This is one of the most asinine questions you can ask another man (if you're a man). I'm not sure how this works with women, but I suppose it's about the same.

If someone asks you this, the obvious answer is, "More than you, obviously." But you must just quietly say to yourself, "Purse my lips," and try to be tactful in the face of this abject rudeness.

I had a good friend whom I've know for several years ask me this last year, and I have not really cared to see him since. It changed everything between us, and we've said stuff to each other that would curl youngsters' ears to the point of deafness for life. This, however, was inexcusable. I could tell he wished he hadn't said it, and I actually told him, which I wished I hadn't done.

I had a another friend who was a go-getter and wound up in the advertising business (see Johnny and Mary if you want to know more about what that will do to you). He said that you should be earning your age. For instance, if you're 30, you should be earning at least $30,000 a year. That was back in the early 1980's. I wonder what the benchmark for young working folks is now?

In days of yore, one of our tasks during Geography field camp was to go around and interview the various ranchers in the area about various things that are of interest to human geography. We (at least some of us) quickly learned (after getting chased off one ranch with a shotgun) not to ask a rancher how many head of cattle he owned, as it was the same thing as asking how much money he had.

Oh, all right. I made up the part about getting chased off with a shotgun. But never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

A sneaky way of politely asking how much someone makes is to ask "how much does a typical ______ make?" (insert name of job/profession of person you are asking).

It isn't a direct question (there's no "you" in there), so the usual defensive mechanisms are not primed for it and the beauty is that most people wouldn't know exactly how much other people like them are making so they can only talk from experience - personal experience.

I don't even like it when my dad asks me this question, which he seems to ask about as frequently as "When are you going to get married?" or "We're not getting any younger. When are we going to get some grandchildren?" I hear this question every other time I call home.

Even if someone does ask me "what does a typical network administrator make?", I always say I'm not typical. Perhaps my vocation is unusual, but it is not very difficult to know the market averages, by region, so I tell them the norms for Atlanta by experience, and explain that ability and salesmanship can vault an individual well past the norm.

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