For the Korean students in my English class, it’s unusual that us Westerners have so many qualms when it comes to asking about age. This is commonly the second or third question between two Koreans who appear close in age so they can be sure of how to address each other linguistically. In other words, if the person they are speaking with is older, they have to use a more formal address.
But for us English speakers who lack a lot of formality in language and who also have a great deal of hangups about age in our culture, we shy away from this question as often as possible. If we really let our curiosity get the better of us, we still have to tread lightly with, “Do you mind terribly if I asked you…” and “If you don’t mind my asking, …”
These convoluted introductions to questions are very often met with convoluted answers, such as the “Twenty-nine and holding.” Or the, “Why don’t you guess?” conundrum. My husband usually likes to keep it plain and simple: “Old.”
Sometimes the reason someone asks is to find out what generation you’re from. Do you remember cassette tapes? Do you know what I mean when I say, “Bueller” to get your attention? If you say you’re under twenty-five I wouldn’t think of doing my Pee-Wee Herman impression or ask you who your favorite Ninja Turtle was.
But what really is holding us back from answering directly?
In my experience only good things come from a straight answer. Usually when I say proudly that I am thirty-two, people readily give compliments and congratulate me on looking so youthful. I’m sure it’s just a polite thing to say, but I also like to imagine that even if I weren’t so appealing I would still have the same opinion.
I can see why some people find it inappropriate to ask about age and these people are welcome to use the stall tactics above if they wish not to answer, but I still challenge them to get over their hangup. Blurt it out without grimace, without any jokes and see how it feels to be so bold. You may see the compliments roll in as a reward for your simple honesty.
Let me know how it goes!