Dong-mun-seo-dap (answer not matching the question) and u-mun-hyeon-dap (sensible answer to a dumb question)

I have routinely asked myself why I have I been blogging at night for more than 1.5 years because blogging is antediluvian. Podcasting is not a good alternative for me as my voice is thin and I’m a stranger to spontaneous wit and reflection. I plod. (I think of an old writing group friend who said he once spent twenty minutes debating whether to write “wood floor” or “wooden floor.” That is completely me).

I am hoping that this blog is like Shoji Morimoto’s rent-a-man-to-do-nothing business. (Though, I do not charge). I read that since 2018, this 38- year-old man has been charging clients in Japan to do nothing. He is not a therapist/coach offering advice or a surrogate friend/caregiver. He offers nothing but his mostly quiet presence at a meal or a walk. One example of his work: once he was hired to sit and watch a lonely man blow out candles on his birthday cake; despite these limitations, he is somehow valuable to his clients. Similarly, I offer you few practical takeaways–no shopping links/tips, no glorious travel photos, recipes and/or clear direction (boo to linearity!), but I hope you eke out something worthwhile.

If you think my blog is a trite, middle-aged woman’s call for attention and that It does not slap (sorry, I love using amusing Gen Z slang at opportune moments to my son’s chagrin), I have one response: “FU and Fuck your standards!” (Let me explain my burst of profanity: once I saw two friends having a fight at Carleton College in our main social hall. One woman stood up dramatically, wagged her finger in her friend’s face and roared these words. At the time, I’d observed this from some distance with some some delight/admiration and thought, I hope I get to use that line one day).

A recent example of dong-mun-seo-dap (an answer that does not match the question) comes from the Depp-Heard defamation trial. (Don’t roll your eyes. I know you heard at least snippets). Recall Johnny’s attorney as she attempted a Matlock moment while cross-examining Ms. Heard; roughly paraphrased, the attorney asked Ms. Heard: “Isn’t it true that you have yet to donate the money you pledged to the ACLU?”

The gist of Ms. Heard’s reply: “No, that’s not true. I pledged the money.” Possible explanations for her answer: she had cotton in her ears, she was coached by her attorney to answer this way or she truly, as she later testified, uses the words donating and pledging synonymously.

Whom among us hasn’t pulled a Heard when faced with a pesky question? As an employment attorney, I am sometimes asked how to deal with an illegal or just offensive question by an employer during a job interview.

Flouting my own general tendency to offer scant practical information,I offer you the following quiz and answers. Guess which questions are probably no-no’s for the bulk of employers to whip out at interviews (at least currently in my favorite liberal bastion–New York City). I included a few suggestions for applying dong-mun-seo-dap to the interview context.

a) What’s your salary at your last job? OK____ NOT OK____

b) Have you been convicted of a crime? OK___NOT OK___

c) Ever been arrested? OK____NOT OK____

d) You are so skinny. I hate you. Do you eat?

OK___NOT OK___

e) I noticed a two year gap in your resume. Were you unemployed then?

OK___NOT OK___


a) Not ok. This is an illegal question in NYC for most employers to ask. Particularly if you don’t want to be limited by your old salary, you may want to answer this kind of question by pretending you misheard the question: “I am glad to discuss pay. I’d like to get paid commensurate with my x years of relevant experience and my accomplishments.” (Or you could of course provide a number/range). Some might prefer a direct approach as in just explaining to interviewer that the question is illegal; however, as an oft conflict-averse human, I would probably try answering a different question that hopefully gets to the heart of the employer’s question).

b) Not ok. This question at an interview is an Illegal question for most employers in NYC. If your answer is yes, you have been convicted of a crime, you might reply along the lines of “I believe I’m a good fit based on my experience, skills and interest in the position and nothing in my background would affect my ability to perform my job well. ” (Of course, if you haven’t been convicted of a crime, you will probably just say no).

c) Not ok. This is an illegal question for most employers in NYC to ask. If you were arrested but it did not lead to conviction, you could just answer this by saying “I’ve never been convicted of any crime.” Or of course you could answer similarly to question b above.

d) This question is probably not illegal on its own but is certainly annoying and a red flag for problems down the road if hired. When I was a new attorney fresh out of law school, a female partner at a firm unloaded this question during my interview. I smiled awkwardly and said nothing as if I’d lost the ability to speak, which is of course another option. (This pretend-you-are-at-a-loss-of-words method reminds me of how a goofy law student who used to respond to our Contracts professor’s Socratic method by feigning laryngitis when our professor asked him a question. Though this law student M, was a really a bad actor–moving his lips without any sound and grabbing his throat dramatically–our wiry prof would shake his head in disbelief and move on to another victim; so I guess it’s sometimes a useful method of avoidance).

e) Not ok. An illegal question for most NYC employers to ask. Possible answer if it’s true you were unemployed and don’t want to answer the illegal question: “I have x years of relevant work experience and look forward to drawing upon my significant experience in this position.”

The other somewhat related Korean expression I highlighted is u-mun-hyeon-dap (a sensible answer to a dumb question). I have often wished I could come up with snappy answers to dumb questions. (When I was in high school, one teacher asked me repeatedly why I was so shy. I used to shrug as I had no idea.How do you answer that?) I think of actress Carrie Fisher answering the question “What are some similarities between Paul Simon and Harrison Ford? (as she’d dated both). Her great response to the dumb question:”Both look better after a couple of beers.” Nice.

Happy July 4th weekend!

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