Q. In America, what kind of topics do people avoid? And what can one do when such subjects arise?


In America it is not polite to ask questions about how much others earn or how much they paid for something. It is all right to ask general questions such as, “How much are homes in this area?” But it is impolite to ask, “How much did you pay for your house?” If someone asks you such a question, you should not feel an obligation to answer. You can simply say, “I don’t remember.” or “Probably more that I should have.” Or, say that you’d rather not discuss the matter and try to change the subject.

Many people once they are out of college do not like to be asked, “How old are you?” It is an unnecessary and inconsiderate question, but one does not have to offer an inconsiderate reply. You can simply reply, “Old enough (to know better).” It should also be obvious that you do not ask how much a person weighs, especially a woman. An American friend, who is admittedly on the large size, reports that Japanese people are always asking how big his feet are. The question irritates him, because when he answers, they always say, “Wow! Really?” Some Americans will happily answer any inquiry, but think twice before asking such personal questions.

Making sexual comments or innuendos is never acceptable. Asking a woman what her waist size is or commenting on her breasts is absolutely inexcusable. Japanese women will tolerate such comments far more than American women. The fact that the speaker may have been drinking is never an excuse for such behavior.