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I have a roommate who asks a lot of questions. Most of them are on topics that are more a matter of opinion, such as religion and politics. He is from Colombia and lots of things are new to him, but I also think it may just be his personality.

Some questions I don't want to answer because I don't know the answer. Some questions are very subjective. It's starting to stress me out. Here are some examples of what he asks

  • in this country are teachers paid well?
  • how long does the coffee stay hot for?
  • do Protestants take their religion more seriously than Catholics?
  • when was the last time there was a strike? what was it about?
  • is $10 considered a lot to spend on lunch food?
  • is it common for people to leave a light on at night?
  • do most people have a dentist they have used for a long time?
  • do you pay tuition to go to school here?

The last one stands out for me because he is a full time student and I know he's actively involved in the campus life (part of clubs) so I find it hard to believe he doesn't already know the answer. This is why I wonder if he's just trying to socialize (which I would like though we need to find a topic of common interest).

What I've tried:

  • saying "I don't know"
  • explaining it's a matter of opinion
  • saying there's too much variability over the country to make a general statement

These haven't worked well as his reaction is silence and just standing there and I'm afraid I've hurt his feelings. Leaving isn't always an option if I'm cooking something when he's there.

Any alternatives? Do some of these questions make more sense in Colombia, for example are all teachers in Colombia paid the same?

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    What is your goal? If you want to keep the conversation going, it's pretty easy, I'm sure someone will give you pointers. Do you just want to be polite? Well, most people see through it and that might explain why they don't like that sort of reply. You sound a bit as if you expect people to behave a certain way always and can't deal with them being different. I find your statement "we need to find a topic of common interest" particularly unusual. Could you tell us more about yourself? If it is understood how you work, someone that e.g. has a similar approach might give you much better guidance – Raditz_35 Dec 9 '18 at 14:54
  • @Raditz_35 'I find your statement "we need to find a topic of common interest" particularly unusual' you do realize you are taking half a sentence I had in brackets out of context. My goal is to politely avoid answering these types of questions. – Zoomorphic Dec 10 '18 at 12:18
  • These questions mostly aren't vague -- they're more out of left field. Do you have an alternative style of conversation you'd rather start using with him? I think it'll be good not just to say "stop" but to steer the conversation somewhere else – Euchris Dec 10 '18 at 13:18
  • As it stands now I'm not going to accept any of the answers, basically they're saying the problem is with me. e.g. "Basically, I think your making the situation more than it is." you can't just choose not to be annoyed by something – Zoomorphic Jan 30 at 10:55
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None of the questions you list in the examples section strike me as outrageous or unreasonable to ask, though the tuition one might be a bit personal (people in the U.S. are often cagey about their personal finances). Based on what you've written, it does seem to me that your roommate is trying to start conversations, and you are flat-out refusing to engage in them.

I don't think that you're going to find a one-line response that addresses the issues your roommate is asking about, which may be the very point of his asking them-- I doubt he's seeking to use you as an encyclopedia. The impression that I get from how your question is worded is that you are treating these as requests for discrete, definitive information (along the lines of "what is 2 + 2?"). Given the nature of the questions, that seems unlikely to be the case (to me, at least). They do seem like prompts for conversation, and your efforts to rebuff him immediately could certainly lead to the response you've noted (the silence).

The questions you listed as examples are not necessarily answerable in a definitive, general sense, but you can share what you think:

$10 is a bit expensive for a lunch, but in the areas around campus and the surrounding town that's about the typical cost.

Some teachers are paid well, but there is a lot of variation by grade level, subject, and the type of school. Public school teachers don't usually make a whole lot of money, but at a high-end private school a teacher can make a lot more.

Strikes aren't usually big news items in the U.S., so I can't tell you for sure what the most recent one was about. But I did see a news report about workers at Marriott striking for something or other, which just ended last week.

More information on how you approach conversation and your relationship with your roommate might prompt me to revise my impression, but it seems to me that you are a bit out of step with this social situation. If you simply do not like having these kinds of conversations, the right move would be to say so to your roommate:

I don't really like having these sorts of open-ended discussions generally, and I don't follow politics/religion/labor issues/whatever closely enough to have much to say about them.

If my read of the situation is correct, then dealing with these exchanges one-at-a-time isn't going to work-- your roommate will keep trying to start conversations, and will continue to feel dejected when you completely refuse for no apparent reason.


Things to think about:

  • What are conversations usually like for you? Do they mainly involve swapping discrete, falsifiable information and little else (i.e., some people really like to talk about sports and only care to discuss specific stats for players and teams)?
  • Do you like to engage in philosophical conversations where people discuss issues and come to conclusions about things?
  • Is the problem just that you are not interested in these specific topics? Have you shared any of your interests with this roommate?
  • Do you ever initiate conversations with this roommate, and if so, what are they about?
  • Does this roommate ever initiate conversations that you do participate in, and if so, what differences are there between those situations and the ones listed in the question?
  • "None of the questions you list in the examples section strike me as outrageous or unreasonable to ask"...who said they were? The problem is he asks too many. – Zoomorphic Dec 14 '18 at 10:14
  • @Zoomorphic They're not vague, just broad. There isn't anything inherently wrong with the questions, and your statement was that "[s]ome questions I don't want to answer because I don't know the answer. Some questions are very subjective." My reading of this was that you had an issue with the questions-- your lack of response/lack of interest in responding seems to be the case with each of these questions, not just with all of them together. If you simply don't want to respond to the prompts for conversation, that's a different question than asked here. – Upper_Case Dec 14 '18 at 15:51
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I know a lot of Colombians. Wonderful, beautiful people, and many of them are very inquisitive. There's also a cultural tendency of the greater region to be more chatty than North America. That's just how they are.

Any alternatives?

The only alternative is to just have a conversation, even if the topic is based on opinions or has lots of variables. Maybe he'll end up explaining how things are in Colombia. Maybe he's really asking for your opinion, not necessarily facts that are easily searchable.

Do some of these questions make more sense in Colombia...?

As much sense as they would be nearly any other foreigner. Teachers are paid differently everywhere, $10 USD will buy a lot in rural Colombia, Cali, Cartagena, maybe not so much. People perspective on monetary value varies widely. He may have just met hit first Protestant trying to recruit him for some charity or such.

Ask, I'm sure he'll gladly tell you. :)

Is he on scholarship or some other program? Sounds like he's asking you the same question.

Basically, I think your making the situation more than it is.

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