12/25/2005 01:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Probing for Cocktail Conversation

No matter how smart you are, any random person you come across will know exponentially more about at least one subject than you ever will. That’s something my parents would repeatedly tell me growing up, and, I assume, is part of the reason I tend to ask people annoyingly detailed questions about their job or area of expertise soon after meeting them.

The byproducts of this never-ending hunt for tidbits are the fun facts you come across every once in a while- the kind of information that you get excited to share the next time the relevant subject is brought up in conversation. Here are three new things I learned tonight at a Christmas Eve party that fall into that category.

Learned from my sister Laura, a real estate agent- If you’re showing a house to someone and they ask if there are a lot of kids in the neighborhood, it is illegal to answer them. This is because “familial status” is a protected class, just like race, religion, or national origin. When asked that question, which often happens, she usually recommends that the prospective buyers visit the neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon and see for themselves.

Learned from family friend Angie, a pharmacist- Because of new privacy provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a pharmacist cannot ask how a customer is feeling if there is anyone else in the store at the time. The pharmacy, as well as the pharmacist (or even a deliveryman) can be sued personally. Some pharmacists have even ceased greeting customers with “How are you?” to stay on the safe side.

Learned from family friend Jeff, a physician- The profession of “proctologist” doesn’t really exist, at least any more. The closest profession would be a Gastroenterologist, which specializes in the digestive system. I can see both the reason why this career choice would slowly lose recruitment numbers and also, despite that, reasons why the term remains in circulation (fifth grade career days and college improv troupes.)

If you have any more info of this nature you’ve learned this holiday season or clarifications on what I’ve relayed, please share!