What is the most common reaction when you tell people you’re a mathematician/you study mathematics?

My answer to a question in Quora: What is the most common reaction when you tell people you’re a mathematician/you study mathematics?

It was quite a while when I last heard any offensive comment. But I am bald, fat, wear large round glasses and a tweed jacket with a tie. I look every bit as a stereotypical university lecturer of certain age, who I actually am. In a conversation of that kind, I am quickly left in peace, which suits me. Why I am left in peace? Because I treat people who talk to me with respect and kindness — but without showings signs of weakness. These are, basically, professional traits of a teacher, no more than that.

Why do some strangers ask questions and make comments of the kind quoted in previous answers in this thread? Because they take at face value a false stereotype: that mathematicians are emotionally vulnerable. Normally, they are not – this is in the nature of mathematics. After all, when a mathematician proves a theorem, she or he is the only person in the entire world who knows The Truth. Well, it could be a small theorem and a small truth, but it is being alone on a intellectual mountain peak that matters.

Even if you have just started to learn mathematics, recognise mathematics as a weapon of personal intellectual empowerment – and use it. Notice, and pay attention to, this remarkable new feeling that gradually develops in your soul: that you know certain things with absolute certainty, and that you can prove to others that your understanding is correct.

Perhaps I have to add that after 40+ years spent at a blackboard in front of audiences of up to 400 students, I, most likely, do not look as a vulnerable person. If you feel offended by remarks that strangers might make about mathematics and mathematicians, try this simple remedy: get seriously involved in teaching of mathematics — and everything in the world around you will return to its proper place.