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Sometimes a person confesses to me in a conversation something that I don't know how to react to due to my sheer ignorance and lack of interactions with these people. For example:

Person X: What are you eating?

I: Chicken fillet!

X: Whao!

X: But I'm a vegetarian, if you'd like to know.

In this case, I'm not sure how to react. So my best reaction possible is:

I: Ahhh~~~~

Or

I: Oh~~

This is because I have little or no knowledge of vegetarianism (and its siblings like veganism) and have rarely met such people in my life. Other such examples include LGBT, Christianity, Islam, refugees, etc.

These cases come almost always from my interactions with foreign citizens; even though 99.99% of the people I have interacted with in my life are people from my own country, the vast majority of these cases happen in my interaction with foreigners (that's why I'm not sure how to react), and I have encountered few or no such people from my own country.

That doesn't mean these people don't exist in my country. They exist, but usually conceal their identities since they are still considered socially unacceptable or despised, or they live in a rather segregated way. I have no problem with these people but just am not sure how I should react.

But I feel there is a better way to react. My questions are:

  • In these cases, if I just react by "Ahhhh~~~~" as I fail to come up with anything to respond, what kind of impressions do I make on the person?

  • Is there any better way to react in these cases, without offending them? (At least I'm more inclined to believe it is rather rude to ask a question abruptly, such as "Why did you become a vegetarian?")

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  • @apaul - How is "identity" a better phrase than "personality trait"? ... I disagree with "identity" because it sort of is the whole of a person, instead of just a single part, a "personality trait", or "character trait", etc. [trait]. – Malady Nov 17 '17 at 16:58
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In these cases, if I just react by "Ahhhh~~~~😅" as I fail to come up with anything to respond, what kind of impressions do I make on the person?

Just the kind of impression you think you're making: That you don't really know how to react to the information. That's okay, but then it's up to you to keep the conversation going by providing a new subject to talk about.

Is there any better way to react in these cases, without offending them? (At least I'm more inclined to believe it is rather rude to ask a question abruptly, such as "Why did you become a vegetarian?")

I don't know a lot about vegetarianism or veganism either, but when talking to such persons, my usual go-to to keep the conversation going is:

Well, I'm obviously not. But tell me more, what is your favorite recipe?

Basically, asking a question shows that you're interested in the other person, that you respect their choice (pick the right question for that!). If you're still confused with the difference between veganism and vegetarianism, a question asking for an explanation of the difference like:

Oh, I heard that before, but I also heard someone mention veganism. Is it the same or are there differences? What are they?

Will give the other person a chance to explain and talk about their 'interest' a little. Once you've had a nice little chat, and it seems the person is willing to explain some basic things, you might ask them 'Why did you decide to become vegetarian?'. Make sure it's clear that you're asking this out of curiosity and that the person on the other side of the line shouldn't expect a load of critique on their identity, and you'll be fine.


As for topics like LGBT+ and religion, those are a bit more sensitive to talk about than vegetarianism, at least for me. My preferred reply to that is:

Oh, I'll try to remember it, and be considerate of it. I must admit I have very little knowledge or experience on the subject, so please feel free to let me know if I say anything that is inappropriate. And if you don't mind, I'd like to ask you some questions? You don't have to answer them if they get too personal, but it will probably help me understand you/LGBT/Christianity better.

But most of the time, from my experience, once people disclose they are < insert something here >, it means they are willing to talk about it. Just remember to be nice, and respectful. Never critique another person's identity but feel free to ask questions in a respectful way to gain a better understanding. As pointed out in the comments, a good rule of thumb is 'If it wouldn't be a polite topic with someone who is not < something >, it probably wouldn't be polite to bring up with someone who is'.


One last thing, if you're uncomfortable discussing the things people are disclosing to you, it's okay to say that as well, and ask them to respect your boundaries and not push the topic on you! I've had to do that several times before when people wanted to discuss being LGBT+ with me, while I was raised a pretty strict Christian (homosexuality wasn't something to be talked about etc.).

Oh. I'm not really comfortable discussing this topic. Can we change the topic to something else? Perhaps later I might be more comfortable discussing this with you, but for now, I'd really like to talk about something else.

This shows that you're willing to have a respectful conversation, but it also implies that if people keep pushing the topic, the conversation might escalate to 'not so nice'. You can explicitly warn them of this, when they keep pushing the topic on you. Accompany it with a chance of topic (nice weather huh?). Hopefully, this will help, otherwise there isn't much choice left but to terminate the interaction for a while.

  • Hey, y'all... This already has over 20 deleted comments. If you want to continue to discuss it, please, take it to chat. Comments aren't for extended discussion. – Catija Nov 8 '17 at 20:57
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I am not a vegetarian, but I am queer (LGBT), and from that perspective I would say that you handle these situations just fine. I might suggest you say something like "Oh, Okay." This shows that you heard them but that this new knowledge about them doesn't really change your opinion of them at all.

Usually when someone tells a person that they're vegetarian, or LGBT, or whatever, it's just to inform them to avoid awkward situations later. A vegetarian might tell you they are a vegetarian because they want to avoid situations later on when you're all getting food and you suggest some place that doesn't have any non-meat options. Similarly, I let people know about my sexuality to avoid awkwardness in the future when someone asks me about whether or not I have a boyfriend.

Questions are fine too, if you're curious, but I think a simple acknowledgement works if you can't find anything else to say.

8

This person committed a bit of a faux-pas by over-sharing. The best thing to do in any such situation is to ignore the faux-pas but not to reward it.

Either say nothing or if you want to be a bit more engaging, acknowledge them with a nod or a simple "okay" if this is a stranger or peripheral acquaintance. If it is a friend, then a simple invitation to continue will suffice.

What an unsolicited disclosure of this nature really means is that the person wants to talk about it with you, so keep that in mind. They are not, however, inviting debate, so be aware of how much discussion you want to invite.

4

Presuming that the person disclosing the issue does not have a hidden agenda and is not looking for a reason to be combative then this should work for most situations in which someone catches you off-guard with information about something which you cannot hold a conversation.

Oh OK, thank you for letting me know.

This shows that you are respectful and acknowledge their information/situation. This also gives you a chance to think of stuff you may wish to talk about during your next encounter with that person.

For the vegetarian situation you can tack on:

Oh OK, thank you for letting me know. I'm sorry that I cannot offer to share. What did/will you have for lunch?

3

Don't ignore/avoid the topic but drive it in a direction that makes sense.

The reason people are most likely mentioning things like the one you described in your scenario is that you directed the conversation to something that they are either not familiar/comfortable with or simply do not wish to further converse about for whatever reason.

Understand that they may not have always taken offense at you but are simply unsure themselves on how to proceed with the conversation. (They might be feeling as awkward as you even.)

When this happens, your conversation partner is sharing something about themselves and sort of feeling you out and (even perhaps subconsciously) seeking your stance on the given identity.

For example, a person would perhaps not wish to engage in further conversation with someone who has an aggressive stance against a core belief of said person etc.

It is up to you to then drive the conversation in another direction and often it is quite easy to do so.

Since you mentioned that you've not had a lot of experience with dealing with such people a good way to drive the conversation further would be to further inquire about the given topic if appropriate.

For example in the case of vegetarianism, you could respond with something along the lines of:

X: But I'm a vegetarian if you'd like to know.

You: Cool! Is there a vegetarian dish that you'd recommend that I could try sometime?

Be careful with inquiries though as topics such as religion might be a touchy subject which they might not want to immediately discuss.

Being upfront and honest about it always works as well:

You: I've not had the pleasure of speaking to a lot of < identity > previously so please let me know if I come off as rude or disrespectful in any way.

3

If they immediately say that they're a vegetarian when they see you eating meat, they seem to be expressing disapproval of your food choice. "Can just I finish eating my goddamn meal in peace?" is no good, it will cause offence. Instead, try "Oh, is it OK if I keeping eating this chicken then?".

You must balance you much you want to befriend this person versus how annoying they are. If they are trying some passive-aggressive technique to change your dietary opinions, then they sound manipulative and irritating, and you should (gently) shoo them away. But if they are just unsure of what to say when they encounter someone eating meat, or they only want to tell you about themselves and eating meat happened to be the topic of conversation, then they're probably genuinely friendly.

  • 7
    Not sure if "Is it ok if I keep eating this?" is a good question. They might say "no", at which point you are sort of stuck with either losing your meal for a dumb reason, or effectively telling them to suck it. – Erik Nov 7 '17 at 21:20
  • In my experience, the assumptions generally hold when you're talking about vocal vegetarians. There's not much legitimate point in telling someone you're a vegetarian out of nowhere if they're not offering you food. – cHao Nov 8 '17 at 18:21
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Short answer: Quickly change the topic of conversation to something with a better comfort level for you. Sometimes people say stuff just to get a reaction out of you.

My assumption with this answer is the friend or acquaintance is looking for shock value reactions, they don't realize what they are doing, or legitimately doesn't care that a particular topic makes you feel uncomfortable. I have a couple of these in my life that I call repeat offenders.

The second category requires a bit of patience and perseverance on your part in order to maintain the relationship. There are no easy, clever one-liners for these two dilemmas.

My answer is geared toward the first and third category, the more clueless or the one looking to shock you. I handle these two scenarios like this: I will respond with a bit of a drawn-out "Okkkkk", and then change the subject quickly to something without the awkwardness or controversy.

Some people make statements like those you pointed out just to have the spotlight of the conversation on them, by anticipating your response.

So when an odd comment is made during a conversation, try "Okkkkk, how about that movie we saw last night", and ignore statements like, "I am vegetarian and man am I enjoying this bison burger".

If attempting to change the subject to something more sensible fails, end the conversation. Keep doing this each time a person does this ( creates an uncomfortable situation ), and eventually, the individual will either figure it out or stop contacting you.

Please note that this answer assumes a bit of common sense in that as part of a friendship we all at a time have to step outside our comfort zone and discuss things with a friend we may or may not be comfortable with.

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    Is your claim really that most LGBT people who come out, and most vegetarians/vegans who inform people of their dietary restrictions, are trying to get a reaction? I get that you say you've encountered some people like that, but it seems odd to answer this way when the OP gives no indication that they're encountering things like your vegetarian eating bison example. I might suggest also addressing what to do if this is a friend who is simply telling you something genuinely important about themselves. – Cascabel Nov 8 '17 at 16:12
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I would keep it neutral and put the ball back in their court to explain why they think you should care. Saying, "Oh, I didn't know" should suffice, but in a tone of voice that suggests you really don't care. The next move is theirs to take it in whatever direction they might want it to go.

It should not be on you to ask their permission (after learning of their position, and much less before doing so) to continue eating your meal. If they have restrictions on who they eat with, it is entirely on them to communicate this before you tuck in.

protected by Community Nov 23 '18 at 10:46

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