salary inquiry rebuff
There was an article in China Daily not long ago discussing the problem of Chinese asking expats (such as myself) nosey personal questions, something that Chinese do to each other as part of their culture, but which Westerners find exceedingly annoying. The article takes particular focus on the problem of being asked how much you make, that is, what your salary is.
The general advice that the article gives to expats is: Get used to it. However, in regard to the salary inquiry, the article advised giving the answer, “It may be the custom in your country to ask, but it is not the custom in my counrty to tell.”
Assuming you want to stay within the bounds of politeness, this is a pretty good answer. Nonetheless, it seems to me to have a serious weakness, namely, that the other can come back with “Are you familiar with the proverb, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans.’?” For this reason, some other anwwer is needed, if you are to defend your privacy. Many expats, such as myself, are under a contract which stipulates that the salary is required to be kept confidential. So, you could answer (truthfully or not), “My contract does not allow me to reveal my salary.” In case the other continues to insist, or falseness of claiming to be under such a contract would be manifest, there is still a remedy available, namely, to hide behind Esperanto. This is what I myself always do as the first step, not waiting to use it as a last resort. In answer to the salary inquiry, I would say, in my sincerest milk-of-human-kindness tone of voice, “You’re going to have to learn Esperanto. I discuss my financial matters only in Esperanto.” In an earlier post, titled “Esperanto makes horse sense” I applied the same technique, suggesting that the best response to the nosey inquirer would be, “You’re going to have to learn Esperanto. I discuss animals only in Esperanto.”
The beauty of the Esperanto-reference response is that not only does it get in a free plug for Esperanto, but it transforms the confrontation (and yes, both situations are confrontations, whether intended or not) from one of nation versus nation to one of person versus person. The nation versus nation confrontation is always a hands-down victory for the host nation (via the Rome-quote), but the person versus person confrontation still allows the struggle to be governed by personal preferences.