When you shouldn’t ask

We adopted a new cat a couple of months ago – a beautiful three-legged Maine Coon named Max. A couple of days ago, I picked him up to cuddle, and he decided he wasn’t in the mood for kisses. He put his paw up to push me away and ended up scratching my face. Unfortunately, he caught me right below my eye and I now have a nasty scratch and a black eye. Because of the delicate nature of the eye, it bruised more than a scratch elsewhere would. Consequently, I look pretty beat up.

I have a client meeting and a class next week, so I imagine it will illicit curious stares, questions and concern.

So, just what is the proper etiquette when you see someone who has an injury of some sort? Do you ask about it? Do you ignore it? What is a concerned and, most likely, curious person to do?

Having been guilty, when I was young, of asking “what happened to ____” (fill in the blank) and hearing very embarrassing stories, I quickly learned it’s not appropriate to ask the question of someone you don’t know well. For example, in my 20s, I asked an acquaintance how he broke his arm and turned beat red when he said, in so many words, that he broke it during an intimate encounter. Oy!

If the person is a friend, then go ahead and express your concern. Best not to ask “what happened”, instead say something like, “wow, that’s a big cast, are you OK?” If the person is evasive or changes the subject don’t push. Maybe it’s something your friend is embarrassed about, or she is uncomfortable sharing medical information.

When it comes to injuries, I know a black eye on a woman can be tricky because it can look like it’s from domestic abuse. First of all, accidents happen. I have two friends who have sustained injuries to their face from accidents. One from crashing on her bike, the other from being hit by a softball. So don’t assume the worst. That said, if a friend regularly has facial or other bruises and strange explanations or seems really uncomfortable discussing what happened, it would be best to consult a domestic abuse organization to get advice on what to do.

If you are the person with the injury, it is not necessary to tell people what happened unless you feel comfortable doing so. As I am thinking about my upcoming client and class I probably won’t say anything about my eye unless I notice someone staring at me or he or she comes out and asks me about it. I’ll probably make a joke like, “I lost a wrestling match with the cat”. Humor is always a good approach.

As for Max, well, he’s a sweet boy who probably didn’t mean to cause me so much harm. But, I’m keeping my face away from his claws, which is probably a good idea with any cat.





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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>


  1. plandocheckact on January 4, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    What a great twist on etiquette. I appreciate your take on this. Some people are just nosy-bodies. You provided a great tip to show concern without being nosy. Thanks

  2. ArdenClise on January 4, 2013 at 11:15 pm

     Hi Pete, thanks for visiting. It’s true, there are many nosy-bodies out there as you said. I’m glad my tip was helpful.
    So far people have been very polite about my black eye. And, thankfully it’s clearing up.

  3. andreaballard on January 6, 2013 at 12:44 am

    I remember once when I broke my hand and had a cast I appreciated my pastor’s response. He just looked at it and said “I’m sure you’re sick of being asked what happened, so let’s talk about something else!” Refreshing!

  4. ArdenClise on January 6, 2013 at 11:20 am

     That’s a lovely way to respond. I like it because he acknowledged the injury, but he didn’t ask you to talk about it. Perfect.

  5. BethBuelow on January 7, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    Thanks so much for addressing this, @ArdenClise. It’s a fine line, and you’ve given us some excellent insights. I especially like your comment about using humor. That would probably be my approach, esp. if I was giving a presentation or with a client and the injury was obvious. We don’t have to divulge the details, just acknowledge it so that everyone can stop noticing it and move on to focus on the message.

  6. vickivlb on January 7, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    We adopted one of our kitties (also a MC) just before Christmas many years ago. On Christmas evening, while we were playing with a feather toy, she got the string caught around her paw. When I reached to untangle it, she bit my hand. It wasn’t serious (although it swelled up and I worried a bit because, well, nothing was open but the ER!) and she was much more concerned than I was (will they take me back? Oh No!)
    Also in relation to the “real” topic of the article ( I always zero in on the cats first!) I wonder how many men or women try to make up an excuse after they actually do walk into a door or fall down the stairs!

  7. ArdenClise on January 7, 2013 at 4:58 pm

     Cats bites and scratches can really swell up. Poor you, poor kitty. Bless you for adopting a kitty. Maine Coons are the best.
    Yes, it would be interesting to know how many people make excuses after having embarrasing accidents. Sometimes it’s best to hide the truth because it will embarrass both you and others, like the man I mentioned above.

  8. ArdenClise on January 7, 2013 at 5:17 pm

     Good point Beth. Yes, people will always be curious and concerned, so acknowledging it is a good way to go. I did that with the kid’s class and I think the kids were relieved.
    That said, I shared what happened with my eye with the KIRO radio show hosts and I don’t think they believed me. Maybe I shouldn’t have used concealer, made it look suspicious. You never know.

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