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Yes, there really are stupid questions

Tom Hanks stars in 'Forrest Gump' (Paramount Pictures)

Stupid is as stupid does for 'Forrest Gump' star Tom Hanks (Paramount Pictures)

We are often told that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

But it seems there are a few queries that cross that line at the office. If you work in customer service, for instance, surely there are days at work when you can’t quite believe your ears. It might take all the self-control you can muster to hold back the sarcasm when a particularly logic-backward question is lobbed your way.

And that’s only the beginning. We went to question and answer website Quora to find some of the most stupid questions readers had been asked at work. You might not believe your eyes when you read what we found.

The stupid gene

The education system seems a prime source of inexplicably ridiculous questions — and not just from students. Ellen Burchett, an elementary school teacher, described how her attempt to explain special education to a group of parents went horribly wrong. She wrote: “I told them about IQ testing and educational testing and discrepancies, and they agreed that everything made sense. I asked if they had any questions.” Burchett wrote that one mother, earnestly replied, "’Well, that all sounds good, but when will they do the DNA testing?"
 
Burchett paused and explained again: “we do aptitude testing and compare it with how they're currently performing, but — as we're a school — we don't do any medical testing. Completely confused, [the mother] asked, ‘But, well, how will you know if he has the stupid gene?’,” she wrote.

“At a loss, I sputtered, ‘The - the - the what?’,” Burchett wrote. “The mother continued, ‘My husband and I both had it. It's a gene that makes you stupid. Does my son have it too?’"

Re-boot

For the less technically-minded, new technology still causes endless confusion. Website designer, Sidharth Rao wrote that he was once asked by a client whether: “the website you build for us [will] work on [both] Internet explorer and Godzilla?'”

You could put it down to a slip of tongue, Rao wrote, “but she said Godzilla again 10 minutes later. My colleague and I had to excuse ourselves, pretending to use the washroom suddenly, because we couldn't control our laughter.” 

Abhinav Gaur, a senior design engineer at a semiconductor company that makes electronic chips was asked by his aunt "What are your most popular flavours?” and Salim Uddin had been asked: "Can you get infected from the virus on your computer?"

Planet obvious

Christine Leigh-Langtree, a bookseller, wrote that once, as she stood at the cash desk in her shop with the till open, counting a fistful of 50-dollar notes in her hand, “a woman came up and asked me if I worked there. I looked at her, and then at the money,” Leigh-Langtree wrote, “and then (looked) at the open cash drawer and said, 'Nah, mate, I'm just robbing the till.'” 

Tourist trap

Working in the tourism industry seems to be another prime source of idiot questions. JoAnna Griffin, now a teacher, wrote that when she worked at Disney World one summer she was asked the following “at least ten times” every day. “’When is the 6pm parade?’ She wrote: “I learned to smile and politely say, ‘6pm’.”

As one of the only British people working at a theme park in Ohio in the US, Thomas Goodwin was asked: “Do you have traffic lights? Where in the London is the Eiffel tower? Do [the British] celebrate Christmas? Is England near Europe?”

Rory Young a safari guide in Zambia says has been asked some “really thick questions” by tourists, such as “‘how many legs does a crocodile have?’ and ‘what do giraffes hunt?’,” Young wrote: “what really left me speechless was, parked in a Landrover on an open grassland plain surrounded by the ‘Kemurara,’ a herd of over 2,000 buffalo, all doing what they do all day (graze) someone asked me, ‘what do they eat?’.”

Animal crackers

Kat Lightman, meanwhile, works at a veterinary centre and encounters a lot of confusion over animal behaviour and health. Several questions from clients stuck in her mind: "‘Wow! You work at a vet? How many times a year do you get rabies?’,” she wrote.

Or these gems: “‘I don't really like the idea of neutering my dog. Can you just give us some birth control for him instead’,” she offered. “‘My bird started cursing around my children, could he have learned those words from Family Guy?’ and ‘My dog actually did eat my school project, can you guys take an X-ray and write me a note?’ "

Does your job involve a barrage of questions daily? How do you respond to the less intelligent enquiries? Share your thoughts and experiences on BBC Capital's Facebook page or message us on Twitter @BBC_Capital

Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.

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