Modern etiquette: Discussing prices and costs

Today I bumped into a girl I know from school. She was carrying several shopping bags, and immediately started to show me all the new things she had bought. She also told me the price of every item. She was really proud about some bargains she had made, and a little unhappy with paying too much for some other things that she just “had to have”.
Then she asked how much my clothes had cost. I told her that I hadn’t been doing any shopping today, but then she explained that she meant the clothes I was wearing.
This made me feel uncomfortable. It’s not that my outfit was embarrassingly cheap or ridiculously expensive, it’s that I don’t think it’s appropriate for her to know how much money I spend on clothes.
I don’t see why anyone should care what anyone else’s stuff costs, and I think it’s highly inappropriate to discuss personal finances with anyone who isn’t directly involved. Generally, I avoid talking about the prices of the things I buy, and it feels all the more uncomfortable when someone forces me into a situation where I can hardly refrain from it. All I could come up with as a response to her question was laughing it off with an obvious exaggeration, making my excuses and leaving fast.

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28 Responses to Modern etiquette: Discussing prices and costs

  1. Nina says:

    More people should start to think like you. I really hate whenever someone asks me about my personal finances, but it seems like there’s always one person that tries to get involved. And frankly, sometimes I do get rude if they try to make me talk. This is the best solution I could find so far. Sad but true.

    • Antonia says:

      Yes, there’s always someone who starts asking questions! What kind of rude response do you mean, Nina? Like, “it’s none of your business” or something a bit milder?:)

      • Nina says:

        It starts with “What an interesting question!” with a smirk (you should look directly in their eyes when saying this one and then turn your head and totally ignore the question) and goes on to “Exactly why do you care about how I get by (or spend my money, it depends)?” with a very Gary Oldman-ish threatening tone. These two usually slap some sense into them =)

  2. Laura says:

    This is always such a weird topic for me too! Back home we only discuss money (prices, salaries, etc) with close family…and even then it feels weird. I usually “forget” or just give a range if I dont want to talk about prices ;-)

    I’ve also heard that in some countries its pretty rude to ask what someone’s job is (which makes sense, you’re not your job)….while here in the U.S. its basically the first thing a new friend/colleague asks you.

    I just try to be careful and avoid any potentially offensive topics! :)

  3. mn says:

    I learned a long time ago that when someone asks you something that makes you feel uncomfortable you respons ‘Why do you ask?’. That will ususally make them feel uncomfortable as they realize the inappropriateness of their question. As well, if someone says something that you find offensive, you should repeat it back as in ‘Did you just say —-’. When someone repeats back to you your own words/questions it allows to see how it feels to be the recipient of such inappropriate discussions.

    • Antonia says:

      Thank you for your comment, I found it very helpful. “Why do you ask?” seems like a good response to some awkward questions, but I’m afraid it might sound a bit rude in Swedish. I’ll have to think more about it.
      That second trick is great, too! I think in many situations it can have more impact than simply ignoring the rudeness (which is often my best strategy).

      • Kelly says:

        To me “Why do you ask?” sounds a bit rude in English as well–almost like you are being overly defensive.

        I normally don’t discuss prices of things that I have bought except when I’m with my co-workers in case they want to check out a good deal at a certain store since I work in the mall.

        I agree with what someone else said though, it is weird she asked you how much as opposed to where you got the items. I mean, the former is just nosy, the latter I usually wonder about when I see a cute outfit, but I rarely ask. It just feels a bit strange.

  4. Karen says:

    Ugh I hate it when people do that. Usually they just start talking about their own stuff so they feel justified in asking you about yours. I’d totally joke about it and run off too.

    • Antonia says:

      This is spot on, Karen!! And often it’s not only about money related questions, but other personal topics as well. They sort of share something you didn’t even want to know in the first place, and then expect you to open up in return! That one is really tricky to battle.

  5. Patience says:

    Sometimes people ask me how much rent i pay for my appartment,
    i then turn to them and ask “are you gonna pay my rent next month? No? Then you don’t need to know!!”

    Maybe it’s the Rude Dutch part in me that makes it slightly easier to deal with people like that…

    • Antonia says:

      Haha, I may not be the kindest response, but it’s certainly the most witty one I’ve heard!:)
      And it sounds like you have a really nice apartment, if people ask questions like that:)

  6. Polina says:

    That’s strange, I’ve never really come across many people who ask me how much something is! Usually when I ask someone a question about their outfit, I ask WHERE they got it from, not how much! That girl sounds really nosy.

    • Antonia says:

      Me neither! I haven’t met many people like that at all.
      I think maybe she wasn’t being nosy, maybe she just thought we were closer friends than we actually are (?).

  7. NeenaJ says:

    My (least) favorite is when someone asks you if a piece of jewelry is real (e.g. real diamonds in a ring or real emeralds in earrings. Seriously? When is this OK?
    I usually ask them “does it look real?” If the answer is “yes” then I’ll say, then what does it matter? But it still pisses me off.

    Of course, I was recently guilty of asking my best friend how much her latest plastic surgery cost – I guess I thought the rule didn’t apply because we’re such close friends. I was wrong – she totally ignored the question, LOL!

    • Antonia says:

      Haha! Neena, nobody is perfect!:) “Her latest plastic surgery”:)

      But seriously, I totally agree with you when it comes to questions about jewelry! It’s been a long time since I’ve heard someone ask questions like that about rings and earrings, but I hear it every now and then when it comes to designer bags. And I find questions like that quite offending:(

      • Kelly says:

        People ask me that about my engagement ring and it really puts me off. The center stone is a bit larger than what one might expect for a young couple these days and it is a “real” stone it just isn’t a diamond. It is something that is supposedly rarer and stronger but cheaper because it isn’t heavily marketed or something.

        My fiance actually found it when he was 7 and has been guarding “his treasure” since :^). I think it is an adorable story and LOVE my ring, so I hate that people are going to judge it in two seconds if I say it is not a diamond.

        I don’t know why people feel it is okay to be so blatantly rude in certain cases. It’s like when someone pointed out how people feel it is “okay” to touch pregnant women. When else would a stranger feel okay to reach out and put his or her hand on a woman’s belly?

  8. Tessan says:

    Ugh, I hate that! It turns it into a competition or something like that. When it comes to it though, I usually say “Oh, it was a gift” (bags/jewelry) or “This old thing? I’ve had it forever!” (Clothes) and laugh it off. It cuts the tension, I find.

    • Antonia says:

      Thanks for this comment, Tessan! I think what you’re proposing here is the right way to react to this kind of questions. I think this kind of response will not be offending for the person who asks about the price.
      Like, in the situation which I described in this post, even though this girl asked me a question I found inappropriate, I still didn’t want to “get back at her” and make her feel uncomfortable about asking, too.

  9. Helena says:

    Antonia you truly are classy! I think you should do a whole etiquette post :) but for now I have a question, I truly do look up to you (that sounds weird saying to someone who you only know trough their blog =) )

    Anyhow! What do you think about bragging in general? Does it state bad confidence to have to tell the world how much money you make/your new expensive home, car, cat dog or whatever?

    Soo many do this to me it screams attention/low self conf. but according to these people you should be allowed to be proud of what you have if you have worked hard for it. Hmm this is NOT my way of being proud, what do you think? Am I too Swedish and a slave under Jantelagen? :D yes everytime im against bragging im too Swedish apparently.

    Take care!!

    • Antonia says:

      Hi, Helena!
      At first I wrote “I don’t like bragging” as a response to your comment, but then it got me thinking and I’m not so certain anymore. I’ll get back to you here or in a separate post.
      This also made me recall an interesting situation. I’m in the middle of writing it down right now, and it will be posted in a couple of hours;) Check back here soon!

  10. Manuela says:

    Well, this is really a bit rude, in Italy we would never expect someone asking us how much our clothes are worth… it could sound like the person wishes to brag about how expensive or exclusive his/her clothers are. We like (read: love) to wear elegant, quality designer’s stuff, the trick is to do it with nonchalance and absolutely not to boast about it.
    I guess I would have just answered “I do not remember”, along with a big smile and a quick change of subject, hoping that the person gets the hint.

  11. Pingback: Fancy dinner. Spin-off on “modern manners” . | Swedish love affair

  12. Z says:

    I always say I can never remember, or politely change the topic back to being about the person (most people enjoy talking about themselves). I too find it very strange to talk about finances with others, it does make me very uncomfortable. So I tend not to even open the floor to that discussion!

  13. Tianne says:

    Where I grew up in California/US it was common to say, “Oh I love your (etc) where did you get that?” and if the person says it was a deal, asking the price isn’t rude. I do find though if it’s randomly asked, it’s rather intrusive. I think anymore people are so materialistic that the fine art of class is lost in the amassing of items. To ask now is almost to find out (like a game) if one got a great deal. However, I feel like you that to be asked that is rather personal and awkward. If someone asks me how much something cost and I’m uncomfortable, I usually just answer honestly, “it’s awkward for me to talk about how much things cost, I hope you understand”. That way if it is offensive or uncomfortable for them, it’s on their shoulders for asking a question and posing that risk. I find truth is always best and less to fret about.

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