Hints you drop in conversation
June 27, 2009 4:25 PM   Subscribe

What are some hints you drop in conversation?

In social settings, there are certain things we don't say explicitly because they would cause awkwardness or be considered rude. We don't tell people that they've overstayed their welcome, that they're not invited to an event, that they talk too much, that they owe us a favor, that their cooking is poor, and so on. Instead, we drop hints, hoping that the other person will pick up on them.

This week a co-worker of mine completely missed a hint I dropped, and it got me to thinking: what hints have I been missing that other people have been dropping? So, I'm curious: what are some examples that you have used or encountered?
posted by wireless to Human Relations (24 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I know a few people that totally miss end-of-conversation cues. For whatever reason, they just keep blabbering away as the other party edges ever closer to the door, looking increasingly uncomfortable.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:32 PM on June 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

Are you sure your co-worker missed the hint, or just chose to ignore it? Occasionally, hints can be just as offensive as someone coming out and speaking directly.

The old double swipey finger action on a chin when your dining partner is scarfing down some nachos usually works. "Let me go show you [xyz] that I was talking about..." serves well to get myself and person B out of an area so that person C and D can have a private conversation. "I'm so sick of listening to [band X]" means change the radio station/push next on your MP3 player.
posted by newper at 4:37 PM on June 27, 2009

Here in Minnesota, we are champions at passive-agressive tactics. My favorite for when I'm trying to kick people out:
The scene: Channel surfing mindlessly in the living room

Me: "Gosh, what time is it"
Guests/intruders: "11.30, why?"
Me: "Oh, well, I just wanted to know what else is on tv right now"

My hints may be heavy on the passive side, as they rarely get the message across
posted by Think_Long at 4:38 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

My hints may be heavy on the passive side, as they rarely get the message across

"I'm kinda tired, thinking of calling it a night pretty soon" tends to work...
posted by nasreddin at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Very much related: Politeness Theory.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:41 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not much of a hint dropper, but the one thing I do hint about is ending phone conversations. Because I can't ever seem to get people off the phone, I think I do a poor job of hinting that I want to get off the phone. Eventually, I just say "I'm going to go now, bye" and hang up.

The problem with a question about the kinds of things people hint about is that everyone is different, all hints are different. You might find that people hint about everything under the sun so try to avoid making yourself neurotic wondering is everything that comes out of people's mouths is a hint. If you're really concerned about not interpreting hints properly, asking about inflection and other ways people go about hinting will tell you more than hit topics will.
posted by necessitas at 4:42 PM on June 27, 2009

One last coffee, for the road?
posted by b33j at 4:43 PM on June 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

For people who have overstayed their welcome, especially if food was involved: start bringing the plates into the kitchen, maybe even ask them to help clean. Otherwise, it's fairly socially acceptable to pull the whole yawn-stretch-"boy am I tired!" routine, as long as you do so in a fairly subtle way.

I'm a bit confused, are you trying to figure out when other people are dropping hints to you, or how to drop better hints?

If it's the latter:

A lot of the situations you refer to don't really seem to require dropping hints. There's no need to tell someone their cooking is poor, unless they ask and you have the kind of relationship where brutal honesty is ok, and then you don't have to drop hints. But if I did want to let someone know their cooking is poor, I just wouldn't eat much of it and then I'd never let them cook for me again ("no, it's ok, I'll cook! I just got a new grill, I want to test it out.")

Someone not being invited to an event is tough. Although sometimes just saying "oh, no you don't want to come get beers with us, we're going to be talking about [insert thing that person has no interest in}."

If it's the former, you'll notice the last two examples I gave involve someone trying to dissuade the person. This is a good flag to recognize if you're being "hinted" away. Or, as in the overstayed-welcome example, sometimes you can signal that you want someone to do something by doing it yourself and making a point of it, with as much subtlety as possible.
posted by wholebroad at 4:44 PM on June 27, 2009

Oh, and, if you're on the phone with someone, and you want to get off: if they've been telling you something about their life: "wow, well, good luck with that - let me know how it goes." Or if they're grilling you on something in your life "so that's pretty much the story with that. I'll let you know if anything else happens/when I hear back on that job/etc." Basically, you're wrapping things up at the same time as you're sort of bridging to the next conversation.
posted by wholebroad at 4:47 PM on June 27, 2009

My grandfather used to shoo out late-staying visitors by addressing my grandmother, "Well, Ruth, I suppose we should go to bed and let these good folks go home."

For added impact, he would bring the big Westclox alarm clock out from the bedroom and wind it as he spoke.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:37 PM on June 27, 2009 [14 favorites]

In general people don't recognize hints that they themselves don't use. And pretty much anything can be a hint, from a cough, a raising of an eyebrow, a kick in the shin, to a special inflection on a question or a statement, a small pause before an important verb, or using a word that someone who knows your speech patterns would know has a special meaning. Verbal "scare quotes" a wink, a diverting remark, failing to refill your glass, putting you on hold for an hour, doing a really lousy job of mowing your lawn, spitting in your hamburger... It's so vast, it seems like it encompasses pretty much every kind of interaction.

It would help if you can narrow it down to a specific kind of hint. Where they going on too long? Sucking up to the wrong person? Did they have food on their face? Was their fly down? Smell bad? Talking too loudly? Didn't realize they had been fired? Toupée on backwards? Talking about invasive surgery during lunch? Eating a 6-month old sandwich? Humping your leg?

I'd disagree that hints are necessary to keep from being rude. With thought and kindness there's almost always a polite, but direct way to say what's on your mind.
posted by Ookseer at 6:04 PM on June 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

richochet biscuit's grandpa shoulda been cloned! Great technique.
To get the the windbag on the other end to hang up, one mouths to one's spouse:
[ "go ring the doorbell, honey." ]
"Gotta go, our guests are here! 'Bye!"
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:10 PM on June 27, 2009

My "hanging up the phone" hint is actually tonal. The words I say may vary -- "good luck with this," "it was great to talk to you," "I'm glad you called" -- but it's actually the slight uptalk I use that conveys the message: let's conclude the conversation. I hear this in other people as well and always recognize it, but I can't describe it very well.

(I think Mississippi women do a lot of communicating by the tones they use. Some of the greetings in my hometown are like birdsongs. Someone should write a thesis in linguistics.)
posted by Countess Elena at 6:50 PM on June 27, 2009

I know some people's driving scares me... I always insist on driving when I have to go somewhere with those people - "oh I just got gas, lets take my car!" or "I finally cleaned out my car, let me drive." Although that's not a hint - I don't care to tell them they need to drive better, I'm just insisting on driving so I don't have to fear for my life. And sometimes I want to offer to drive even when the other person's driving doesn't scare me, so it's not always a hint.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 8:18 PM on June 27, 2009

Ask vs Guess culture might come up here.

Dropping hints is kind of specific to personality; you may think it's obvious, but to some people you might honestly just be expressing something. Or they may understand that you're dropping a hint but think it's your responsibility to be clear about what you want...
posted by mdn at 8:39 PM on June 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

One of my friends uses "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?" at the end of an evening.

It's not exactly subtle, but it combines elements of pushing someone out with politeness. The hat in hand is, probably, an excellent sort of anticipatory action. The sense memory of holding it would tend to put one in the "going outside" frame of mind, perhaps collecting one's own coat and nudging toward the door.

Too bad there are no hats nowadays.
posted by dhartung at 11:26 PM on June 27, 2009

I usually say something like "Well this has been great, I'm so glad we got to hang out" towards the end of the evening to signal I'm gearing up to go home. Or on the phone "Well I'm so glad we got a chance to catch up, let's chat again soon," etc. A positive acknowledgment of the experience but referred to in the past tense so that they know it's not going to keep going on indefinitely.
posted by np312 at 12:16 AM on June 28, 2009

My grandfather used to shoo out late-staying visitors by addressing my grandmother, "Well, Ruth, I suppose we should go to bed and let these good folks go home."

For added impact, he would bring the big Westclox alarm clock out from the bedroom and wind it as he spoke.

That's funny. I came in here to relate the technique that a friend of mine reports his grandfather was fond of: saying, "Well, honey, the guests are tired and want to go to bed. We'd better let them go."
posted by aka burlap at 12:58 AM on June 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Gay people use all sorts of subtle hints to try to figure out if someone they're talking to is gay, too, without offending or creating an uncomfortable situation. My last conversation like this the guy asked me "are you going to the film festival?". Note that the specific type of festival was not mentioned, I was expected to know he meant the gay one. Also "where do you go out for fun on weekends?" or carefully gender neutral language when discussing relationships or, more crassly, frequent eye contact with someone's crotch.
posted by Nelson at 7:03 AM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

A college girlfriend of mine and her roommate used to have one conversation hint that I ended up adopting for a while. If the two of them were in a conversation together that included other people in the mix, and one of them wanted the other to change the subject, one would alert the other to this by saying, "Do you have any gum?" It was great fun for me to exploit that for purely arbitrary reasons, too. I'd ask one of them for gum, and they'd shoot me a confused look.
posted by emelenjr at 8:48 AM on June 28, 2009

Yeah, my grandparents have the shortest phone conversation attention span ever, (probably from the days when long-distance was expensive), and their phrase is, "well, we don't want to keep you, dear." I've adapted that approach to a variety of situations, like "well, I should let you get back to work" and "well, I don't want to keep you out too late."
posted by salvia at 9:08 PM on June 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The hint I use, and has been too often painfully missed, is one to a partner, signalling I'm getting to the point I need to leave a social situation. This was most paramount with my first partner, who was quite social. My current partner isn't any more social than I am, and the problem only occasionally comes up (usually with only 1 of his friends).

The gay hints thing mentioned above is true to the point that I have a hard time not laughing out loud when I realize someone is doing it to me. It just seems extremely 70's to me. Sometimes I play along and tease. Sometimes I just say something outrageously gay, depending on my mood. I might even play dumb, since my life style is such that true answers would usually cause them to conclude I was straight (I find most of the so-called "gay lifestyle" is for singles), and I kind of like to point out to people the weakness of their strategy (since it is stereotyping).

As for these ploys to end conversation or conclude visits, I could use some rigorous training in these myself. I can be horribly difficult to get rid of! I know that leaving a pleasurable time with other people to go back to being alone (with or without partner) can seem very jarring.
posted by Goofyy at 5:08 AM on June 29, 2009

While I've seen some subtle stuff from gay people (like what Nelson mentioned), I've also been subject to shouts of "Look me in the eyes, schnitzel" or being accosted and asked (cue Brüno accent) "Do you want to join us for a Very Nice Threesome?"
Which is strange, because I'm straight and I would expect to get kicked in the balls if I treated women like that.
(Yet again, this is is Austria- so maybe this is another example of Ask vs. Guess culture).
posted by dunkadunc at 5:18 AM on June 29, 2009

Mrs. Everichon wraps up parties by saying "It's 10:00, you all have to go now."
posted by everichon at 10:43 AM on June 29, 2009

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