YOU ASK! WE ANSWER! YOU DECIDE!
QUESTION: For my son's play recently he needed a wig. I found the right one at a large big-box store. When I checked out, the checkout clerk quizzed me thoroughly about the wig. She wanted to know who was wearing it and why. I found myself explaining the reasoning behind the wig for the play and all about it, when really all I wanted to do was check out. How could I have politely told her it was none of her business?
CALLIE'S ANSWER: Just laugh and say "Oh, it is a long story." If they keep talking, I call someone on the phone so they don't talk or ask any more questions.
LILLIE-BETH'S ANSWER: You don't have to answer questions, but she may have been genuinely curious or making conversation. After helping customer after customer who purchased the usual things, here was someone who was buying a wig. How interesting. Perhaps you broke the monotony for her. However, you aren't required to understand her motivation for asking, connect with her on any deeper level or even answer nosy questions. You are right. It is OK to just cut her off and say you don't have time to talk, or mumble that you just need it for something, without explaining why. Sometimes nonanswers, or one-word ones, can help limit unwanted conversations - without being too rude, it just sends the message that you aren't there to converse in detail.
HELEN'S ANSWER: Sometimes clerks, mostly perfect strangers, just like to chat. But, since most of us are trying to get checked out and gone, it is sometimes hard to be polite.
You don't ever have to give long answers to anyone. Actually, when asked who was wearing the wig, you could have just answered the question, "my son." If further questioning persisted, you could have tried to help him sack up your items, thus indicating that you were in a real big hurry and didn't have time to talk.
GUEST'S ANSWER: Richard Rosser, author of "Piggy Nation": It seems odd that perfect strangers feel free to quiz others in depth about things that might be extremely personal. Here are some ways to deal with nosy Nellies in the future. … First, you could have checked your watch and said, "Sorry, I can't talk. I'm in a rush." Second, you could have nicely told the woman it was none of her business by saying, "I really don't feel comfortable talking about this with you." Or you could have left her wondering with something like, "I'd love to stand here and chat, but I'm late for a performance and have to stop by another shop since you're out of extra large pantyhose."