David Grover is an MA student in creative nonfiction at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (nope–not Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio).  He blogs here.  (Editor’s note: But also check here–it’s awesome/awful.)  David prefers pineapples to melons (the pineapple is the king of fruit) but has no preference as to David v. Dave.

This is a public service announcement.

As it happens, people like to ask people what their favorite things are: favorite books, favorite movies, favorite music, and on and on. To this sort of question there are a few possible responses:

  1. “My favorite movie is Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.”
  2. “Oh, um, I’m not sure, I mean, well, gee, I, uh, never thought about it before but maybe, uh…I don’t know.”
  3. “Well that depends on what kind of movie we’re talking about. If you mean, ‘What’s my favorite sci-fi?’ it’s Star Trek IV, unless you count TV movies, in which case it’s the special two-hour finale of The Pretender. But if I can count movies and their corresponding TV serieses, I pick Serenity and all of Firefly as pretty much the best thing ever. My favorite Joss Whedon, though, is probably Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog or maybe Season 2 of Buffy. If you mean ‘best action movie,’ it’s definitely Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which is also my pick for best romantic comedy, best thriller, and best Morgan Freeman movie. But it’s actually not the best Robin Hood movie, because I’m actually a big fan of Roger Miller’s work with Disney on their version of it, but if you meant ‘best overall movie ever’ I’d have to go with…”1

The correct answer is answer #1. Let me illustrate why with a short anecdote.

When I lived in Korea I would make several calls every evening to confirm appointments, follow up on new contacts, return missed calls, and be generally bothersome, etc. Every time I called someone the same thing would happen. They’d answer the phone and say, “Yobosaeyo!”

“Yobosaeyo. Is Mr. Kim there?”

“Where are you?”

At this sudden question I would furrow my brow in confusion and say, “I’m, uh, at home. Where…are you?”

“Who is this?”

“It’s the missionaries.”

Why this fascination with my location all the time? Every person I called asked me the same question; this went on for months. I would ask to speak with someone and they’d want to know where I was. I already knew where they were, since I was doing the calling, but I thought it might be rude not to ask back so I always did.

And then one day it clicked: they weren’t asking me where I was; they were asking me who I was. Oh, the word was definitely “where.” But it was an idiom, a semantic twist of language. In Korea, on the phone, “Where you at?” means “Who you is?” Just like how in America, “Why don’t you close the door?” means “Please close the door, dear.” It’s semantics, baby.

So how does this apply to you, friends? When someone asks you your favorite anything, they aren’t really asking you that. What they are really saying is something like, “Hey, give me a quick opinion in an interesting category and I’ll either agree or debate.”

What they’re really saying is, “This date sucks. Let’s talk about something.”

So answer #2 is obviously wrong because it gives no opinion at all. Answer #3 is more information than anyone really wants.2 Answer #1 is exactly what is called for, a quick, debatable opinion.4

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “But what if I don’t know what my favorite something is?” Friend, in that case, lie. Make something up. Choose at random from your top ten-ish things in that category and get on with your life. Besides, who’s to say that you’re lying? Who’s to say that your favorite color isn’t currently lavender and your favorite dish soap is the kind that smells like apples? There’s no law saying that you can’t change your mind later, one minute later even, if you want to. And if anyone challenges whether you really think something’s your favorite, just give’m the old Kip: “Like anyone can even know that, Napoleon.”

1 This post is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of any part of this post to real people, living or dead, is unintentional. Unless it sounds like you. In that case, be sure to read footnote 2 when it comes up.
2 No, don’t read footnote 2 yet—wait till it comes up. Then skip to footnote 3, since you ruined this one.
3 If you give something akin to answer #3 and the person you are with lights up and enters what becomes a long, soul-searching conversation, get married immediately. You’re not likely to do better.
4 Well, it’s not really debatable, but you get the idea.