How to respond to an inappropriate question?

I am an admitted art junkie and I am somewhat proud of the fact that my one-bedroom apartment is decoratively bedecked with some interesting and conversational pieces. I have an unusual showcase sculptural piece of woven Japanese bamboo - it is set in a place of prominence on a lighted pedestal but because of its relatively common medium and technique, I believe there is an assumption that it might be inexpensive.

For some reason, guests seem to have no compunction about asking how much it cost (although they rarely ask such questions about anything else in my collection).

I personally find such query objectionable – at least I would never go into someone’s home and ask how much they paid for something. And yet I don’t seem to have a good response as I am always taken aback when someone has the gall to voice the question.

There was an occasion at a holiday party where I had no problem telling someone that their question was inappropriate, but others stared at me as though I was the one being rude. It happened again today and is sticking with me as this is now not an isolated incident.



“I can’t seem recall at the moment”.

I would try to deflect with something vague to start.

Rude Person: How much did it cost?
Me: Probably more than some would say it should, but it’s worth it to me.

That would make someone who was just experiencing a temporary rude spell realize that they effed up. If they persist I’d try one more vague answer.

Rude Person: Do you mind telling me how much exactly?
Me: I sometimes am able to secure a deal through someone I regularly deal with and it wouldn’t really be fair to them to let people know their bottom line.

At that point if they come back again I think they’re being pushy rude to the point where you can say “This is really not something I’m comfortable discussing.” and then changing the subject.

Oh, for someone that is rude beyond words I try to go with one I read in some etiquette column…

Rude Person: Blah blah blah reallly rude
Me: :: stands blinking for an internal count of three ::
Me: I’m sorry, what did you ask?
Rude Person either shuts up or: Blah blah blah really rude?
Me: (if they ask again) That’s what I thought you asked.

:: me walk away ::

Ooooh - all good ones, thank you.

My biggest social foible in these situations is that I tend to be a pretty frank person and haven’t learned how to be very demure…

The old fallback, if you don’t have a snappy line, is “I would rather not talk about it.” Anyone who persists past that point is asking for rudeness in kind.

Edit: Or “I’d rather not discuss it.”

Keep in mind it’s only inappropriate in your mind and some subset of the population, not everyone shares your rules on what is and is not appropriate.

So, what is your goal with that 1 individual in that particular situation? Is it to not reveal the cost and making it understood the reason why? Then I would just say something like “I prefer not to reveal how much I spend on my art”

The only reason to say something more forceful is if you wish to express your displeasure that the other person does not share the same rules of etiquette as you.

“Why do you want to know? If you are interested in buying it, I regret to inform you that it is not for sale.”

With the implication that only a boor would have any other reason to ask.

Out of interest, how much was it?

“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

“It was a gift. I have no idea. Why, how much will you pay me for it?”

“One million dollars!”

Utterly inappropriate response

More than I paid your mother last night

And then grin hugely and change the subject. I’m completely serious; I’d probably do that.

Thanks for this one. It is going in the permanent access brain file.

“Why do you ask?”

I like it because it works for pretty much any inappropriate question. You don’t have to think of which one works in a particular situation. And then when (if) they answer, you can decide if you want to give more information. There may really be a good reason that they’re asking.

Often though, people just splutter when you turn the question back on them, so be prepared for that.

They’ll say something like, “If you didn’t want to answer, you should have just said.”

My answer is, “I may want to answer depending on why you’re asking.”

What if they respond like 99% of people will? “Oh, I’m just curious.”

I think I may stand alone in this thread by saying “what’s the big deal with that question?”

My take is - you exist in society. Much as you don’t like it, cost is one of the things that people are concerned about. If you’re going to display something with significant prominence and have people round to your house, expect that question. It’s no big deal to answer, I’m sure.

Unless it’s worth a fortune and you’re worried that they’re going to rob you, or whatever.

I’d go with pretending to think they’re asking where they can buy it from: ‘Oh, it’s a one-off, it’s not for sale anywhere.’

Or the more thoughtful: ‘Well, it wasn’t cheap but I was happy with the price I paid.’

Just tell the questioner that you had to perform unspeakable acts to secure this piece and that the guilt haunts you to this day. Then start crying. That’ll shut them up.

“Art isn’t about the price, I wanted the piece so I bought it, I don’t really recall how much it was.”