Appropriate answers to awkward questions: a pen person’s field guide to holiday socializing.

“…and this is my friend with the pen collection!”

“…sleigh bells ring, are you listening…”

“She collects fountain pens, can you imagine that?”

“Oh really? What kind of pens?”


Like ink stains, holiday parties happen to pen people. Deprived of the companionable silence of fellow nib-gazers, pen people turn into hard starters, struggling to sprinkle bits of non-pen talk over cupcakes and coffee strangely without whisky. Somehow that friend from work will find a way to mention the Pens, thereby launching the annual festival of explanations.

Fortunately, you can navigate by objective, and consider this season festooned with opportunities to practice your social skills beyond “I prefer a much more forgiving cursive italic, myself…” Slink away to the holiday buffet with this menu of appropriate responses to awkward questions.

How many pens do you have?

Generous: About fifty, would you like to try one?
Passive-aggressive: More than an ordinary person would need, really.
Flirtatious: How many would you like to see?

What’s your most expensive pen?

Practical: It comes out to around 10 cents per use, over several years. Cheaper than disposable ballpoints!
Humblebrag: Nothing I own is above a hundred dollars. I can’t believe there are people who spend more.
Mouthful of cupcake: Mmmmph mmph mmmph, nothing too expensive mmph.

How much ink do you have?

Compliment the other person: “Your color sense is amazing – love the sweater! I have at least three inks that match.”
Emphasize what you have in common: “Holidays are stressful enough, right? (Wait for other person to nod.) So having the ink color you need right on hand is one less thing to stress about.”
Trigger their curiosity: “Did you know that we don’t just have blue ink and black ink? We have blue-black ink. Many different kinds.”

Note: Under no circumstance are you to actually divulge the exact number of ink bottles, sample vials, and pouches you possess.

Do you really write with all your pens?

Nihilistic: “Yes, there’s nothing better to do while watching the world end.”
Enthusiastic: “Yes! Would you like to see my handwriting using three different nibs?”
Cathartic: “I don’t. You will not believe how much sleep I’ve lost knowing I’ve abandoned pens with ink in them. For weeks on end. I’m a terrible human being.”
Sarcastic: “Obviously not all at the same time.”

Which is your favorite pen?

Suave: “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”
Sneaky: “I love all of them equally.”
Sincere: “The best pen is the one you have with you.”
Somewhat borderline: “Shhhh. I can’t have favorites. The others will get hurt.”
Sweet or stalkerish, depending on head tilt: “The one I’m about to lend you.”

With a little practice and a sense of humor, you too can survive the holidays – with fine nibs and even finer friends.

Additions to the field guide? Comments are open. 🙂