me about it! I'm interested to know", they still turn it back around to me and judge me for not knowing the xyz thing.

I've started getting annoyed as I have to go on listening to this. What are good replies to this kind of judgement that people pass? How do I stand up for myself?

Edit: Even when I show an interest in their topic, and try to make a discussion about their hot topic, they still drop that discussion and bring the conversation back to that judgement about me not knowing xyz.

  • 4
    Would you be fine with them temporarily excluding you from the conversation provided they stop with their offensive responses? Just asking because I'd probably answer a question "How can I make clear that having to explain general knowledge all the time is tedious?" with "Not everyone needs to be involved into every conversation". – DonFusili Aug 23 '18 at 8:09
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    About the colleagues, is it about knowledge you are supposed to have because you would need it for your job? – Mixxiphoid Aug 23 '18 at 9:42
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Arwen Undómiel Aug 24 '18 at 7:18
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    This sounds like pretty typical autistic social unawareness. Do you have a condition that they should be aware of? – coinbird Aug 24 '18 at 16:57
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    @coinbird You don't have to be autistic to have not seen a film, not care about sports, not watch the news and/or not care about what celebrities are doing. Sometimes I think people are a bit too quick to slap a 'mental health issue' on people who are perfectly healthy but choose to live differently to the norm. – Pharap Aug 25 '18 at 11:29

14 Answers 14

90

Please do not be offended, but I feel like you might be the kind of person that doesn't pick up on subtle social interactions. It could also be the case if English isn't your first language, or you are not originally from this (presumably) Western culture where this exchange is taking place.

I don't have any opinion on most things ... People get offended by the fact that I don't know xyz. It could be anything of the topics that I mentioned in the first paragraph. This is usually followed by judgements like "oh my God! You don't know xyz? Don't call yourself a man"

Reading the above, my first thought is that you are mistakenly believing that the folks above are actually offended. Here's an example of something someone might say in a routine conversation:

OMG you haven't seen the new Star Wars movie yet?? What, are you LIVING UNDER A ROCK OR SOMETHING?!?

or

Dude, you've never been to a strip club?!? Don't even call yourself a man anymore bro!

In the above statement, the person speaking this way is actually communicating their passion for the topic, without actually meaning much of any kind of insult to you. This has (bizarrely) become a somewhat common way of speaking over perhaps the last few decades.

As such, I would suggest that rather than trying to decide how not to offend these folks, you consider that they are not actually offended in the first place. A good way of moving forward, if that is the case, is to just fully roll with the punches here and laugh along with them. Also feel free to hit them right back with the same kind of exchange. The next time this happens to you, just fire right back with something like:

Nope, I didn't watch the 'Super Bowl'. I was too busy re-watching Season 10 of 'Doctor Who'. Wait, you don't know about Doctor Who? WHAT PLANET ARE YOU FROM?! How do you even get through life?!?"

(Replace "Doctor Who" above with literally any topic you are interested in)

  • 5
    The specific example of the NFL vs. Dr. Who is perhaps likely to lead to greater mutual alienation, as those fan bases probably haven't much overlap. Generalizing from which, whenever a comparison of two leisure time activities lack much possible overlap, such a tit for tat device seems problematic... – agc Aug 26 '18 at 19:51
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    @agc, the lack of overlap is exactly the point. OP is best served by "firing back" in the same manner as he/she was approached. This is sort of like the verbal equivalent of playful shoving. – Graham Aug 27 '18 at 15:02
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    Revised generalization: whenever a comparison of two leisure time activities lacks much possible overlap, and one of the activities is very much more popular, such a tit for tat device on behalf of the less popular activity is problematic because it offendingly implies a false parity. (Like an auction bidder who calls out a below minimum bid.) – agc Aug 27 '18 at 17:16
  • When people make fun of someone because they're the only one in a group not knowing something, and keep bringing back the conversation to that fact (as the OP said in their edit), I think it goes beyond a "subtle social interaction". Yes it's somewhat common but it's not nice and it can legitimately make OP uncomfortable. As for firing back with an arcane interest (e.g., Doctor Who), I doubt that this would work well, as OP would probably be the only one in the group to have this interest, and wouldn't have the same social leverage that the rest of the group has. – a3nm Sep 9 '18 at 7:31
45

One reply that always worked for me is

Imagine how boring the world would be if everyone had the same interests and the same tastes.

That way you stop the teasing without being rude and they cannot possibly say anything to contradict without being rude themselves.

After that, depending on your mood, you can:

  • Ask them to explain what they wanted to tell you. "So, what about the drummer of the Beatles? I still don't see what's so special about him."
  • Change to a neutral topic or one that might interest you both. "I really don't care about people kicking a ball around, but did you know (interesting fact) instead?"
  • Fight fire with fire... (only if you feel really insulted and the other party just won't let it go) "Yes, I don't know about the latest Trump tweet and still call myself a man. Do you know how your phone recognizes what you are saying and converts it to a Google search term? No? You're using your phone every day and still don't know how it works. How do you call yourself a man?"
8

If this comes from one (or some) person in particular, you can use the following technique:

First, find a topic where you know a lot and they probably know little. Then, respond with something like:

No, I don't know xyz, I have no particular interest in this topic. However, I love that topic and I know a lot about it. Do you know abc? And fgh?

You follow with a big info dump on the topic you love and can finish by: "See? We don't have the same centers of interest and that's all right. So, can you now stop saying 'Everyone knows this', please?"

I successfully use that technique with a "friend" of mine who could stand that I knew nothing about music (and movies) and thought that I was uncultivated (in my case, I info dump authors and book titles on him).


If you got those commentaries from no one in particular, I suggest making a face to let them know that they said something wrong.

Or using humor:

-- But everyone knows this!

-- I guess I'm a unicorn then.


Edit in response to comment:

If you want to use the info dump technique but don't know with that topic you can info dump them, ask yourself what you spend your free time doing. Once you have the answer to that, you can memorize some hardcore facts (that you don't already know and that you are happy to learn about) and info dump the person.

Alternatively, you can ask your family: "In your opinion, what are my center of interest? In what field do I know a lot?"

  • I love this answer! Before I use this, I'm going to have to find out which topic I know a lot about. Perhaps, there's going to be some kind of universal test online that might help me find those out. Or perhaps, I could pick up a topic of my interest and memorize some hardcore facts about that subject. – Mugen Sep 5 '18 at 6:33
  • @Mugen Well, what do you spend your free time doing? Once you have the answer to that, you can memorize some hardcore facts (that you don't already know and that you are happy to learn about) and info dump the person. I don't think you need a test for that. Alternatively, you can ask your family: "In your opinion, what are my center of interest? In what field do I know a lot?" – Ælis Sep 5 '18 at 6:43
7

I'm sorry that this is happening to you so frequently, it definitely sounds annoying!

I see a couple options here:

  1. You could turn the attention back to them - when they say "You don't know about xyz!?" respond with "No, I don't! Can you explain it to me?". This both shifts the focus back to them, but shows them you're interested in learning more and gives you a chance to better understand the subject.

  2. Respond with a little self-deprecating humor. Responding to their comments as if they're joking diffuses the teasing, and gives them a chance to reconsider their rudeness.

  3. If they are being particularly rude, call them out on it. Say "Nope, I don't know about that, and I don't appreciate how you're treating me because of it. I have other interests that I prefer to spend my time on. I respect your interests, I just don't know much about them."

Of course, your response may vary person to person and may even incorporate parts of each approach. Best of luck!

  • Turning the attention back on them causes them to turn it back to me and my not knowing about that topic. They usually follow up with a couple of other topics and ask whether or not I know about it. I've tried the self-deprecating path too. It causes them to laugh and ignore. However, repeating this makes me feel bad about myself and I feel that I'm not getting respect in the group. – Mugen Sep 6 '18 at 1:12
6

I don't like sports, I'm not in touch with the current affairs, I don't have any opinion on most things and I don't know about most of the things that people talk about.

I'm very much like you in that regard, and I have friends who used to make comments expressing how surprised they are that I know so little about something they care about.

Though the suggested responses are by no means bad, I find a lot of them to be excessively logical.

You don't even need to defend yourself with:

It is not possible for a single person to know everything.

or

Imagine how boring the world would be if everyone had the same interests and the same tastes.

Just own it.

Person: Oh my god, how do you not know that?

Me: I just don't.

Or

Person: You don't know what that is?

Me: Nope.

Or

Person: How on Earth do you not know this? Everyone knows this.

Me: Well I don't.

That's how I tend to handle it - perhaps it's too blunt for your taste. If they persist with the comments, just hold your ground:

Person: Wait, you really don't know about that?

Me: No, I really don't.

If it's something that you're interested in learning more about, then of course you can follow up "Nope" with:

What is that?

If you don't care about it, try just leaving it at "Nope" and see what happens. My friends have since stopped with their comments after having noticed that I don't care.

  • I love this style! It would be great if you could provide a few more examples like how you would respond. TBH, I'm planning to memorize your examples using flashcards. – Mugen Sep 5 '18 at 6:31
  • @Mugen how would I respond to what specifically? I added an example from your question. Is there another comment that you would like me to respond to? – pushkin Sep 5 '18 at 13:31
  • I'm not sure. I just feel that a few more variations of answers would help. Also, once you reply back a flat "Well, I don't", I think the response is going to be "OMG! You don't know X? Guys! Guys,.. okay can I have a minute? I just asked pushkin about X and he said that he doesn't know it". A few guys around act shocked with "what? You really don't know X? Please tell me that you're joking". After this they will start asking more questions, like "wait! Do you know Y? You don't know??", "Okay, what about Z? Do you know Z?" – Mugen Sep 6 '18 at 1:07
  • @Mugen I made a small edit, but basically just hold your ground. "You really don't know X?" - "No I really don't"... "Please tell me that you're joking" - "No, I'm not" – pushkin Sep 7 '18 at 16:51
5

My short answer to your question is the same as @pushkin's: just own it. You are who you are, and it's your job to be happy with that, not anyone else's.

Many years ago, when I was a young man, a friend's three-year-old girl once taught me a valuable lesson. I had done something that she didn't like, picking her up and putting her in a car when she didn't want to go. When she was finished with three-year-old tantrum, she looked at me balefully and said "I don't like you any more." I just smiled at her and said "That's ok, you will later."

The valuable lesson was that I realized that I am the one who decides whether someone was "attacking" me or not. The best way to keep someone from "pushing your buttons" is not to have any! So, if you find yourself annoyed by criticism that someone levels at you, dig down, figure out exactly why and change your mind about it. It isn't what they say that upsets you, it's how you feel about it. And nobody can make you feel anything. You have to choose to.

If you feel that others are judging you, then you're judging them as judgmental, too. If you perceive a judgment, you're making one. And none of us is qualified to make judgments. If we were, then all of us would know what the "truth" is, and nobody would argue about it.

So, respond or not, out of love rather than fear. Just how you do that is your decision.

4

I'd like to examine the reasoning of your colleagues in these situations.

In my experience, these kinds of "how can you not know?!" responses usually happen because:

  • This person has had this kind of thing happen to them before, and so are happy to be on the knowing side
  • This is something this person believes is common knowledge or cares deeply about and in their shock of you not knowing have replied with (what they believe to be) a half humorous remark
  • Any combination of the above

My choice response is to take it in stride. Getting (visibly) self conscious or trying to retaliate with sarcasm will give the first kind of person the satisfaction of making you uncomfortable and will prevent the second kind of person from wanting to explain to you.

I'd ignore their questions of "do you live under a rock?!" or "how can you not know...?!" and opt for a good natured laugh and something like

You'd better fill me in quick then before anyone else finds out!

The key here is that you're not letting yourself get tripped up by their response. You don't know something. Is it your fault that the environment you've been in didn't give you a chance to learn this information? Or that you're simply not interested in the subject? Not at all! So don't fret it.

3

There's a lot of good suggestions here, and I'll try to add to them.

What I normally say is that I spend my time doing other things, as mentioned by someone else. I usually mention what it is right away, or, if I feel they might ask, let them ask. I also usually mention the most interesting and "off the wall" thing I've done.

Them: "You don't know who {XYZ sports star} is? What's the matter with you?!"
Me: "I spend my time doing other things, like building my 4 ft by 8 ft capacity CNC mill." *
Them: "What the {bleep} is a CNC mill?" - or - "You did what?!?!"

Topic has changed from my perceived ignorance and I show them that even though I lack some information, I have a whole storehouse of information they've possibly never even considered. If they are really rude and refuse to acknowledge that what I do is even slightly interesting, I make sure not to be around them anymore.

Life is too short to spend time on people who don't like you and you don't like.

Depending on how rude they are being when they make that first statement, I'll use an alternate to "other", such as: better, more interesting, more useful, or a variety of other terms that make their topic seem as insignificant as they currently see me. If I know the person and realize it's just an outburst, I'll leave it as "other", but if it's some obviously moronic idiot that sneers at anyone who isn't him, I'll lay it on real thick.

As always, just make sure that you are telling the truth and not backing yourself into a corner by talking about something you don't know anything about or can easily be proven you didn't do. You might also want to have proof of your claim (pics, website, etc.), so that when/if they ask for it, they can see it for themselves.

Not-Me: "I'm the first person to visit Mars and Saturn, and I think your sportsball is almost good enough to be played by drunken, below average IQ siminans. Oh, right, that's you!"

As amusing as that might be, the first part is obviously not true and will reduce your credibility to less than zero, which means that when you get beat up for the rest, no one will really care.

Caution

Don't overdo it. This may be perceived as you stealing the show. Even if it's something spectacular, like winning a Nobel Peace Prize, play it down a little and try to blend back into the normal conversation. If people are truly interested, they will prompt you to keep the conversation going as is, rather than you pushing it on them, even if all you're trying to do is drown out that first person.

After your first few comments about your achievement(s), you can try steering the conversation back where it ended, right before that initial outburst derailed everything. After a 1-2 minutes (or maybe just 30 seconds) of "defending your honor", you can (or should) let it go and get back to what everyone else was doing.

At this point, you've either corrected the initial insult and should let it go, or you'll be insulted again and know to steer clear of that person in the future.

I don't always mind getting into arguments, so take my suggestion with a grain of salt. Sometimes it works and sometimes it causes more problems. Regardless, "Keep calm and carry on."

* Yes, I really did build a 4'x8' capacity CNC mill. http://www.EricsGear.com

1

I also get asked this kind of question from time to time, with similar levels of incredulity but usually without the insults. Often I'll ask that person to write me a list of things I'm supposed to know, sometimes adding the explanation that if everyone knows this stuff then it's really important and useful to help the few that don't to fill in the gaps.

Those that take it seriously think about it for a bit and then realise what's wrong with such a list and subsequently why the stuff they know doesn't necessarily overlap the stuff I know.

  • I believe the typical response to asking for a list would be "I don't have time to make a list for you" or "I can't make a list but I'll point it out when the time comes" – Mugen Sep 6 '18 at 0:59
1

I deal in areas that require a number of pieces of specialist knowledge, and it's not possible to learn everything. Sherlock Holmes once described his mind as an 'attic', choosing carefully what knowledge to store and what to forget (Watson decrying the fact he did not know whether the sun orbited the earth or vice versa).

It is the same case here.

When challenged by a colleague, friend, or even verbal opponent on the topic of ignorance, it's worth politely reminding them that there must be some subjects that even they do not know about (the depth of the ocean, for example).

So if someone said:

oh my God! You don't know xyz? Don't call yourself a man

My reply might be:

It is not possible for a single person to know everything.

Most people will concede that, yes, there were subjects they were ignorant on. It might be worth adding:

I imagine at some point you were also unfamiliar with the subject to begin with?

As a lot of people expect learner drivers to be able to know everything about driving - forgetting they too were learners.

You might even add that you're purposefully avoiding cluttering your mind with information you personally deem as unnecessary:

I prefer to focus on topics of interest, so I avoid having to keep track of unnecessary details.

A skill vital within a workplace is that teamwork, and thus having people who know particular things (and not say 'everything') is vital. A surgeon will not necessarily know about financial acumen, for example.

1

I would recommend simply dismissing them. When they say:

"oh my God! You don't know xyz? Don't call yourself a man",

I would reply with:

Am I supposed to know xyz?

Or in your other case:

"how on Earth do you not know this? Everyone knows this".

My reply would be:

I guess everybody doesn't know this after all.

This is all assuming that you really don't care about the topics discussed and have absolutely no desire to learn about them or further engage with these people in conversation. There will always be people to pass judgement, let them to it and move on. Escalating and starting arguments will accomplish nothing productive in the long run.

1

You're dealing with people who are bored. Boredom, I was told by my therapist, comes from being unable to make an emotional connection to one's environment. So, they artificially whip up emotions: they take something trivial and talk about it using words that stir up emotions in themselves and the people around them. By doing so, they temporarily feel emotionally connected again -- until the effect wears off, of course.

IMO, a lot of this behavior is copied from television. Scenes in television series are shorter and shorter, less than a minute, I believe, and every scene needs to make an emotional hit with the audience in some way. What you describe, is the cheap and easy way of doing that.

There are various tactics for stirring up emotions.

  • Referring to matters of life and death. "You've never had xyz ice cream? OMG, how can you live without xyz ice cream?! I would die if I ..." etc.

  • Referring to inclusion or exclusion from a group. That's your own example "You don't know xyz? Don't call yourself a man". "You wear a xyz shirt? You must be an yyz'er!"

  • Referring to status. "Wow, I used to think you were xyz but now you've totally blown it -- what a let-down. Hey guys, did you hear ..." etc.

These are simple tactics, all harping on the need that all people have to belong to a group for survival. But because they appeal directly to our most basic fears, it is practically impossible to not be affected by them, to not feel that momentary existential panic.

How do you stand up for yourself? First of all, ground yourself -- to stand, you need to feel the ground under your feet, literally. You may feel like the ground has dropped from under you because you don't know xyz, but if you check, you'll find that the earth is still very much there.

Secondly, remember that it's just a tactic, a game, if you will. Allow some silence to fall while you regain your feet and then determine your tactic:

  • You can play along: "You're right! Tell me now, I beg you, I need to feel good about myself again!".
  • You can be emphatic: "You seem very passionate about this, tell me why."
  • You can be sceptic: "Really? It's that important, is it?".
  • Or you may even be adult: "Calm yourself, please. If it really is important, I'll look it up later -- or did you just want the attention?"
  • Even assuming this diagnosis was correct, some of those bullet responses seem needlessly offensive. The last one tends to implies one's colleague is overemotional, frivolous, and needy. – agc Aug 26 '18 at 20:05
  • To me, the question described someone who is ... well, what you said. – Elise van Looij Nov 9 '18 at 15:33
1

Based on your post, here's what I think is happening:

You open up to let a person relate to you, but then they mention a subject you're not familiar with and a couple of things happen...

  1. You respond with a no I don't know, which makes the other person feel like they are no longer relating to you leading to them passing judgement.
  2. They don't know you as well as you've described yourself here, so they don't know what you're into.

Thereby, the solution is to immediately state that you're not into whatever they're bringing up.

"Hey did you see that latest movie?" Nope, don't care about movies.

"Did you catch the game last night?" Nah, I'm not into T sport.

That way you're stating WHY you don't know, which will most likely get you a lot further than straight out denial of the subject.

  • Letting them know that I'm not into current affairs is going to lead to replies along these lines - You're not interested in the "current affairs"? What kind of a person are you? Don't call yourself a civilized person! Everyone has to know the current affairs! It is important for every citizen! For the good of this country. – Mugen Sep 5 '18 at 8:21
1

All humanity is ignorant most of the time, and if not at this moment then soon enough. We gamble on studying things worth knowing, but often find out too late it's that one thing missed, or something never suspected, which mattered more.

There's usually no need to fight fire with fire, or teaching with teaching. The real question is whether you should know about X or if it's optional.

  1. If it's something you agree you ought to know, say:

    I didn't know that. All this time I'd thought parking brakes were ejector seat levers. It helps explain a lot of things I never understood before. Thanks for setting me straight.

    ...or, in an environment where such a confession might be hazardous, use only one word:

    Oh.

    Or, if that's not enough:

    Well that's interesting, I'll definitely be planning to brush up on that soon.

  2. If the information seems to be about something you've tried but disliked or found uninteresting, say:

    Sorry, I really tried to watch Soap Operas once but it just wasn't for me. My Aunt ____ just loves them, and she always throws a fit about it.

    Or:

    Well I never understood the appeal, and maybe you're right that I've missed out. Gotta get back to work now, but remind me to ask you more about it.


It may help to flip things around. Suppose you encounter a colleague, (and let's say it's a subordinate colleague), who doesn't know anything at all about something you vehemently hope they should. Spontaneously you erupt with:

You didn't know that? How is that even possible? Etc...

Look over all the users answers for this question and consider which ones the more spontaneous you wouldn't like, and why.

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