There are no stupid questions.
Except, apparently, the one I asked today.
It went a little like this: “Hi; we’re new here. Could you please tell us where the ferry terminal is?”
The woman squinted at me over the paper-wrapped bouquets of purple irises I had been admiring moments before. “This isn’t the ferry terminal,” she glared.
“Right, this is the ferry building,” I smiled self-deprecatingly. “We were wondering where the ferry terminal is.”
“There’s a sign,” she drawled, disgusted. “There’s a sign right out front. Why can’t you look at the sign? No one looks at the damned sign. Is this some sort of DISEASE or something?! I mean, my GOD, it’s RIGHT THERE.”
I was shocked past the point of witty rejoinders. My face was burning in embarrassment. All I wanted to do was turn around and walk away from the woman and her absurdly-aimed venomous rant. So I did.
“You’re not going to get to the terminal going THAT WAY!” she yelled after me, and continued to mumble incoherently as I stalked away, the clack of my boots hitting the pavement in my own angry tattoo. From within my confusion and shame, I heard Chad reply dryly somewhere behind me, “Thank you so much; we’ll find it on our own.”
I did look back at the sign the woman was referring to. It was the very same sign I had inspected before getting the bright idea to ask a native for help. There was no pertinent information on that sign; the word “terminal” wasn’t even on it.
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Silent, we walked for three blocks before Chad reached over and set his hand at the back of my neck, which has been a calming gesture between us for years now. “We can just walk down Market until we find a 9 stop,” he offered quietly. I nodded, furious.
We did find a 9 stop, and at it, I proceeded to sputter and growl, recounting the woman’s answer to my (stupid?) question. Chad remarked that she probably got that question a lot, and after the seventieth time it wore on her nerves or something.
Yeah, I agreed. I used to work at a library; people would call and ask if we had BOOKS. And I still get the question, after nearly seven years: complete strangers pointing shyly at my nose-ring and asking, “Did that hurt?” I think I have some experience in stupid questions.
The difference is that when asked a question in earnest, even if I happen to think it is the most stupid question I have ever heard, I answer it.
This has nothing to do with thinking I’m better than anyone else for doing so, or with any sort of misplaced altruism about the dissemination of information. No. It’s because I really do believe that people are innately curious, and at least partially involved in the processing of new information. In other words, human beings ask questions when they need the answers to them.
It would have taken less energy for the woman to ignore me completely, or to point and say, “Go that way.” Go that way. Would that have really been so difficult?
Instead, she used me as a focal point for her frustration and annoyance. She might have been having a terrible day; she might have been asked that question seventy or seven hundred times that week.
Does that still give her “the right” to go off on me?
I would argue no; you might disagree. All I want are informational t-shirts that people can wear, grouping all human beings between There Are No Stupid Questions and There Are Stupid Questions & You’re About to Ask Me One. Just so I know.