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Don't answer this. Now or perhaps ever?

It's a trick question. One you've heard countless times in conversation and in some long ago past desperately wanted answered yourself.

What I want to know is how you respond when this question is asked?

You see I've noticed something pretty odd over my years of world travel, something that (yet again) reminds me how much America is not only a country, but a world unto itself.

Whether it is Europe or Asia, the sands of the Sahara or the beaches of Brazil...

People are quite comfortable discussing money and earnings in great detail.

Even though most foreigners rarely discuss their profession within the opening lines of a conversation, most have no problems disclosing their income if asked politely.

Not so in most glorious nation...U.S of A.

Things are very different here. It is pretty damn tough to get through and introductory conversation with anyone in America without the spectrum of jobs coming up.

Especially in New York City.

The following words can usually be heard bare minutes if not seconds into a conversation with a newly met stranger:

So...What Do You Do?

Think about it the next time you are out and meeting new people. Count the number of sentences it takes before those magic words are spoken. Regardless of environment, I am sure it will be a pretty low number in most cases.

This brings up the inevitable and uncomfortable...

How much do you make?

In the case of Wall Street meet and greeters sleekly packaged as the title of this thread.

It interests me to hear how you guys deal with this question.

I have noticed over the years that the higher the net worth of the American in question, the more nervous the expression, the more wayward the gaze and the more hasty the urge to hit the eject button.

Let's also keep in mind that it is often not a question, sometimes it just comes up in conversation or during the development of a relationship.

Some of you guys have yet to encounter this uncomfortable moment and some of you have recently woken to its realities.

What do you say to people?

How do you play this taboo hand?

As you may have noticed, I am real curious lately about the industry's overall attitude towards money. Since you guys are the future of Wall Street, I find the answers a lot more intriguing than those of the current crop of BSDs.

I also find it wonderfully comical that the absolute nail in the coffin for Wall Street interviewees is to say: I am in it for the money.

Yet once you are in it almost becomes forbidden for you to talk about how much money you make...

Do you guys see this as sort of the "unspoken rule to playing the game" ?

How much does the weight of your paycheck effect how you talk to people in public and do you feel uncomfortable discussing money with people in general?


Comments (45)

  • monkeymark's picture

    I'm not in the US and I think it's a little taboo/rude to discuss how much I or the other person makes, especially if we just met. But that said I have no problem disclosing it to my friends if they ask. Amongst people I'm familiar with I don't think it's a big deal at all, I just find it a little awkward to discuss with an acquaintance.

    As to how I've dealt with it, I just give the figure (ball parked to the closest thousand) and leave it be, I think avoiding or acting coy just makes things more awkward and makes you seem a little more douchey....

  • samoanboy's picture

    If people ask, I tell - given that I spend the majority of my time with arty/marketing/media/music type people it is normal for my salary to be 4/5/6x multiple of theirs, but they wouldnt swap the glamour of the non-financial world for the money I earn and I wouldnt swap the mind numbing hell that is finance for a shitty salary and undoubtedly an equally depressing existence.

  • rufiolove's picture

    Definitely an interesting question. And I can definitely agree Midas... I've actually been in bars in a suit after work and been asked "So where do you work?" before being asked my name. Not even "What do you do?"... the superficiality extends to brand name, and you better believe the random cougar/b&t girl/random hottie has her standards on what name is en vogue. Fortunately, when people extend superficiality in attempts to valuate your worth as an individual, it can be wholly satisfying to return serve with a matched level of your own shallowness...

    I usually answer "How much do you make?" with "What's your cup size?" then judging by the facial expression and whether or not they are "cool enough" to realize that I'm trying to banter in order to change the subject, I follow with an "oh I'm sorry, I thought we were just asking really awkward questions right now..."

    It just seems tacky to give them a number on the spot... no matter what, once you do the mystique is gone. It's sort of like when you are the first to give a number in a negotiation, the locus of power shifts. I like to keep it a bit of a mystery and let them wonder... If I know them well enough and they still want to know I will tell them...

  • someotherguy's picture

    I just answer them. People are stupid about money, I don't get why its such a secret. If anything, people would probably make a lot better choices in life about their careers if everyone was more open about money. I don't go around telling people, but if people ask, I tell.

    Some (usually marketing/media types) stand in awe that any mere mortal they could be standing next to outside the meatpacking district could make such a princely sum, others are like "that's it? I thought you guys made waaaay more" but most are in the industry and trying to figure out if they are getting screwed.

    Besides salary isn't jack shit really. Its your net worth that really matters.

  • Edmundo Braverman's picture

    This is a question that would get you run out of France on a rail.

    You never, never ask a Frenchman what he does for work, and asking him how much he makes is akin to asking permission to put it in his wife's butt.

    This is both a function of societal norms and the oppressive tax system here. French politeness (oxymoron?) dictates that you never ask what someone does because that implies judgment. Additionally, the tax rate here is so ridiculous for high earners that it's not unusual to see a SocGen MD tooling around Paris in a 15-year old Yugo to throw the tax collectors off his scent.

  • 16rl's picture

    I dont really think we are that much at ease about speaking of our salaries in Europe either. I personally consider my salary part of my private life, I would never consider revealing a number, wether big or small to a stranger.

    Just the sheer fact of a person asking for how much you earn displays his/her intellectual capability (dumb-ass) and his/her social status (peasant/ money digger). I would try to pull out a line similar to the bra one to avoid this kind of topic in a conversation.

    Vivons heureuxs, vivons cachés.

  • In reply to HFFBALLfan123
    rbkchoi's picture

    HFFBALLfan123 wrote:
    This thread should be labeled "So, how much does a nerdy college kid THINK an investment banker makes...."


    It's what you put into it

  • rebelcross's picture

    For the record, for those of you who, rightly, believe that people from certain Asian countries are much more open about both nonchalantly asking about your salary and disclosing their salary, it's most often the case that they are straight lying to you with any number they disclose...hence, it's much easier in those cultures be "open" about such things (when nothing is really actually being said.)

  • Something Creative's picture

    I don't ever really hear the question about salary come up aside from people in the industry trying to figure out if they are getting shafted (like someotherguy said). I do hear the "what do you do" question a lot, and I figure most people wouldn't even understand if I were to tell them, so I simply say I'm in Finance.

    I am also guilty of asking the "so what do you do" question, but I think it's just a way to make small talk and gauge whether or not you have much in common or any interest in continuing a conversation with someone. If I am talking to someone and they tell me that they sell timeshares, I'm probably not going to want to continue the conversation.

    "It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed."

    Theodore Roosevelt

  • In reply to monkeysama
    chubbybunny's picture

    monkeysama wrote:
    Wall street bankers talking about how much they make is like porn stars talking about their dicks. Everyone knows it's huge and it lets them fuck a ton of women, but talking about it won't make it get any bigger and just pisses off those who aren't as well endowed.

    Perfect analogy
    +1 SB

  • CaptK's picture

    I usually deflect the question, most people are polite enough to take the hint. If they really press, I typically follow with "well a lot of people think investment bankers get paid ridiculously well, but keep in mind I'm working 80 hours a week - that's TWICE the number of hours you're working". That usually shuts them up.

    - Capt K -
    "Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, bait the hook with prestige." - Paul Graham

  • ibintx's picture

    I don't see a problem with the "what do you do" question--that's just a way of starting a conversation and/or finding out about someone's interests/personality. You honestly can tell a lot about people's personality by what they do (ex: bankers are quite different from artists). It's like asking someone what their major is. I'm curious why that's so bad in France.

    Obviously you should never ask someones salary, but if asked (assuming I had a banking job), I would either say something like "not enough considering the hours" to shut them up, or just give them the base salary number w/o bonus if they keep pushing for it.

  • bigimot's picture

    Well what do you do is just a question you ask when you try to make conversation/get to know somebody, so I don't really see what the big deal is. How much do I make is none of the business of someone who just met minutes ago and honestly it's none of the business of someone who know me for years either.

    I find it weird that people can't stand up to themselves, reply a negative answer or just ignore the question, like those aren't even options. Every time someone asks them a question they don't feel comfortable around they would start to think and bother themselves with how they can deal with it and what can they do, well excuse me - but fuck that. If I don't want to answer a question I'll say that, or just repeat with my own question (I love doing that) either to change the subject or simply to put the spotlight on the other person.

  • In reply to Edmundo Braverman
    UFOinsider's picture

    Edmundo Braverman wrote:
    This is a question that would get you run out of France on a rail.

    You never, never ask a Frenchman what he does for work, and asking him how much he makes is akin to asking permission to put it in his wife's butt.

    This is both a function of societal norms and the oppressive tax system here. French politeness (oxymoron?) dictates that you never ask what someone does because that implies judgment. Additionally, the tax rate here is so ridiculous for high earners that it's not unusual to see a SocGen MD tooling around Paris in a 15-year old Yugo to throw the tax collectors off his scent.

    Ahhh, I forgot you're over there! Someday I need to visit that place.

    Get busy living

  • UFOinsider's picture

    People who know me well know I'm in it for the money, and they know where that money is going.

    Everyone else gets the same answer: "I work at a bank. I put in a lot of hours, so I get paid well." Then, I change the subject.

    MONKEYSAMA, way to be man, have you been eating your wheaties this week or what?!

    Get busy living

  • nutsaboutWS's picture

    I HATE when people ask me, "how much do you make?". Or like "congrats on the job bro, what's the pay?" Pay is a personal question and I think it's off limits (I never ask anyone).

    "Those who say don't know, and those who know don't say."

  • Beef's picture

    I don't have a problem discussing mine with friends/family. But it IS a taboo subject in Latin America.

    But in Latin America the reason you don't talk about salary is not because of politeness, it's because if word gets out you're making decent cash, you might just get kidnapped in a parking lot.

    Wall Street leaders now understand that they made a mistake, one born of their innocent and trusting nature. They trusted ordinary Americans to behave more responsibly than they themselves ever would, and these ordinary Americans betrayed their trust.

  • ah's picture

    i dont know where you got the idea that the rest of the world is open to asking other people about their salary but it's taboo in asia most certainly. i'd actually say the US is less secretive about that than the rest of the world.

    I don't accept sacrifices and I don't make them. ... If ever the pleasure of one has to be bought by the pain of the other, there better be no trade at all. A trade by which one gains and the other loses is a fraud.

  • LeveragedFiend's picture

    It’s no mystery that ass has always been tits’ greatest enemy... It’s almost like a Muslim-Jewish thing, but with tits and ass.

  • Barboone's picture

    "The higher up the mountain, the more treacherous the path"
    -Frank Underwood