What Do You Do? I Hike.

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck

How many times have you heard this: “Hey, nice to meet you! So, what do you do?”

A’plenty, I’m guessing, if you are North American, where we tend to define ourselves based on our profession. And it never really bothered me, even though my old job title was awfully boring as a Sourcing Manager and I’d always have to spend the next several minutes explaining what that actually was.

However, since we started traveling, I realized how few other cultures actually do that, and the implications of it started to irk me. I don’t like the perception that we-are-what-we-do, when we are all obviously so much more. My eyes were opened in South America, where instead of being asked about professions, the first queries were always about our families. And in Germany, we learned that careers are rarely talked about in social settings; the primary exchange of information is typically about hobbies and interests – the answers to such questions determining whether or not it is worthy for a friendship to be pursued. If I’m an obsessed Arcade Fire fan (which I am), and you’re a toe-tapping Toby Keith lover, perhaps our conversation ends there.

I totally get it, and appreciate it as a much more efficient and accurate way to really get to know a person. I also much prefer that than trying to explain my job to someone I may never talk to again. (Perhaps it is just my German heritage coming through!)

From Salzburg, we were excited to be heading north to Munich, to spend a few days with my friend Laurel and her husband, and then to take care of their pets while they jetted off on vacation. I met Laurel a few months ago in Italy and we hit it off right away.

We have the same hobby – hiking!  So, we can be friends. (See how efficient that is?)

Laurel and Dalene

Laurel and her husband took us out on one of the best hikes we have done in a long time, to Hell Valley Gorge in Garmisch-Partenkirchen.

A windy path led us up and down the side of a mountain, finally dropping us in a gorgeous valley where we followed a rushing creek through the gorge.

Hiking German Alps

German Alps River

We were drenched walking through the gorge, as we weaved in and out of hollowed caves, with condensation dripping from the ceiling and then the mist of waterfalls finding us when on the outside. We didn’t care though, despite the shivering it produced, it became part of the fun.

German Alps Gorge

Out of the gorge and on the way back to the car, we couldn’t get enough of the view we had just left behind us.

German Alps view

After wallowing for a few days in Salzburg, getting out and doing what I loved in excellent company was just what I needed.

Hi, I’m Dalene. I like to hike.

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  1. Really excellent point. I’ve been noticing the same thing on my travels. “What do you do?” is still my long-ingrained habit, but in Ghent, Belgium, where everyone is an artist, I’ve taken to asking “what is your art?” I love it.

      1. Thanks! It always leads to interesting conversations. I’ve met not only painters and sketch artists, but dancers, culinary artists, and one calligrapher. I also met a woman who uses bits of old construction to create art in her own home.

        And, the thing I like even better is that here I am defined by my art. People are constantly asking me to sing, to dance, to tell them about my book. I never have to explain my business model. It’s delightful.

  2. Dalene–

    Stunning photos! And yes, the whole “what do you do?” question is weird and awkward since I generally don’t care what someone does professionally. Learning about their hobbies, interests, and families is so much more interesting, especially since that’s what gives you real insight into who a person really is.

  3. I noticed that as well here in the Middle East, except it’s usually, “Are you married?” followed by, “Why not?’

    I’d rather answer the “What do you do?” question any day in this neck of the woods. πŸ™‚

    1. My (not) favorite question, in Latin America when people would pat my stomach and say “Baby?” Um, no, I just had a big lunch, thanks.

      But I would STILL prefer that… πŸ™‚

  4. Hi Dalene, I’m Chrystal, I like old beautiful things like churches and castles. πŸ™‚ ohhh! That last photo is stunning and that hike looks Incredible!

    1. Nice to meet you Chrystal! I like old beautiful things too (in small doses, or not for a year in a row, anyways). Perhaps we can be friends! πŸ™‚

  5. Hi, I’m Marie, and I hate to hike, haha. I actually wish someone would just teleport me up there. I’m definitely more of a sprint than a marathon person. Gorgeous photos!

  6. Interesting, because I’ve kind of experienced the opposite. Almost everywhere I have been over the last year, I have been asked what I do. Usually after asking if I am married and have kids, but it almost always gets asked.

    That being said, it is something I’ve struggled with since I left my old job/career to travel. I am one who has always identified myself first by my success in school and then by my job. I’m Katie, I’m an attorney. I’m Katie, I’m a fundraiser. There have been times over the last few months because I don’t have that identity anymore and I don’t know how to identify myself now.

    But you’re right – it should be about more than what we do for work.

    1. A pretty blonde traveling solo in obscure countries? Yeah, I might wonder ‘what you do’ to bring you there too! πŸ™‚

      You’re Katie, and you’re a traveler! A runner! A lady-in-waiting for a husband named ‘Stan! You have so many interesting ways to respond. πŸ™‚

  7. If I was in Vietnam I would say.
    I am 56 years old (oooh you very pretty you dont look that old) – while patting my arm in sympathy/admiration.
    I have one son and one daughter (verry goood), and a very nice husband (whereupon they pat his not very big belly and laugh).
    No I am sorry I cannot buy one of everything from everybody even though I am verrry rich (O.K. – you buy from meeee?).

  8. Interesting! I traveled a lot this summer with Aussies, and still got the “what do you do?” questions plenty. Right now, the answer is easy: I’m a student and a travel blogger. But if I wasn’t answering based on my “career,” I suppose I would just say: “I’m Amanda, and I like to travel.”

    Because, honestly, right now that’s all I want to do!

  9. Love this post. Try living amongst military spouses and constantly being asked what your husband does and what rank he is. Umm, don’t know and don’t care. I have my own identity and am my own person, thank you very much!

    Hi, I’m Jennifer. I like to snorkel!

    1. Woot! I like to snorkel too! I would HATE those questions, they are even worse, considering they are not asking what you do, but what Tim does! Grrrr.

  10. The ‘What do you do’ question.. we usually get asked by fellow travelers what we do, but locals are more interested in our families and of course if we are married πŸ˜€

    I love the photos of your hike and I will make Jess go on that hike with me next time we’re in that area – yes, I like hiking too! πŸ™‚

  11. I’m mostly asked where I’m from rather than what I do since I don’t really sound like from the English speaking country yet no one can identify where exactly I come from (it’s Poland so then the whole explaining that no, not Holland comes). But I don’t really identify myself by where I’m from or what I do (even if I love my job), more by the passion I have, and here travelling definitely comes first.
    amazing pictures! I haven’t done hiking in the Alps for a while, I should consider to be back there soon, your pictures made me miss this place again! πŸ™‚

  12. Your photos are stunning. Nothing against your skill, but its such a gorgeous place, it must be hard to take a bad picture.
    Here in Arizona where everyone is from somewhere else, the first question is “Where are you from?” and I’ve read a couple of books recently on Lebanon, where the first question has to do with religion–even if you’re not religious you have to come up with your loyalty.

    1. We got the ‘religion’ question too a few times in Turkey, which did surprise me. One girl said to us, in a very low and kinda scared voice…”There are atheists in North America, right?” πŸ™‚

  13. Wow, what absolutely amazing photographs!

    I know exactly what you mean about the whole, “What do you do” thing and I especially hate it when people make a snap judgement about someone based on what they do for a living, such as snobby people who think that someone is not worth talking to because they work a minimum wage job.

    Your profession is part of who you are, but it is only one piece in the puzzle of your identity.

    I usually just try to sit back and listen to people that I meet rather than grilling them with questions, as I find that they will naturally start talking about what they are passionate about if you let them.

    1. I’m with you Kelly, I’m more of a silent observer as well. Once people get passed stating all the things they feel they *need* to about themselves, then they’ll start into what they are really passionate about, usually. πŸ™‚

  14. Good point about how we define ourselves in North America by what we do. Living in Thailand, I have discussed this topic a lot with other expats. We put so much weight in careers. It’s nice to visit other places where that isn’t the first thing people ask. Also — that hike looks stunning!

  15. great photos, omygod!!
    I too like to talk about hobbies more than my job. Not that I hate my job, but I’d have to explain from scratch about my job to most people and that gets boring after a while .. LOL

  16. In my country (Indonesia) people like to ask where you’re from, what your religion is, what your marital status is. If you’re married, they’ll ask how many children you’ve got. If you’re single they’ll tell you to get married soon and have children.. LOL

  17. I can totally relate to the “what do you do” thing. We hang out with enough people from English-speaking countries that I still get that question quite often, and really even some of the Germans will ask it. I’m trying to get used to answering “I’m a writer” but that usually leads to the person saying “novels, newspapers?” and then confusion when I try to explain travel blogging.

    1. Travel blogging is a tough one to explain. We tend to say that we “run a travel website”, and if they ask more questions, THEN we get into it. Most people just say “That’s cool!” and that’s about it, haha. πŸ™‚

  18. I think travel does certainly help strip down labels you may have had about yourself prior to hitting the road.

    Unfortunately, where I’m located right now, in Korea, labels are very much a huge part of the culture. In fact, I think after ‘hello’ what is it that you do is default second question.

  19. I used to hike!
    I used to hike mountains, I used to hike them all,
    I used to hike at night
    Before the flashing mountains settled deep in my brain.

    Ahem. But I know what you mean. It’s a terribly archaic conversation piece, taken from a time when a career was for life. Only useful if you’re something genuinely interesting, like an astronaut. Otherwise, it’s the starting point for a, in most cases, seriously dull conversation.

  20. I am so NOT my job and I hate telling people what I do because then I get to hear about their narrow brush with death in a hospital or some such ailment. But “what do you do” is hard habit to break. You’re helping me realize I need to challenge myself to NOT ask that question and ask something else like: “What makes you the happiest?” “What are you most passionate about?”

    Thanks for making me think and re-think.

  21. You can always tell when you meet a North American because “what do you do” is the first question asked.

    My response was always, “I travel and do photography,” which is what I do at that moment. Now that I’m back in the corporate world, I don’t think I will change that answer because it’s still what I love to do. I think I will enjoy the strange looks I get.

  22. Love Pete’s photos, they turned out great and so glad that we can be friends since we have at least 2 of the same hobbies – traveling and hiking πŸ™‚ Thanks for the mention.

  23. Hi Dalene, I love hiking and beautiful photos! We can be friends! You know, I’ve been living in the US for 22 years now and has gotten so used to β€œWhat do you do?” question as a norm. I forgot that it was not the norm everywhere else until I took my husband to my native country, the Philippines, few years ago. He said it was so refreshing because nobody asked him what he was doing for a living. He loved it that he felt accepted not for how much money he was making but for how much he could eat! You see, the question my friends and family would ask him after the first question of β€œAre you enjoying your visit?” was β€œHave you eaten?” Filipinos love to eat and love to feed as well. So If you love to eat and you let them feed you, you bond with them. They found a good friend in my husband.

  24. Hi Dalene!
    That is one change that I am noticing since I started travelling earlier this year. When i was off in small villages in India and travelling solo, people would be more interested in how my day was, where i was heading next or suggesting a place to stay for the night. But then when I went trekking in the Himalays during the summer there were lot of city bred career folk and it was always “What do you do?” And I was always at a loss for words to tell them and if I managed to give them an idea they would be at a loss for words to respond πŸ˜›

    Btw..fantastic set of pictures

  25. Lovely thread! I’m Linda, and I hunt for historical markers. πŸ˜‰

    I’ve travel(l)ed a lot in the UK, Slovenia,and USA…I don’t recall being asked a lot of questions, but in the U.S. they tended to be about the fact that a female motorcyclist was on her own. “Don’t you get lonely…aren’t you scared…” etc.

  26. Hi Dalene, I’m Andrea and also love to hike. This was a great story, awesome pictures, have to go there once πŸ™‚

  27. I’m like Marie and am not the hiking type unless it’s gentle slopes that even the most out of shape person (like me) can do. I’m also an Arcade Fire fan!! πŸ™‚

    And wow, gorgeous photos.

    I love it that here in Germany that people don’t really ask what you do right away. Mostly people ask where I’m from and what brought me to Berlin. I sum it up with “lifestyle change” to refrain from telling the whole long story.

  28. I was just reading an interview in a magazine with a philosopher who talked about that very same issue–Americans (and apparently Canadians, too) tend to define ourselves by what we do. Since I have never been very attached to any of my jobs, I always felt a little stunted in my definition…like I wanted to say what I did and then spend another 5 minutes telling people why that didn’t even come close to defining me. But that comes off as weird, so I stopped doing it. Usually.

    And…I love the Arcade Fire too!

    1. I haven’t tried it out at home yet, just changing the conversation to more about hobbies, but I’m definitely going to try and see what happens.

      And…YAY, Arcade Fire! πŸ™‚

  29. What a lovely hike. Hiking in the mountains of Europe is high on my list, especially Germany, Austria and Switzerland. I’ll add hiking the Hell Valley Gorge when I finally get there.

  30. Hi Dalene,

    I just came across this post and wow, stunning photos. What kind of camera do you have? We also love to hike πŸ™‚ I haven’t done much hiking in Europe except for the Tour of Mont Blanc, 110 miles of awesomeness, highly recommended. Keep up the good work, happy trails.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Carol! We carry a Canon 600D, but believe that any camera you have in your hand is a good camera. πŸ™‚

  31. Hi,
    I’m Nic & I also love to hike.
    I’ve currently only hiked in the UK but am taking a roadtrip around europe this summer & this post has inspired me to hike Hell Valley Gorge seen as we’ll be passing this way.

    I’ll also be hiking in Norway so will be sure to post you some comments.

    Happy Hiking πŸ™‚

  32. I ADORE this concept. While I also love my job and actually have a cool title, it does not define me. My relationships and my interests help define me. Where I volunteer and what I’m passionate about helps define me. What you do may be helpful in networking situations, but I’ve never befriended someone because of what their job was. Great observation!

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