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June 6, 2009 9:21 PM   Subscribe

What is the appropriate response to a customer who left me a note at work?

I work in a movie theater concession stand, and we have a tip jar. A few days ago, one of our regular customers told me to "keep the change", around $17.00 (an enormous tip, compared to the quarters I usually see). He is in his fifties and the caregiver of a rich man who sees movies often. I am twenty-three and not interested in any kind of a relationship.

He lingered around the stand for awhile and showed me and my coworker pictures of his beach house, tennis courts in California, et cetera. We smiled and looked at them and made polite conversation. After awhile he went back into the theater.

I came into work this morning, and my manager told me that this customer had been back and left me a note. Inside was a business card that said that it was nice to have met me and that I should send him an email.

Now what? My instinct was to ignore it, but this gentleman is at the cinema all of the time and I'm afraid it will be awkward the next time I see him and I have to acknowledge that I received the note. Would a polite, non-personal "great pictures, thanks for coming to our theater!" email be appropriate? If so, how would one word such a thing? If not, what should I say the next time he approaches the concession stand?

I'm irritated that this is a problem for me, and would appreciate suggestions as to the most socially frictionless course of action.
posted by amicamentis to Human Relations (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You don't need to send him an email to be polite. You don't have to do ANYTHING that makes you uncomfortable. If he keeps coming in and wants to chat and it's not uncomfortable for you, ok, you can humor him a little and make his trip to the theater pleasant. If he does anything that crosses a boundary for you, talk to your manager about what they suggest in this situation, etc.

Again, it's often in people's nature to want to be polite despite being uncomfortable with someone's advances, and you need to know that you are not at all obligated to return this (unsolicited) attention.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:26 PM on June 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

Seconding so_gracefully: you're under no obligation to do anything at all. When next you see him, say you got the note but you've been busy, etc. I'd be willing to bet that he's just lonely and harmless. Either way, don't go past your own comfort level (you owe it to yourself to become acquainted with your comfort level if you haven't ever really given it any thought), and don't feel obligated. And please do let your manager know if it gets any weirder. He or she should support you in not wanting things to get weird or uncomfortable.
posted by littlerobothead at 9:31 PM on June 6, 2009

Don't email him. Because then you'll be writing us back to ask, "I don't want to email him back, but I'm afraid it will be awkward." Draw the boundary now.
posted by availablelight at 9:31 PM on June 6, 2009 [15 favorites]

Also, as far as the "what should I say next time I see him" part, I would say don't even bring it up or acknowledge it unless he brings it up. He doesn't know you received any note from him. Your manager may have seen the note and trashed it, for all he knows, because the manager might have thought it was inappropriate. If he brings it up, you don't have to say anything explaining why you didn't email the guy, if you didn't want to email the guy. You say, "oh, thank you." or some other non-open-ended statement of acknowledgement that will let him know to stop there.
posted by so_gracefully at 9:32 PM on June 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

Sending an e-mail opens the door to future e-mailing between the two of you, so unless you want to e-mail with this guy, don't send an e-mail. Next time he comes to the theatre, you can continue to talk to him the same way you usually do, and if he asks about the note, you can say something to indicate that you got it but to passively say that you're not interested in e-mailing like, oh, that, yes I got it, thank you, I'm not much one for e-mail- and do you want extra butter on that popcorn? FWIW, my hunch is that someone who only had enough guts to leave a note for you with another person will not push too hard in person about taking things further.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:33 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

so_gracefully sums it up. Don't send an email, just ignore it, be pleasant when he reappears- stay within the bounds of your work - he'll get the message.
posted by mattoxic at 9:34 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing not emailing him. Next time he comes in be unfailingly polite and "Thanks for your note, I enjoyed hearing about your blankety blank etc, enjoy your movie" type sentiment. No need to give him your email address. Just be friendly next time you see him, just don't go out of your way. He should get the point.
posted by heavenstobetsy at 9:36 PM on June 6, 2009

I agree. You don't have to reply. A reply would indicate that you might be interested in being social with him outside the theater, which you are not. I think a normal guy in that situation (where he gives you contact info and you fail to respond) would figure out your lack of interest.

If you want to follow up in a subtle way, maybe bring up your boyfriend in conversations you have with him at the theater. And if you don't have one, invent one.
posted by MegoSteve at 9:36 PM on June 6, 2009

so_gracefully is well-named and should be listened to.
posted by not that girl at 9:37 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ignore the note, Be nice when he comes in, and if he brings up the note, tell him you're sorry but your boyfriend/husband/SO would find it inappropriate for you to email him. (Theoretically,this isn't a lie, because even if you are presently single, if you did have a boyfriend/husband/SO, they would probably find it inappropriate -- it's a hypothetical statement, but he doesn't have to know that)

This won't stop a real creep, but if he's a reasonably nice guy, it should shut him down. If he's a creep, then involve mgmt. or security if he persists from there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:38 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Anything besides dealing with him at work (as has been excellently laid out above) would open additional channels of communication, which presumably you don't want.
posted by rhizome at 9:48 PM on June 6, 2009

Just to add a bit of nuance; the gentleman in question has made the politest of possible advances. A friendly gesture, a tip, a note with further contact. Part of the point of this polite contact is to afford you, the contactee, the opportunity to easily and gracefully decline the offer of a more personal relationship. You simply don't respond and continue to be professional and polite at your business. It's all very genteel.
posted by Nelson at 10:23 PM on June 6, 2009 [16 favorites]

You might want to make sure all your coworkers know that you don't want your contact information given out. I could see him asking for your email address and someone thoughtlessly giving it to him (I have worked with people like that).

I am not sure how to bring it up casually, but that would be a priority to me.
posted by winna at 10:55 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

No email, and if he says anything to you about the note the next time he comes in, tell him something to the effect that you'd rather keep your interaction with him professional. Let the manager know this too.
posted by brujita at 11:25 PM on June 6, 2009

No, don't email. While you're at work and doing your job, be polite to him, since that's what your job requires (provided he doesn't step over the line). But absolutely do not contact him by email, give him your home address or phone number, or anything else outside of work.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 PM on June 6, 2009

Nelson has a point. You don't have to explicitly shut him down in any way. He's played this politely and passively. You don't have to do anything at all. Just smile and get him his popcorn next time.
posted by Netzapper at 12:00 AM on June 7, 2009

Oh, this one's easy, man.

Oh…yeah, I got your note. Sorry; I don't really do the email thing. I think I'm probably the only one in the whole world at this point, but there ya go.
posted by koeselitz at 3:14 AM on June 7, 2009

Sorry, I shouldn't say ‘easy’—this kind of thing is never fun, I know.

You also don't have to make it a confrontation—he can figure it out. Mail? You don't write letters. And you don't have a phone—crazy, I know! Et cetera…
posted by koeselitz at 3:16 AM on June 7, 2009

He might mention it to you next time he sees you. It might go like this, "So, I was hoping I'd get an email from you." In that case, you can respond, "Thank you for the nice note. Butter on the popcorn today?"

If you tell him you don't have email, then it's up for negotiation... a problem for him to solve, since it implies that you would like to contact him but there's something impeding that. Then it goes like this:
You: "I got your note, but alas I don't have email."
Him: "What about a telephone number, then?"
You: "Alas, no telephone."
Him: "I could stop by your home for a visit some day."
You: "Alas, no home."
Him: "I could stop by your... bridge? Cardboard box?"
You: "Alas, after work I disappear into the ether."

And so on. So much better to acknowledge receipt, without explaining what it means that you didn't respond. He'll know what that means.
posted by Houstonian at 4:09 AM on June 7, 2009 [9 favorites]

I disagree with all the people here who say you shouldn't respond. I guess I'm old world, but if someone interacts with me in a polite way, I consider it rude to respond with a cold shoulder -- or to not respond at all. It's tough for guys to approach women (and vice versa), and this guy did it so politely and in such a non-pushy way. It saddens me that he's going to get the silent treatment.

I agree that you shouldn't email him. That's gives him access to your personal information (your email address).

Next time he comes in, thank him for the note. That's it. Thank him.

If he tries to push for me, say, "Sorry, I don't date customers. But thanks for thinking of me." If he keeps pushing beyond that, then HE'S being rude, and at that point he deserves the cold shoulder.

If doing that stuff makes you uncomfortable, so be it. Politeness is the glue that holds society together. We need to get over our discomfort and be polite.

What if I wrote, "Someone just did me a huge favor. I know I should thank him, but it makes me uncomfortable to thank people." I doubt people would say, "Don't do anything that makes you uncomfortable."

Confession: about ten years ago, an old woman tried to pick me up. She did so in the politest of ways. She said, "You look really nice. Would you like to come over some time for dinner?" I was so uncomfortable that I just walked away. I still think about that and regret how I acted. I don't regret passing on dinner. I regret the fact that my discomfort made me act rudely. What would it have cost me to say, "Wow. I'm so flattered. Thank you, but I have to decline"?
posted by grumblebee at 7:52 AM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

What's with all the excuses. She said she's not interested in a relationship and that's what she should tell him. And also remind him of the significant difference in their ages and that she's not comfortable interacting with customers outside of work. Period.

None of this "I don't do email", or "I don't have a phone" stuff.

Just be direct. Pleasant, but direct. He'll get the message.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 9:47 AM on June 7, 2009

Give your manager the email address. Continue to be very polite to the customer, but if you don't want a relationship, be much less personal. If he hangs out, get busy cleaning. Don't encourage personal interaction.

Your employer has an obligation to keep your workplace safe and free from harassment. Keep your manager posted about the situation, and if it gets creepy, so not hesitate to tell the manager.
posted by theora55 at 11:22 AM on June 7, 2009

It's not polite to give someone a large tip and then ask them out. It's creepy.

I would ignore.
posted by kathrineg at 12:59 PM on June 7, 2009

My wife was a barista and sometimes customers confuse politeness for interest. If you write him an email, no matter what it says, he will take it as reciprocation for his advances. I vote 'do nothing' and leave it at that. Try to be a little less small-talky with him at work, as well. Not that you're doing anything wrong, but he's one of 'those customers' to avoid.
posted by monkeymadness at 1:14 PM on June 7, 2009

Nelson has it. He's arranged it so you can easily bow out. Don't reply to the email, make some comment about receiving the note but being extremely busy, and the point will be made.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:25 PM on June 7, 2009

Nelson: the gentleman in question has made the politest of possible advances.

What?? No he hasn't. This isn't some 19th century family parlor where he left a card with her father. This is her freaking place of employment, and Mr. Oh-So-Polite has involved her freaking BOSS in his amorous advances. On no planet does that get to count as "politeness," Nelson. It's rude and highly inappropriate.

this gentleman is at the cinema all of the time and I'm afraid it will be awkward the next time I see him

Yeah, it will be, a little. But it doesn't have to be scary. Just keep your professional employee face on and it'll get less awkward over time.

and I have to acknowledge that I received the note.

You don't "have" to do anything. If he doesn't bring it up, there's no shame in simply avoiding a highly awkward situation created by a near-total stranger. You have a safe, easy role to retreat into: keep being polite, distant and professional. If he does bring it up, the "Thanks. Is there something I can get you?" approach is the best. As few words as possible - i.e., don't call it a "nice note" if you don't think it was a nice note - and no made-up excuses at all.
posted by mediareport at 1:52 PM on June 7, 2009

Nelson: the gentleman in question has made the politest of possible advances.

What?? No he hasn't. This isn't some 19th century family parlor where he left a card with her father. This is her freaking place of employment, and Mr. Oh-So-Polite has involved her freaking BOSS in his amorous advances. On no planet does that get to count as "politeness," Nelson. It's rude and highly inappropriate.

Kind of an irrelevant objection, though. Creepy or polite, the guy has very, very clearly left you the option of not responding, and it is the option you should take. Thousands of genuinely creepy or rude people would not be so considerate! There's really only two possibilities here: either he's got some level of self-awareness and realizes rejection is highly likely, so by not replying to the note you're avoiding a situation that embarrasses him or you, making your position clear without forcing it into the realm of actual discussion; or he's got no self-awareness at all, in which case you really don't need to worry about awkwardness next time you interact, because he won't be feeling any.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 2:40 PM on June 7, 2009

Mr. Oh-So-Polite has involved her freaking BOSS in his amorous advances.

All he did was to give her employer a note. Jeez. You consider that creepy? It could have said, "I'm looking for someone to walk my dog" for all the employer knew.

What would have been a non-creepy approach? Or should you never approach ANYONE if they're working. If you do, do you instantly become a creep, even if you are polite and non-pushy?

Actually, I wouldn't feel comfortable asking a girl out at her place of employment. But leaving a note saying "Please email me" seems reasonable. She can deal with it -- or not -- after work.
posted by grumblebee at 3:36 PM on June 7, 2009

Or should you never approach ANYONE if they're working. If you do, do you instantly become a creep, even if you are polite and non-pushy?

It's not the creepiest possible approach. But sorry, men in their fifties sending unsolicited amorous approaches to twenty-three year women at their places of employment are pretty much going to be considered a little creepy.

She can deal with it -- or not -- after work.

And the reason that this needs to be shut down with the barest of polite acknowledgement is that she's put in the position of either rebuffing a customer, or essentially acquiescing to his wish to have personal contact outside of work.

Personally, I was never comfortable with the "blame my imaginary boyfriend" approach; it always carried a whiff of sexism to me. (I'd possibly like to be your friend but my boyfriend sez no? I'll wilt if forced to turn down your approach, I must invent a man to do it for me?)

He'll probably either ask or look very expectant and hint. If necessary, I'd neutrally and gently say "yes, I received your note, but no." Adding that you're not going to trade personal correspondence. If he protests, I find that adding "I'm not going to argue" and then changing the subject usually shuts down further inquiry.
posted by desuetude at 5:22 PM on June 7, 2009

It's creepy because he's old enough to be your father. You are not interested in him and I'm assuming have not given any indication of interest. You are at your place of employment, not out on the town signalling availability. And since you're at work and he's a customer, you're trapped in a sense -- he knows you'll always be there, and there are limits beyond which you can't go as long as he's "polite."

Sorry to "pull this card," but harmless can easily turn into him waiting at your car after your shift is over. You just never know. And I think the fact that he went about it underhandedly like this could be his way of politely giving you an out, or could be a little manipulative, like he could count on your boss innocently passing it along. I would definitely make sure that your coworkers and boss know not to pass out your contact information. Some well-meaning person might think they're doing you a favor or that the guy is so "polite" that you "wouldn't mind."

You have got to be 100% straightforward with this guy. When he asks "So, didn't you get my note?" you say "Yes I did, thank you." When he says, "Why didn't you e-mail me?," you say "I didn't want to." You have to say that you didn't want to: he can't argue with that. Anything else, any other excuse, will just give him hope that if he solves that problem, (eg, waits around until you break up with your boyfriend or finds some other way to contact you) he'll have a chance. You cannot leave this guy with any hope at all if he shouldn't have any. And if he says anything else about it after that, it means he has trouble taking "no" for an answer and that's a red flag: ignore him, and find an ally at work, preferably your boss, who will know to come over when this man is there.

This guy didn't "do you a favor," he asked you for a favor, when you had given no indication that he had any right to ask a favor of you. That was a boundary cross. Not that this man was necessarily doing this, but many men will bank on your need to feel polite, and they manipulate and insinuate themselves over your boundaries until you don't even know what happened. Learn to deal with these situations now and you'll feel AMAZING and powerful and these men will stop bothering you altogether.
posted by thebazilist at 7:45 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

You consider that creepy?

I didn't say creepy. I said it wasn't polite, and that involving her boss was inappropriate. You want to ask someone out at work, fine. But don't bring her boss into it and call it the soul of politeness.
posted by mediareport at 9:08 PM on June 7, 2009

I came into work this morning, and my manager told me that this customer had been back and left me a note.

I think you've received good advice here, but I also think the people that are all "OMG he contacted her boss" may be be jumping the gun a bit. He could have left the note with anybody who worked there, and the employee passed it on to the boss. Even if he did give it directly to the manager, he likely doesn't know exactly who reports to who among the cinema's employees.

Does anybody else wonder if the 50s guy is just acting as an agent of 80s guy? After all, didn't the big tip probably come from the older man? I'd email just out of curiosity about what's up, but that's just me.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 7:41 AM on June 8, 2009

("80s guy" meaning the "rich man who sees movies often". Not sure why I thought he was in his 80s.)
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 7:54 AM on June 8, 2009

Thanks, everyone, for the great advice. I feel a lot better about not emailing him and being politely aloof when he comes in next.

I think the 'creepy' thing comes into factor because of the age difference. Had this been someone within a few years of me I wouldn't have thought much of it.

and hosted from Uranus: the rich guy is probably in his 80s, so you were spot on. But I've never actually talked to him or had any interaction, so I don't think that this guy is acting as his agent.
posted by amicamentis at 11:12 AM on June 8, 2009

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