What do you do?

“So, what do you do for a living?”

We have all been asked this question, and often by people we do not know very well. Some people are able to answer it without a second thought. Others have to choose their words carefully because they know their answer is likely to be met with a negative remark.

Apparently there is a social code that dictates what is classed as a profession worthy of respect. This same code gives others a licence to;

  • insult an individual solely on the basis of his or her career
  • make negative generalisations about a person’s profession
  • forward an email to someone containing lame jokes about their area of work
  • declare “I hate _______!â€? (Insert ‘unworthy’ profession of your choice)

I am not sure how many professions are considered ‘unworthy’ but I know that people who work as any of the following have been at the receiving end of someone else’s negativity;

  1. Traffic Wardens
  2. Lawyers
  3. Police officers
  4. Politicians

As one who is a member of a profession that has been vilified by society I know what it feels like when someone you barely know dismisses the reason you get out of bed everyday. I often wonder what sort of person one must be to have the audacity to speak ill of something that I have worked hard for, spent years studying.

I am fed up with such remarks and the people who make them. If a person needs to be reminded that there is a good and bad in every profession, then in my view such a person is not in a position to hold an opinion on anything.

Maybe I need to speak in defence of the above examples, giving reasons why I feel they deserve respect but I am not sure. What I do know is the next time someone makes a ‘smart’ comment about what I do they shall wish they hadn’t. I am not standing for it any longer.

I am quite certain that there are other professions that are equally as hated and if I have missed one out let me know.


  1. says

    I am a Budget Analyst for the Department of Defense, and on occassion, I have been personally blamed for the GIGANT debt issue the US is having.

    Mama JunkYard Says: Girl thanks for this..you just reminded me of a whole area I had forgotten about! Tax officials, bank managers and all those other people who work in finance, you guys have a tough time too! What do you say to such people?

  2. says

    So, did you hear the one about the lawyer who…oh…sorry.

    When people make jokes about your profession, have you tried stone silence and a blank, yet direct stare? I find unamused silence tends to put people in their place every time.

    Mama JunkYard Says: I shall try that next time. From reading your blog I get the impression that you also work in a field that is not loved by all, would love to hear you speak in defence of the media.

  3. Wambui says

    Yani someone has upset you! Kui, kairitu you make me happy! See it as pure jealously! You love your job, you are willing to do it for free, you woudl wake up every (well most) mornings thinking – Yes!!! How many people who diss your job actually feel like that? Wivu! More respect to you.

    Mama JunkYard Says: …and to you too. You know what is so sad, even when you tell people that are a volunteer lawyer there is always one person who will claim it is an oxymoron.

  4. Ciru Gachengo says

    Another aspect of ‘what do you do” is a question that is asked to gauge how well/bad one is doing in life , a power game. Sad to say but that game is often played amongst friends, or so called friends

    Mama JunkYard Says You are so right. It is the grown-up equivalent of “what does your father do?”

  5. says

    What do I say to them??

    I tell them that the portion I’m responsible for balances~all $30M of it!

    My cousin is in her 2nd year of Law School at Harvard, and I get offended when I hear ‘Lawyer’ jokes, knowing how hard she is working toward her goal.

    Mama JunkYard Says I love the way you always have an answer. You are so right about studying law being hard work! Not to mention the expense.

  6. Nyakehu says

    MamaJunkyard you are so right there is so much effort put to placing people in boxes and l am party to that however all those careers you have listed reminded me that when l was a child l really wanted to be a policewoman and l remember the adults laughing at me or patting me on the head with bemused looks. Then l want to be a lawyer and l wonder what that says about me.

    Mama JunkYard Says Do you remember what you said to me what I told you I was studying law? I think it was ‘How boring’. I kicked myself for not having a smart/witty reply back then…who would have known, that 2 years after my graduation Aunty Nyaks (can I call you Nyaks) would turn to me and say, “Kui I am going to study Law” :)

  7. says

    MJY, I totally agree with your view. Well written. On the flip side, there is the issue of “What dont you do?” in respect to the box where because you are (lets say) Kenyan/African woman, you are expected to be working in a care home, and when you say you dont, people kinda look at you like an outsider. I found it in America as well and it kinda validates you as a bona fide Kenyan/African. ????

    Back to the topic:

    :Council workers – they never get anything sorted?
    :Bin collectors
    :Security guards

    Most of the above are looked upon as failures in life, as in couldnt they be more ambitious. Someone once asked me if a guy I liked told me he worked as a cleaner, would I still want to go out with him? I’ll pass on the answer I gave ;(

    Mama JunkYard Says LOL :@ won’t don’t do you do? But you are right about those jobs that we are not expected to do! I was told I could be anything but not an astronaut…ati it would be a waste in Kenya. You are so right with Security Guards especially in Kenya. May I aslo add house girls….why do people back home call the mbochs? and gardeners…ati shamba boy!! A whole grown man and some kid will still call him a boy!

  8. Kaki says

    Hey, I’m back!
    OK on topic, I have often wondered why people ask wierd questions to people they do not know eg. how much do you weigh, what tribe are you, what do your parents do, what is your favorite sex position etc
    On the issue of profession, one thing I have noticed is that many people really define who they are by what they do. For some it is a way of judging your economic class, personality type and all that. Very interesting though.
    For some of us who have careers in fields hard to really describe, it changes depending on who asks. For others consultant, for some researcher, for most a hussler :) People kind of find it hard to peg you when they really have no clue what you do really :)

    Mama JunkYard Says: So glad you are back! Missed you sana. Girl what people do you hang out with who ask how much you weigh or your favourite sex position? LOL. Is that why malaya wewe was one of your top 3 phrases? The whole you = your job= your status attitude annoys me. You find people don’t even introduce you by name anymore.

  9. Wambui says

    @MJ – you making fun of my uji? 😉

    @Guess – Everyone should meet “David”, my resident “binman” – will blow all stereotypes out of the water. One of the most intelligent people met so far in Nawlins. Wonderful, wonderful man.
    @Nyakehu/Guess- I wanted to be a carpenter, same response – still do!
    @Kaki – like your strategy!

    Mama JunkYard Says I had to use that uji saying! So after Nawlins you shall be making tables for us?

  10. Kenyan Pundit says

    As a future lawyer, who’s never imagined herself as anything else since I discovered that there is a profession where I could get essentially get paid to read books and think (at least that’s how I saw it at six years old), I’m feeling you.

    Mama JunkYard Says: Wow, at the age of six you knew what you wanted to be and have stuck to it. That is amazing. Further proof that law is calling, a service, something you just feel and know; and not as many think – ati a get rich scheme for the greedy.

  11. Nyakehu says

    Kui I don’t remember saying law was boring and Mshairi can back me up on this, maybe l wanted you to argue it out proper like all lawyers are supposed to. Yes you can call me Auntie Nyaks or Wahu. Message to Wambui can you imagine using a plane and saw and making something out of your carpentry. I am a hairdresser by profession but it is a hobby this is what it says on my passport.

    Mama JunkYard Says: LOL ati Mshairi can back you up? Hata mimi I have a star witness or two, I call upon Baby Kui and Mimu :) Maybe we can have a family court at FT? JunkYard vs Nyaks [2005] FT. That passport profession box is an odd thing

  12. says

    @Nyakehu – why do our passports say what profession we are? Are we supposed to stick to them or what? My friend had his passport when he was a PUPIL (as opposed to STUDENT (only in Kenya)looking all boyish and cute – ahh)and since he hasnt got a new one yet he has been asked at airports whether he is still a pupil (blushes all around).

    Yes the boxes WE put people in based on their professions is our loss because sometimes when you speak to these people, they dont even come close to the stereotypes. And, seeing as we live in ‘other people’s countries’ we get to do what we have to to survive.

    PS: I admire those jobs (wira wa moko)eg carpenters n builders, because afterwards the whole world can see your handiwork and they dont need explanations (I think)

    Mama JunkYard Says: LMAO@ Pupil. This reminds me of my old passport. I got it in 1983, when I was baby 6 years old. I had to use that picture for 10 years!! By the time I got to 12 years old it was the most useless form of ID ever. My passport still says student, and it looks like it shall be like that for a while. You are right about handiwork and the end product. It must be a good feeling to point at something and say “I did/made that “, though I think all professions have that aspect to them. Even we lawyers can look at something and say, I had a part in that.

  13. says

    I would really love to have my profession listed as ‘poet’ on my passport. I dare say an immigration official or two would ask me to recite a poem or two :-)

    Mama JunkYard Says: LOL….my other country would not issue you a visa if they saw that on your passport.

  14. says

    I saw a letter in the Kenyan papers recently by a guy complaining that students in Kenyan unis are/were pursuing “useless” degrees. It got me really angry, (but that kind of mentality is common) as education is education.

    Mama JunkYard I had this conversation with a friend the other day – in Kenya it appears we only value certain degrees. It is so sad, especially since our country really needs all the qualified people it can afford.

  15. nicholasgichu says

    1.What do u do if u run over a lawyer?
    You back-up to make sure!!!
    2.now as for my proffesion i’m not so sure if we’re hated or more detested/loathed/feared/misunderstood….

    but ur right many people talk out of ignorance..never argue wit a fool.

    so what is the right career anyway?..and more importantly why arent they doin them!
    ebu tell them to suck on this!!!!!

    Mama JunkYard Says: Thank you for contributing. I think most of us live in fear of those in your profession, remember that wrestler…The Undertaker? I believe that each day you guys walk into your offices dressed like him and with same deathlike music to mark your entry. In response to your joke, and I say this with all the love in my heart and with the best of intentions – NGAMIA WEWE…Rudi kwa blog yako! :)

  16. mich says

    This got me thinking about what exactly are the ‘cool’ or ‘acceptable’ professions to be in. Between those you class as being ‘bad’ above, those that are ‘uncool’ (my own probably included), etc there probably aren’t many left. To me, it comes to something when even being a member of the clergy has potentially negative connotations.

    Mama JunkYard Says: Who are you? How did you find my blog? :) I would say your is actually quite cool. With regards to members of the clergy; you are right. I can undertand that with all the cases of priests molesting children people would be wary but they way people speak of priests you would think that (a) ALL priests molest children and that (b)they were the only ones who have been molesting children. There are so many fantastic priests, vicars, curates out there – like Gordon – and they do a fab job

  17. ciru says

    i cant imagine what life would be without them lawyer jokes….

    Mama JunkYard Says: I can’t imagine what life would be like without lawyers.

  18. Nyakehu says

    Kui your witnesses are too young to remember and I do not think baby Kui had been born yet.Have you noticed how we get caught up in the cool/uncool debate? Mshairi wanted a fight since she has been told that she is the coolest Aunt in her Star Trek universe? Leo nimetupa mawe polisi

    Mama JunkYard Says: I am with you about Mshairi; I want to know who gave her the cool badge – because si mimi. Lakini as a niece I do have the power to take back the cool badge. How can anyone who watches Star Trek be cool?

  19. says


    Mama JunkYard Says: uuuwwiii…uko all the way @ 82 and you are logging on to fight. In Klingon.

    As an aside – unakumbuka siku ile Nyaks alisomea kurutu moja aliekuja kuongea matuhuho kwa ile nyumba kwanza ya Mshairi? Kama Nyaks angekua akiongea Klingon angemwita “Sa’Hut “.

  20. Fashionista says

    But Come on now! Lawyers are liars, plain and simple and yes a voluteer lawyer is an oxymoron.. get real here pahleese