I walked around campus for a week having strangers divulge the questions they get asked the most often, as well as those they least enjoy responding to. Unsurprisingly, we all get a lot of “What’s up?” and “How are you?” in our daily lives, and more than half the students I spoke to mentioned one of these as their most hated query. The major complaint? These supposed conversations starters don’t really start anything at all.Are there questions that would initiate a more sustained conversation? I asked the same respondents to share what they wish people would ask them more often. And in an effort to test the bounds of anonymity and intimacy, I had another group of students—entirely unknown to the first bunch—respond to their questions.
Do you have time to go for a drink?
• Sure. I’m always down for going for a drink.• Right now?! Is it nearby so I can leave my stuff in the Robarts reading room? I can go for about an hour but I’ll have to come back to study after.• Always. Especially with you.• Only if it’s a Pepsi. Coke is ubiquitous all over campus and it pisses me off.• Are you buying? If not, the answer is still yes.
What are your goals in life?
• To be completely at peace with myself and, in turn, the rest of the world.• To get a decent-paying job I enjoy, be happy, and eventually settle down somewhere I like.• To find a way to leave a dent in the world around me and make the world a better place. Yes, it is a vague goal, but if I was any more specific, I would not be honest. Sure there are things I want to accomplish, but my only goal is to make those accomplishments matter.• Hahaha! You’re funny. What are your goals in life?• The only clear and well-defined goal I have right now is to live at least until I am 34 so that I can say I outlived Jesus. Oh, and I want to ride an elephant.
Do you want the answers from last night’s homework?
• Really?! That’s so nice of you! Wait … actually … what was the range of your GPA from last semester? Just an approximation is fine if you aren’t comfortable telling me the actual thing.• No, I prefer to do the work myself.• Well, last night’s homework was an essay, so I don’t see how giving me the answer will be useful at this point. But if you just want to talk about it, sure. If not, get out of my house.• We’re not in elementary school anymore.
How are you feeling? No, seriously—how are you feeling?
• I’m feeling suicidal. You?• Generally good, but on an overall level, absolutely terrified. I’m graduating. I’m poor. I don’t know where I will be in a few months. The one thing that is keeping me together is the knowledge that if I stick to my guns, it will work out. This keeps me content enough to press on. So yes, I’m generally good. And you?• Fine, really, to the first. To the second, there are too many things happening, but one always manages to cope.• I’m not the best at describing how I feel. I never really give it much thought—maybe out of fear of what I will discover. In all honesty though, as much as I have lots of great friends, I still can’t help but feel a bit lonely. I really wouldn’t mind being in a relationship or at least having someone to cuddle with at night. Besides that though, I am feeling alright. My life is pretty uneventful, can’t really complain.• I am feeling fine. Seriously? I am feeling seriously fine. Oh, but now I am feeling hilariously fine. Or is it ridiculously fine? Seriously ridiculously fine. So “good,” I guess. Why would you ask in the first place if you weren’t really interested in knowing?
Do you like what you’re studying? Why?
• On some days I do … the thing is, when you are happy about life in general, you are happy doing everything and nothing. But when you have one of those days when something is getting you down, everything else sucks, too. At U of T, my days are mostly of the latter genre, which is why I’m rarely happy with what I’m studying.• I love what I am studying. It is interesting, somewhat rewarding, and just fun. It is not very useful or practical, though.• Yes! It involves everything, plus a healthy competition which makes it great to watch, like a never-ending team sport.• Yes and no. I love history and learning about the past. I believe it is essential to understand the present. I’ve become disillusioned with political science and don’t like to study it anymore and turned it into a minor. (I once planned on majoring in it.) And I’m really enjoying the courses I’ve been taking for my new minor of Book & Media Studies. Courses titled “The Newspaper in Canadian Society” and “Readers and Readerships” are perfect for someone like me who is a news junkie, loves Canada, and loves books.
What do you believe in?
• If this is a religious question, I believe that there is no way I can ever understand or know what made me or why I am here, but if there is some sort of supreme being(s), they would want me to treat others with respect and not be a jackass. If this is another type of “belief” question, I believe in the importance of the Latin phrase carpe diem, and the fact that everyone should see Dead Poets’ Society at least once in their life.• I was raised as a Roman Catholic (and my parents still go to church every week), but from the time I was a teenager, I’ve become lapsed from my faith and haven’t really given much thought to it. I believe in some sort of higher being—whether it is God, Buddha, Allah, or whoever else, remains to be determined.• I believe in unicorns, leprechauns, Odin, Batman, evolution, pygmy ponies, that better living is achieved through omniscience, that to have a beard is to rehearse a battle with the universe, and that fairies wear boots.• Why are you asking me? I’m barely over 20!• I don’t know anymore … [proceeds to cry]
Wanna make out?
• Sure.• It hadn’t crossed my mind. Get back to you?• Oh my god, you’re like the coolest person I’ve ever met. And I think you just made my day.• Wanna buy my drink first, or at least let me buy you a drink?• Yes, but don’t take pictures and put them all over the Internet.
What are you working on right now?
• A brutal essay which is taking forever. But that’s what any one of the 10 million students on campus would have answered, so…• Everything and nothing. It’s called “multitasking.”• I’ve recently started making music with a new band. We’re collaborating with each other a lot and it is really turning into something special. That is probably the most important thing I’m working on aside from essays for class. By the way, you should come see us play. We rock some mean folk!• An essay on the following topic: “Assess the extent to which race shaped Billie Holiday’s sense of personal identity.”• I am working on a comic, an essay, and trying to have a coherent argument celebrating mediocrity.
What is your background?
• Take a guess! I usually tell people I’m a quarter Russian simply because of my hair colour and skin tone. Some postulate that I’m Japanese. This conversation often gets really interesting.• I’m Canadian. I was born and raised in Ottawa and lived there until I was 18 … Although very few of my extended family are francophone, I went through the French public school system (not French immersion!) back in Ottawa. It’s because my mom did the same when she was a kid, and because of that I also consider myself a Franco-Ontarian.• My mother is a working-class Calgarian and my father descends from the British upper-class, or says he does. It only recently occurred to me how bizarre a marriage this was.• My family comes from a long line of Irish Catholics. My Grandpa came over to Canada in the 1940s.• Beartato. Oh, you mean, like, racially. Half-space goat, half-awesome. Okay, fine, Jewish Rastafarian. Okay, just Colombian. I hate this question.
What are you doing on Saturday?
• I am having brunch with some friends. Do you want to meet up after that?• I’ll be running experiments in my lab. I love life. I really, really do.• Homework, band practice, and other things. In the evening, I may go to a pub with my roommates … or stay in and watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD with them. We’ve been watching them in installments. We’re on Season 2.• Usually watching Hockey Night in Canada with a few beers before either going out with friends or just staying in for the night and relaxing / doing schoolwork. I usually don’t do too much on Saturday nights—I tend to go out on Friday nights.• Recuperating productively.
What are you reading these days?
• Everything but my textbooks. I also keep on buying books that I tell myself I’ll read, but I never do because there just isn’t enough time.• Well, a lot due to the nature of my program. I recently finished the new Nick Hornby book Juliet, Naked, and it was good. The best book I’ve read recently was called -My Name is Will: A Tale of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare by Jess Winfield. Seriously one of the funniest books ever written.• Just philosophy essays and books for class and webcomics. I dream of being able to read novels in my free time again, eventually.• Billie Holiday’s autobiography—I need to write an essay on it for one of my classes.• Recently it occurred to me I wasn’t reading anything outside of school. Then I realized I spend several hours a day reading things on the Iinternet. Just ‘cause it ain’t in print don’t mean it ain’t there.
Want to get out of here?
• I think I just fell in love.• It depends if there’s innuendo hiding in your question.• Maybe. Where are we going? I’m pretty content here in Toronto. I like to travel, but I’ve come to the realization in the last year that I like living in Canada.• Sure. Let’s go for an adventure.• Yes, just let me finish my drink.
What kind of music are you into right now?
• I’m really liking Datarock. They are Norwegian and very fun, danceable, and have ridiculously silly lyrics. I’m also listening to the song “Chavas” by Molotov (a cover of “Girls” by the Beastie Boys) at least once a day because the bass is awesome.• I’m always listening to a mix of everything. On heavy rotation on my iPod at the moment: the new Hot Chip album, Brandi Carlile, Ariane Moffatt, Jean Leloup, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Grizzly Bear, St. Vincent, Mumford and Sons, Thrush Hermit, and Illadelph Halflife by The Roots.• I always listen to my iPod on the way to class, so I like stuff that pumps the adrenaline in preparation for the imminent hours of sombre focus.• Well, a lot. I really like the most recent Jens Lekman album, A Night Falls over Kortedala. It really is brilliant. Belle and Sebastian are a constant favourite, as is St. Vincent. But most recently I’ve been getting really into the Nostalgia 77 sound. Long live jazz revivals!• I listen only to lecture recordings.
Can I have your phone number?
• I dunno. Do you have a girlfriend?• Not if you publish it. Ask me later.• I thought you already had it? If you lose it again I will de-friend you on Facebook.• Sure. I’m having fun and this conversation is quite stimulating, if not one-sided. I’d like to ask you these same questions another time.
Do you want to go shopping?
• I can’t … I just went yesterday … I can’t spend any more money.• Uh, ok. But you then have to help me find rare comic books throughout the city afterwards.• Probably not. Never been a fan, really.• Are you kidding? I’m a s-t-u-d-e-n-t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite privileged. I just don’t have any spare money to go shopping, as much as I’d enjoy your company.
In all honesty, what do you think of me?
• Why don’t you add me on Facebook first?• I think you are a great person. One of the best people I know. You are a great friend that will always be there to help. But I think that unless you change parts of your lifestyle, you will be dead in less than 10 years, and this worries me.• If I’m answering your questions this honestly? Quite a lot!• I think that you are an easy going person, [who is] curious about those around them. I like that you care about the answers to the questions you are asking. You seem warm-hearted and kind, but don’t be offended if it takes me a while to trust you. It usually takes me a bit of time to really warm up to people.• What do I think of you? What do you think of ME?