I have trouble in understanding the metaphor or whatever implied meaning of "how many people use their washing machine". Nor could I understand WHY he was asked "when was the last time they had left the country". I seriously not get it at all, though I understand every meaning of the words.

The context is : "Dad" is a fifty-five year old man who was recently got fired and he had tried several job interviews without any success. So he decided to apply for benefits. During the filling of the forms for applying , he was asked to answer some questions.

Here is the sentence:

After a fortnight of rejections, he and Mum admitted they would have to apply for benefits, just to tide them over, and spent their evenings poring over incomprehensible, fifty-page forms which asked how many people used their washing machine, and when was the last time they had left the country (Dad thought it might have been 1988).

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

1 Answer 1


Applying for unemployment benefits can be a difficult process. Invasive and seemingly arbitrary questions such as "how many people use your washing machine" are used to determine household size or how many dependents (e.g. children) an applicant has. Many government forms ask about overseas trips for security purposes, but here the likely intent is to assess the applicant's wealth or economic status.

The point is that the questions are tiresome, specific, and hard to answer, invasive, etc.

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    I remember benefit applicants in the UK being asked (if they lived with other people) whether each individual had their own toilet paper. This was done verbally at the initial interview, not on a printed form. Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 9:18
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    It looks like an example sarcasm to me; that was being deliberately silly and not actual questions asked. The reason is to show as Tashus said, " the questions are tiresome, specific, and hard to answer, invasive, etc." Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 10:24
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    To add to Michael Harvey's comment, since it first became available here in the US during the Great Depression of the 1930s, subsidized public housing was something you had to be poor enough to qualify for, and the questions that were used to determine whether you were indeed poor enough were often very detailed and quite invasive. A question about a washing machine is hardly an exaggeration. I imagine the situation in Britain was not all that different.
    – TimR
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 12:44
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    @Tᴚoɯɐuo I have edited the answer to reflect the legitimacy of the sample questions.
    – Tashus
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 18:20
  • thanks so so much, for all of you, clearing my mind, for when I read it I was totally lost:)
    – user86301
    Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 2:46

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