A weekly series in which our expert in all things everything solves life’s conundrums, big and small.  Got a problem that could use a no-nonsense perspective?  Tell it to the Co-It-All at voice@intheco.com 


Dear Co-It-All, 

The other day I got a promotion at work and I went out with a couple of girlfriends to celebrate. When the topic of my raise came up, one of my friends promptly asked, “how much?” I felt put on the spot and I answered, but later I felt annoyed at her for asking. Her question was rude, right? 

 

Well first of all, congratulations to you. I know that’s not what we’re talking about, but as far as things to be perturbed about, this is a pretty great one. You have a new position at work, you have more duckets to spend and…oh right…you have a friend who thinks asking about money is an okay thing to do. So, is it?

I was thinking about this subject just the other day after hanging out with a group of friends. One friend was going on and on (read: bragging) about this awesome hotel that he and his girlfriend has stayed at on their recent vacation. The room had seven bathrooms, or something like that. Anyway, at one point someone asked—how much? Sufficed to say the answer to this question was more than I make in a month, but anyway…

 

Later my boyfriend and I discussed whether the “how much?” question was offside or not. My feeling was, well maybe a little bit, but on the other hand, it was also the logical follow-up. It’s possible this is what your friend was thinking when she asked you for greater detail. I mean, you say, “I got a raise” and I say—what? “Are they paying you in dollars or pesos?” My point is that if we remove social moors, unspoken taboos, tradition and the like, then “how much?” really is the most obvious response.

 

So the question becomes: how defensible are these traditions?

 

Maybe I’m diving a bit deep here. I realize that you probably would have been satisfied with yes—your friend is a nosy vulgarian, but hey, where’s the hastily-researched, shamelessly-simplified anthropological lesson in that?

The idea that talking about money is gauche or rude is a societal hang-up that comes from our stuffy English ancestry. Back in the Edith Wharton-era the discussion of dollar amounts was a serious no-no. At least it was among the ruling classes and that is an important thing to consider. Ie, the reason talking about money is considered in poor manners is because the people who made the rules didn’t have to talk about money. They had it.

These days, the official do’s and don’ts are forever in flux. Look at Kim Kardashian Tweeting about the $80 million she made off her video game app. Now, maybe you’re thinking that this is an extreme, and thus, not terribly relevant example, but in reality, Kim is just acting her age.

Millennials are far more comfortable discussing money with friends than previous generations, just as they are more texting pictures of their private parts. Nobody’s saying that all progress is good progress, but it’s worth noting that the same social forces that decided talking about money was rude probably weren’t much for, say, inter-racial dating or girls in pants.

All of that said, the entire point of eliminating outdated rules is to provide people with more choice—and your choice (the choice to keep your finances to yourself) is a totally valid one. More importantly, it’s yours to make.

It’s too bad you didn’t feel like you could stand up for this choice, though I see what you mean about feeling put on the spot and blurting out the info before your brain had a chance to catch up to your mouth. Had you had a second to think you surely could have come up with several ways to shut down your pal’s inquiry…

 

The cop out: “Oh, I’m not totally sure about that yet”

The cute, but firm: ““None of your beeswax, nosey-pants”

The cut to the chase: “I don’t talk about money.”

 

So there you have it. Maybe not the satisfying answer you had hoped for, but some thoughts to keep in mind before you write off your friend like yesterday’s sushi. One final thought: how boring would life be if we spent time only with people who think as we do and act as we do? Give me a boor over a bore any day.