“What do you eat on a normal day?” Paul and I were recently asked by a gorgeous yet slightly judgmental Ukrainian woman.
“We try to eat pretty healthy,” I told her. “You know, salads, chicken…” We were sitting in the restaurant at the top of the Space Needle, feeling slightly dizzy from champagne and the slowly-spining dining room.
Sergiy, a Ukrainian who I tutor in ESL, was visiting Seattle with his wife, Julia, and their two daughters, and they had invited me and Paul to dinner. We were having a great time, eating plates of pink salmon and taking in the breathtaking views of the city and the sound and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. Paul and I were even enjoying this interrogation of our eating habits.
“Tell me exactly what it is zat you eat,” Julia insisted.
“Triscuits,” Paul said. “I eat a lot of Triscuits.” (Paul has a thing for Triscuits.)
“What are Triscuits?” Julia glanced at Sergiy. “Do you know?” He shook his head.
“They’re like crackers,” I tried to explain.
“Shredded wheat,” Paul interrupted. “They’re basically shredded wheat.”
“No!” Julia slapped her hand on the table. “Tell me exactly what you eat every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Paul and I launched into a detailed meal-by-meal explanation of our food intake. This was even more intense than the last time I’d gone to lunch with Sergiy and Julia, and she had asked me, “how do you stay so thin? Do you exercise, or do you just not eat?” She had made me tell her my workout routine then asked clarifying questions – how fast were these walks of mine? Did I have a personal trainer? Julia herself is very fit, and I guess she’s always interested in learning other people’s methods of staying in shape.
“…And for lunch I might have a spinach salad,” Paul was saying.
“What kind of dressing?” Julia demanded.
“I don’t really use dressing,” Paul said.
Julia nodded knowingly. “Yes. You look like person who does not eat zee dressing.”
Once I understood that Julia really and truly wanted me to walk her through a day in the eating life of Eva, I didn’t mind doing it. It fact, it was fun. Talking about myself usually is.
“Well, for breakfast I have cereal, but sometimes yogurt and fruit,” I told her. “And always peanut butter. I have to have peanut butter every day.”
“Ah, you are truly American.” Julia smiled. .
“For lunch I might have leftovers, or a chicken and spinach quesadilla. Or a turkey sandwich with avocado and… What’s that cheese we like?” I turned to Paul.
“Oh yeah. Turkey and smoked gouda with sprouts. We love sprouts.”
“What are sprouts?” Julia wanted to know.
Paul pulled up a picture to show her on his phone. “And pasta,” he said. “I eat a lot of pasta.”
“He’s Italian,” I explained.
“So spinach and chicken and fruits; maybe some pasta.” Julia seemed to be cataloging all of this into her brain to examine later. We had information she was interested in, and she wasn’t afraid to milk us for answers.
I don’t think I have ever interrogated someone the way Julia did to us on top of the Space Needle. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t wanted to. Often times I don’t ask people enough questions because I’m afraid of seeming stupid or sounding rude. Sometimes I’m not even sure what the “right” questions are. If they want to tell me about something, they will, I think. But maybe they don’t know that I want to know. Maybe they are waiting for me to ask the questions.
Now that I live in Seattle, I live close to friend and fellow UNO-grad, Lish McBride, who is the published author of two awesome YA books, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, and Necromancing the Stone. Here is someone who has the information and experience I’m interested in, and yet, when I had drinks with her the other day, I didn’t pick her brain about what it’s like to get an agent and work as a novelist. I was afraid of asking questions that exposed my naivety, or that annoyed her, like how much money does she actually make, and how often does she travel, and basically how does the entire process go from getting an agent to seeing your book on a shelf. Maybe it’s too personal to ask, I thought. Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it. Maybe, to her, it’s old, boring news.
What I realize from my dinner with Sergiy and Julia, however, is that most people like to talk about themselves, no matter how mundane the topic, especially when it’s with someone who truly cares about what they have to say. I mean, I’m not going to, unprompted, launch into a description of my daily food intake… but if you’re like Juila, and you really want to know, I’d be more than happy to tell you.
I guess it doesn’t hurt to ask questions. The worst that can happen is I won’t get any answers and I’ll be no better or worse off than I was before. But more often people want to talk about their experiences and give away their answers. I bet if I ask Lish, I’ll get a pile of anecdotes and helpful info about writing and publishing books. I’ll take a tip from Julia: it’s better to interrogate than to go on not knowing.