Friday, October 25, 2013

Ask a silly question, get security squirrels

When I worked at a bank as a teller (years ago), sometimes people would ask me to point out the security cameras, with a barely concealed grin.

(image by Chiswick Chap)
Off duty squirrel. They'll watch you for fun, anyway.
Of course the official answer to this was a polite smile and a laugh, because customer service, and you'd be surprised how often men seemed to think that counted as flirting (hint: if you ask a teller that question, she'll think you're an idiot).

There's an old saying among teachers: "There's no such thing as a stupid question." But what we didn't say was that there is such thing as an I'm just being silly and trying to get a laugh question, and an I'm about to cause trouble question.

They're surprisingly easy to tell apart. The former is usually said with a straight face, often far-too-serious, or else a barely-suppressed, trying-to-look-serious grin. The latter is usually asked with a big, disarming grin.

I almost always got the "joking" faces. I had to give them the customer-service answer no matter what the face (it's actually surprisingly effective at deterring more such questions--I never had anyone try to insist, not even the I'm-so-honest-big-grin guys whose grins disappeared after they realized they wouldn't get answers), but that didn't stop me from forming an entirely different answer in my head. Sometimes we tellers would share our wannabe answers in the break room.

"Oh, we don't have stationary cameras," I'd say. "We mounted the cameras on the backs of invisible squirrels, who patrol the lot. Very clever little security squirrels, they are. Always watching."

Of course we couldn't give that to customers, any more than we could talk about the bank security features. But really, that's the sort of question just asking for a sarcastic answer.

What's the most obvious "trouble" question you've heard? And how did you respond (or how did you want to respond, if you had to customer-service instead)?


  1. Any question students have ever asked me that can be answered by reading the d*** syllabus. Or the instructions.
    I provide them with the answer politely and succintly. But in my head I'm smacking them, yelling at them, smashing them on the head with a book, or some such.

    And if teaching has taught me anything, it's that there is most certainly such a thing as a stupid question. If you ought to have known the answer (see above) it's stupid. Or if it's completely out there and makes zero sense, it's stupid (Like the woman at the airport who asked if I had a wallaby in my pet carrier. It was one foot long and contained three singing parakeets.) That doesn't mean I won't answer them. I might even be nice about it. We all ask stupid questions sometimes. It's just a fact of life.

    1. Lol! Students are particularly creative in coming up with, erm, interesting questions...