Don't Talk To Me
July 11, 2012 9:48 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with strange men who talk to me...even though they're not directly hitting on me, I can just tell the conversation is going to be a 'special' one?

I'm 21/f. I've lived in New York for less than two months, and already I've been approached twice. I used to be approached all the time back when I was 18 and lived in Chicago, and it was pretty much 99% older men asking me watcha reading and stuff. But New York guys are seriously direct...they ask me "where I just came from" and "what I'm doing in this neighborhood," like WTF?

Example One. I was walking down the street (Brooklyn, mid-day) and I saw this Jewish guy in his 30's walking in my direction, and he was like "do you have a clip cause my kippah keeps falling off," which admittedly it was. So I gave him one cause I am a very nice person. But then he kept following me down the street. First he asked me if there were any Jewish places in the neighborhood, and I was like "I'm not from here." He also asked me directions to a certain street I don't know. I directed him to the subway. I was very friendly. I look pretty religiously Jewish, so I thought he was just happy to find a Jew to talk to or something. But then he asked me "So how is yeshiva? Where do you go?" like he was just some old friend, like WTF?? He also asked "Are you Ashkenasic or Sephardic?" Why? Why would he ask this? So finally we got to the subway, and I was like "Well, the subway's there but I have to go into this store, good luck," and hid out inside the store until I thought he was gone. He literally kept following me down the street like we were old friends or something.

Example Two. I was waiting for the subway (Brooklyn) around 9:30 PM, and all the seats on the platform were taken except for the one next to me. I had my backpack on the seat, so this old guy said "Excuse me" and I moved it. He said "I'm sorry," which is just weird cause just sit if you're going to sit, why are you apologizing. This loud siren started going off, which apparently signals the train is coming. He asked me what the siren was, and I said "That means the train is coming." "Oh, OK." To my other side was this girl my age on her cell phone. "Are you with her?" He asked. "No." Ten seconds later. "So, what were you doing in the city? Are you in school there?" Luckily the train magically came just at that moment.

BUT WHAT THE HELL. First of all, why's everyone trying to ask me how school is? Are these guys my grandpas or something? Is this how they pick young girls up? At first, I think they're just being friendly, but frankly I don't think these "friendly" conversations happen man-to-man...I think they're reserved for young girls. There's really no reason to be asking such personal questions on a subway platform.

Second of all, how can I shut them down? I don't want them talking to me and I just don't want it to go there. But at the same time, when I try to ignore them they'll just go "Excuse me, did you hear me?" What can I do when I can't get away? For instance, I'm on the subway platform or I'm already walking and he's actually already FOLLOWING me? I intentionally don't try to appear approachable, but once someone starts talking to me I am reasonably friendly just cause sometimes they really are just normal people asking for directions. Once they start asking personal questions, though, I start pretending I don't hear them...but they just repeat their question until I answer it. That's really the only thing I can think of.

I can't just be like "sorry, not interested," cause they haven't actually said anything that sketchy yet or actually said anything referring to sex/dating/phone numbers.

Also please don't answer if you're just going to say "well, tha's just the way life is." That is not helpful. I need solutions.
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Society & Culture (68 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Wear headphones and studiously ignore people.
posted by desjardins at 9:53 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

NOTE: Headphones don't work. Neither does reading. They literally will talk to you through headphones. I know other women can corroborate this.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:55 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

As an older man, I would suggest that you feel free to be friendly for a first interaction (e.g. do you have a clip?) but just ice-out for any subsequent questions. Ignore any subsequent questions.

Some of these older men may just be lonely and talk with anyone who will listen. Some may just genuinely be friendly to everyone and you're just being creeped out by that. And some may genuinely feel they have a chance with you... ewww.

I second desjardins' suggestion if you want no interaction at all. Wear headphones and ignore.

I know it feels weird to ignore people after a lifetime of learning social skills, but New York is like that sometimes. All big USA cities contain their share of the lonely, older guy wandering around trying to connect to other people. And psychos, and others... it's part of the city.
posted by blob at 9:57 PM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

A few things that will help you:

1. Wearing earbuds or headphones and either listening to music or pretending to listen to music. So will reading a book or pretending to read a book, or journaling or pretending to journal. If you give off cues that you're busy doing something else, people will be less likely to persist in speaking.

2. Stop being friendly to people if your goal is to not have them talk to you. Friendliness makes conversation more likely, not less likely.

3. Learn to say things like, "Please don't talk to me" and then follow through by not talking to people. If you don't want people to talk to you, you don't need to wait for them to cross over into whatever pops your sketch-o-meter.

4. Don't worry about whether you're being rude to people. This won't make you many friends and people will probably think you're an asshole, but it will sure cut down on the number of people who try to continue conversations with you.

5. Don't look at people or smile at people.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:59 PM on July 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

Sadly, New York is like that, some people just want to talk ...or whatever, and after initial friendliness, "the street you are looking for is over there", or "no, I don't have a clip" etc, then take the above advice (from blob).

Just say, "hmm, ok" and don't interact further. To whatever, just shut it down. Just answer everything with only "yes or no or ok" and if at all possible, point to a book or whatever that you are reading. I am older so I don't really have this problem but I am an expert at shutting down conversations, because this kind of weird small talk makes me uncomfortable too.
posted by bquarters at 10:03 PM on July 11, 2012 [4 favorites]

Looking blankly and speaking a word or two in a different language has actually worked for me before. Obviously can't do this while reading something in the mutual language.

If you're caught after you've shown you do understand English (giving directions, etc), adding more and more distracted "Huh? What? Oh, um, look, I'm kind of busy/in the middle of something/late for a meeting right now" and not making eye contact and not smiling can prove effective.

If you have a book, you can say, "I have to read this. I do not want to have a conversation right now, sorry." It almost always then goes to "What are you reading?" but I have found holding firm, making eye contact at this point and repeating, "I do not want to have a conversation right now," tends to work. If not, pointedly getting up and moving away should, and if it didn't I'd be well into shouting "why the fuck are you following me now" territory.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:08 PM on July 11, 2012

Some men are actually trying to be nice but have no concept whatsoever the number of fucked up dudes women have to deal with and so just don't get why having a conversation with a stranger is just not possible for many women.

A number of dudes are trying to vicariously relive their youth in their minds by using you as a fantasy object (in as harmless a way as that can happen).

And some dudes are creepy/weird/potentially dangerous.

Don't make eye contact, don't be overly friendly, walk purposefully, project your voice if speaking to them, don't smile, sunglasses where possible, use one word answers where possible, perfect the bitch-please-face and the you're really fucking annoying eyebrow raise and the blank stare of doom. If someone's following you, walk into a store. If someone sits down next to you and they bug you, get up, walk away, make a phone call.

Anything you don't want to be involved in - shut it down, walk away, don't engage.
posted by heyjude at 10:15 PM on July 11, 2012 [10 favorites]

I can't just be like "sorry, not interested," cause they haven't actually said anything that sketchy yet or actually said anything referring to sex/dating/phone numbers.

Well, the thing is that you can totally say "sorry, not interested" but you just have to slightly change the wording. For instance, you could say "sorry, but I'm not interested in talking to you or anyone else for that matter" or "Look, I've had a long day and I could use some time to myself right now" or whatever. After you say this put your headphones on and ignore anything else that they say from that point onwards (that is if they attempt to talk to you again).
posted by livinglearning at 10:16 PM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

Don't smile at them, at all. Practice a flat affect. The Japanese fighter Sakuraba had a great blank, inscrutable expression in the ring. It's worth watching on Youtube and trying it.

Look away from them as much as you can. Not just no eye contact, but scrutinize something else, anything, even your own hands. One syllable answers.

If they persist, mention a boyfriend or fiancé. You're on your way to see him right now. Then check your voicemail or pretend to make a phone call.

"I gotta go," is a good exit line and sounds fine without an excuse appended.
posted by gentian at 10:17 PM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

Have you tried saying "what??" in a really annoyed way? Not a "what??" like "how dare you say that to me?" but in the annoyed voice you'd use when your family member keeps talking to you from down the hall, while you're trying to watch TV, so you can barely hear them and also want to be left alone.

"Oh, and where is the best place to get a fish sandwich?"
"What?" [awkward pause, exasperated voice:] "No idea." [walk away]

Just act really annoyed, basically. This one was really easy for me to learn because I *was* feeling very annoyed by them.
posted by salvia at 10:19 PM on July 11, 2012 [15 favorites]

Don't try to figure out why these guys are talking to you. It sounds like you're already cringing just going about your business, and I have felt that way. I apparently have the most approachable face in all creation, and as a bonus I lived in a city with a very large population of mentally ill people, so I was approached A LOT. By men and women, some of them crazy, some of them not, and for awhile, I would focus on trying to figure out why these people wouldn't leave me alone. I believe this is the wrong approach.

Those men are rude and obnoxious, even if they just want a friendly conversation. They're intruding on your space, and they're taking advantage of the fact that you're young and probably friendly-looking. Some people are more generous and will talk to people because they seem lonely, but as a young women, I think that you should leave that generosity of spirit to folks who don't have to worry about some guy being offended when you don't want to talk to him and retaliating in an unpleasant way. In one unforgettable incident, I told a guy I couldn't talk to him because I was at the time engaged on the phone with my mother, and he started screaming at me, threatening to rape me, and proceeded to follow me. (I called 911.)

Of course, not every person you come across is gonna do that to you, but my point is that you need to put your sanity and safety first. It is your right to not engage with these guys if you don't feel like it, even if they're wonderful human beings.

I know that people will talk to you just because you have headphones in, but they REALLY do work if you get good at just straight up ignoring people. Don't do the thing where you acknowledge that they're talking to you and gesture at the headphones and hope they're polite enough to take that as reason to move on. They won't—these are rude, determined people. Just don't even look up. It helped when I got a Kindle and also when I read on my iPhone, because people can't try to make conversation when seeing my book cover. The trick is DO NOT ENGAGE not even a little bit.

That may be frustrating advice, but it's the only thing that works for me. In addition, while I haven't taken a self defense class, but I did find it very useful to read about self defense and learn body language a bit more. I know my answer is skewing towards the dramatic "everyone is out to get you" when some people are just asking directions, but my main point is that if you don't feel like engaging with someone, give yourself permission to let other people help out those folks who actually need directions. Take care of yourself first. Don't even try your best if you don't know the answer, just say, "I don't know" or shrug and move on. You have that right.

On the flip side, please do watch out for other women—I don't give you a pass to ignore them if they need help! When I had to call 911 on that guy, I was surrounded by people in the middle of the day and no one said a word when the guy was harassing me. Then again, I was on the opposite coast and my NY friends tell me that wouldn't fly in their city, which I hope is the case for you!
posted by thesocietyfor at 10:24 PM on July 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

I'm seconding the single-word answer thing. I am often in a situation where I should be being polite to someone, but I can't think of anything to say, and an answer like "yes" or "no" pretty much ends the conversation. I imagine it would be equally effective where you're not supposed to be being polite :)
posted by jrockway at 10:30 PM on July 11, 2012

I can't just be like "sorry, not interested," cause they haven't actually said anything that sketchy yet or actually said anything referring to sex/dating/phone numbers ...
Once they start asking personal questions, though, I start pretending I don't hear them...but they just repeat their question until I answer it. That's really the only thing I can think of.

Yeah, when they start being intrusive, you have my permission and indeed encouragement to say, "I'm busy, please leave me alone," with or without the introduction, "That's a personal question."
You aren't obliged to be *pleasant* to someone who's pestering you, even when they're not sexually forward pests. You can go for anything between and including neutral to unpleasant. In fact, I think the world would be a nicer place if people discouraged people who like to pester strangers.
posted by gingerest at 10:30 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

NOTE: Headphones don't work. Neither does reading. They literally will talk to you through headphones. I know other women can corroborate this.

Yep, this has happened to me. Or they motion to take your headphones off - ugh!

I usually ignore, or maybe mumble something "sorry, I'm busy" and shuffle on. Sometimes people shout at me about how rude I am, but honestly I would never get anywhere if I had a conversation with everyone who tried to talk to me in the street. I'm 34 but have lived in cities since I was 18 and I've just had too many potentially scary experiences to just talk to everyone who wants to have a chat.

If someone's really freaking me out or I REALLY don't want to engage, I make a weird scrunched up face. Because a happy face invites comments about how pretty your smile is, an angry face is whydon'tyousmile but if I flare out my nose, scrunch up my lips weird and bug out my one knows what the hell to do there.
posted by sweetkid at 10:36 PM on July 11, 2012 [19 favorites]

My husband has a wonderfully effective way of shutting people down when they approach. Raise your hand (open fingers, wave a little if you want) and shake your head at the same time, as if the waiter has come by with the pepper grinder one too many times. People obey because it seems masterful, like "here's a person accustomed to giving orders!" but at the same time, with the wave, it seems genial. This gesture says, "Yes, I know what you're selling, no need to go into it."
posted by gentian at 10:37 PM on July 11, 2012 [56 favorites]

I know it's hard when you're young and you've grown up in an environment where women are conditioned from an early age to be accommodating and nice to men. The only thing that is going to help is to practice. At first it seems really foreign and you feel like such a jackass, but you aren't the jackass in the equation. And once you do it enough times, it becomes second nature. You owe nothing to these people, absolutely nothing.

No eye contact and no smiling at anyone are good suggestions. Learn a good eye roll or annoying stare which is a good one to use on the people who insist on trying to talk to you while you have headphones on or you're reading. The best advice is to be sure of yourself in what you communicate...don't hesitate and don't come across as submissive because that's when people will try to take advantage of you. You will probably get called a bitch, but who cares? If asserting yourself and your needs is a bitch, then so be it. Taking a self defense course helps with this concept...helps you break down the barriers of obligatory niceness. These are things that you should put into practice as soon as you can because living in a big city increases your chances of an encounter turning dangerous.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:45 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Here are a few that I have used before. How blunt I get will vary a lot depending on how safe I feel (what time of day it is, who is around, how crazy the person seems.)

-Guy on the bus comes over and makes random chitchat for a few moments, then detours into telling me about a nude beach he goes to and asking me if I know about it. My response, "I DON'T want to talk about this!" Loud and angry voice. He got up and moved.

-Waiting for a different bus. Sketchy man: "Hey, just wondering if you want to talk right now." Me: "I'm sorry, but --" Sketchy man turns on his heel and walks away before I finish the sentence.

-Different sketchy man: "Can I have a hug?" Me: "No, but you can have a handshake." Sketchy man goes in for the hug anyway. Me: "Stop it, I TOLD you not to do that."

-Guy on the train platform tells me to smile. Response: "How dare you tell me what kind of facial expression to have!" His response: "Fuck you!!!" My response: "Fuck you!!!" I only did this because it was a VERY safe environment, the middle of the evening rush hour with police everywhere.

-Middle of the night at an isolated bus stop in Queens. Guy starts trying to convince me I should get in his car with him and work as one of his escorts, I am not joking. I tried to politely bow out of the convo and nothing was working. I was actually shaking. I went into a nearby 24 hr. donut shop. He followed me. I was getting ready to dial 911. Then I said to him, "Hey, I'm just tired right now. Really, really tired. I just can't talk anymore, I have had a really long day." Somehow that worked!

Just try getting more assertive if you want to and you feel safe. Just try stuff out. You don't have to wait until they hit on you to tell them you don't want to talk or aren't welcoming what they are saying.
posted by cairdeas at 10:53 PM on July 11, 2012 [11 favorites]

I've been talked to while wearing headphones, sunglasses, and was reading at the time! What worked best for me was ignoring, then - if the attention was persistent - saying "My mother told me to never talk to strangers" and smiling blankly. Then I look or move away. YMMV.

If anyone tells you to "Smile!" you can say "You're not my mom/dad" and keep on keepin' on.
posted by rtha at 10:59 PM on July 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Get OK with being considered rude. Stop caring what complete, utter strangers whom you don't know and who are not friends and family. You owe them nothing, and they are the ones way the fuck out of line for intruding on your time and personal space and demanding your interact with them.

Look away and ignore the sketchos you don't want to interact with. If they try to talk to you, say nothing more than "I'm busy, please don't talk to me." If they sit down next to you, get up and walk away. If they follow you, look them directly in the eyes and say "Stop following me, or I'm calling the cops." And mean it. Don't be angry, but be absolutely willing to immediately follow through.

No explanations, no apologies, just the cold, stone-faced urban armor of the uninterested who have someplace to get to. All day when you're out in public.

Some will call you bitch, demand to know why you think you're so high-&-mighty that your shit don't stink and you're too good to talk to them. Walk away, but remain aware of them at all times.

Ignore them, but keep the corner of your eye on the ones who get totally aggro. Trust your instincts if it suddenly goes from feeling intrusive to "something's wrong here". Can't recommend enough the book The Gift of Fear. Absolutely trust your instincts if you think it's gone from sketchy to threatening.

Many people will say that women shouldn't "have" to be stone-faced and cold "bitches" just to get through their day. That giving off a cold, borderline-hostile energy shouldn't be necessary for women to walk the streets of a large city unharassed.


As a guy who lives in Oakland and grew up in NYC, my attitude is you want to keep sketchos from skeeving all over you at random in the street, develop a less-welcoming, places-to-go/things-to-do energy and presentation. Be direct and explicit about the fact that you're busy and are not interested if they talk to you. Do not smile at random strangers.

No explanations because complete fucking strangers aren't entitled to them. And get okay with being called a bitch by complete fucking random strangers who don't matter.

Save your smiles for friends and family and people who have have earned them.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:02 PM on July 11, 2012 [27 favorites]

Welcome to NYC!!

Here's my trick, tried and true....

My answer to ANY question from questionable strangers is a polite, "No, thank you." And then I keep moving, move away, etc. etc.

It catches people off guard. every. time. Work's like a charm.

You're welcome!
posted by jbenben at 11:10 PM on July 11, 2012 [22 favorites]

I try to give the benefit of the doubt and have found that after a brief polite exchange, most "creepy" older men will respond appropriately to the polite brush off. Remember that you can be polite and still be in control of who you talk to, as you can always decide when you are done talking (or if you even need to respond) and end it all. If i don't want to engage, I go into the mindset of the 8th grade queen-bee walking by the 6th-grade boy and Do Not Acknowledge. If I do respond, which I normally do, when I'm done talking I say something nice and that a polite person would respond to by saying goodbye and then break eye contact 100%. My stand-bys are: "well, it was nice chatting, have a nice day." or "I can't help more, but good luck. good afternoon." or "totally. Have a safe one, goodbye."

Anyone who pushes me after that, I either repeat exactly the same line, or I assume that they are being rude or socially unacceptable. I then give myself permission to be 100% rude back.

If you are ever being followed like that in a public place again, turn around, point your finger at the man, and say (loudly) "I DO NOT KNOW YOU." if pushed, continue with (again, loudly) "stop talking to me. I do not know you. Go away." This will attract attention for even the most cynical big-city dweller. Most people are safe, and will help create the social buffer to escape those who make you uncomfortable.

If you are alone, well... I would follow the same method and do exactly what you did: get into the nearest store or subway.
posted by samthemander at 11:13 PM on July 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

"I'm sorry, I don't feel like talking right now."

If complete strangers come up to you and start talking to don't owe them anything. Not explanations, not a smile, not answers to their questions, etc. I've even had one guy start to yell at me, telling me that I made him feel like dog poop because I was ignoring him. Well, good! Shouldn't have tried to talk to me then!
posted by spinifex23 at 11:28 PM on July 11, 2012

One of the greatest, if least conventional answers I've seen to this question: Jenna Marbles on How To Avoid Talking To People You Don't Want to Talk To.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:42 PM on July 11, 2012 [8 favorites]

YMMV, since many people have said not to make eye contact... but I find sometimes, depending on how the situation is and the type of person who's bothering you, maintaining really flat, dead, silent unblinking crazy eye contact is a really good way to make conversation dry up, because most people don't know how to react when someone's just... staring silently right at them. It makes most people uncomfortable and any conversational gambits usually die off. You act sort of unpredictable, I suppose. You have to have a stone cold face while doing this, though, and you can't blush or anything. You also have to be willing to really, really keep staring and come off as completely crazy-eyes. It works, in that people generally shuffle away from me and call me a crazy bitch.

What's also useful is a really determined, stompy stride and a dismissive hand flick when someone tries to bother you while you're talking - have you seen The Fifth Element, with Ruby Rhod? Where he does that hand thing and goes 'bzzzzzzzzt!' Kind of like that, but with your hand held up like 'stop!' Most people instinctively pull back, and that second is enough for you to breeze by.

Another thing for public transit is sticking on tinted or mirrored sunglasses, plugging in the music and pretending to sleep. Under the sunglasses, you can keep an eye on things around you and generally speaking, most people won't bother another sleeping person. If they do, you can snap, 'I'm SLEEPING' and other variations until they leave you alone.
posted by zennish at 11:43 PM on July 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

...uh but in retrospect maybe my tactics won't work so well in an American context, so YMMV, again.
posted by zennish at 11:47 PM on July 11, 2012

I'm a big ugly dude so I can't be sure my experience and advice will apply/work for you, but I recognized an element in what you're saying that reminded me of how my interactions changed after living on the East coast.

You are sending out signals and expecting others to pick up on them and change their behavior, but they aren't. You are letting them take the lead on how the interaction will take place. That's what was happening to me. I've changed my thinking so that now I decide what's going to happen, and I just need to let them realize what's going to happen.

As a simple example, take the case of people phoning me to try to sell something. I used to tell them I wasn't interested, and then would wait for them to acknowledge my statement and end the call. I, like everyone who used that approach, would get very angry and frustrated. Now, I say "Sorry, but I'm not interested. Good-bye." and I hang up. My decision.

People in the city who want to intrude on me usually want money or to run me over, so now I say "Sorry, can't help you. Have a good day.", or I hold up my hand with a kind of "thank you/Stop" wave as I cross the street. I'm not quite sure how to adapt that to people who want your attention, but maybe something like "Okay, we're done talking now. Good-bye". That's what you've decided, and that's what's going to happen. Certainly don't ask them to leave you alone — it's not their decision.

By the way, being this way doesn't automatically make you a dick. You can be clear and firm and polite all at the same time. The other person may think you're a dick, and may even say it, but that really is their problem, not yours. All you've done is decided what you want to do and let them know.

There may be risks to your personal safety that I'm oblivious to, so listen to the other people. But I couldn't help noticing.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:38 AM on July 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

Is it wrong that this is making me miss NYC?

I mastered the art of walking around with a very determined and unfriendly face (observe and adopt this face, you will see it on most subway patrons).

I also studiously avoided eye contact when I knew someone was trying to get my attention. I can remember one subway ride where this guy was trying to engage every woman he could and I just stared around him like he wasn't there. He then started moving his head around to get into my line of sight and I gave him the ICE glare. Also, was wearing headphones.

I just very much projected the attitude that no one was around me. You are not required even to answer the first question ("do you have a clip?"). I would only answer those if it was obvious to me that a person really needed help and wasn't just trying to be chatty (ie a lost looking tourist with his family). Otherwise I ignored, ignored, ignored. If you must respond say "no thank you" and walk away.

For really egregious confrontations (assuming others were around) I have actually yelled "I don't want to talk to you!"). A very disgusted face also works.
posted by murfed13 at 3:05 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

There is no rule that says you have to pay attention or even respond to people.
posted by nickrussell at 3:33 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

At first, I think they're just being friendly, but frankly I don't think these "friendly" conversations happen man-to-man...I think they're reserved for young girls. There's really no reason to be asking such personal questions on a subway platform.

I just got back from NYC where I was staying for a week and they definitely happen man-to-man and woman-to-man.

I had a bunch of people approach me while I was there, ask me questions about the neighborhood they're headed to, what I was doing there, where to eat, etc. I wasn't noticeably tourist-y or noticeably anything (which may have been why people were comfortable approaching me) and the demographics of who did it were male and female, above 50 usually.

To be honest, just saying "sorry, I can't talk right now" is sufficient.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 3:36 AM on July 12, 2012

Yeah, In Boston, if I was alone, I would wear headphones (worked well for me), pretended I was on the phone (or called someone), read the newspaper, walked fast and didn't make eye contact with people.
posted by KogeLiz at 4:07 AM on July 12, 2012

My ex-girlfriend (who got hit on a lot) had a trick that worked really well at warding off creepers - she would do something on her phone and act intently focused on it.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 4:23 AM on July 12, 2012

I'm a guy living just outside of NYC and when I'm in the city, I occasionally get weird people (mostly other guys) who try to talk to me. I ignore them. They quickly move on to other people until they find someone who will engage. Don't engage, do what everyone else says, ignore.
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:28 AM on July 12, 2012

Practice my dad's rules for NYC (or any other large city). Always look ahead, never make eye contact, and always pretend you know where you're going. It was also mentioned above, but when acting annoyed (even indirectly), you also appear busy. This was in a Seinfeld episode, and I've tried it before, it definitely works.
posted by neveroddoreven at 4:33 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yep, all of this advice - don't break your stride unless they genuinely seem lost, politely and firmly refuse to engage and walk away, etc.

In the case of the guy trying to strike up a conversation while sitting next to you, I've also found that claiming to be unable to talk as you have a sore throat works well too. I also once overheard a tourist on the subway shut down a creeper by simply saying, politely but loud and clear and firmly, "you know what, this conversation is over," and then turning away from him.

Nonsequiturs also help - for a while I was stopping surveytakers in their tracks by telling them, "No thank you, I already own a penguin," and walking on. (You'd be surprised how many people actually didn't really register that that's what I'd said.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:06 AM on July 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Yeah, this happens way more often when you first move here. I'm not sure why, exactly, but you're probably giving off some friendly "I'm from the midwest and super nice and a total n00b!" vibe. You're probably actually looking up at the buildings, looking at out of curiosity*, and have an expression of joy on your face. You probably don't even know you're putting it out there.

When I first moved to Brooklyn, the butcher at the end of Graham Ave. and I had the following exchange every morning:

Me, thinking: Lalalalala! I'm walking down the street in New York City and it's so beautiful to be alive!
Him: Good morning!
Me: Good morning to you!
Him: You're awfully pretty, would you like some coffee?
Me: Um, no thanks.

Him: Are you sure?
Me: Oh, uh, haha. I have to get to the train.

After about four months:

Me, thinking: Shit, it's hot. Why did I get an apartment so far from the train? Argh. Also, I'm broke.
Him: Good morning!
Me: Morning.
Him: You're awfully pretty, would you like some coffee?
Me: Oh, for fucks sake, dude.

It kind of sucks that your attitude starts shifting, but hey—I suppose that's part of becoming a New Yorker, or something. You'll start naturally emanating annoyance soon enough, and this will stop. I've been here for five years, which really isn't too terribly long, but now it happens only about once every few months.

Also, this:

don't break your stride unless they genuinely seem lost.

Your instincts about people will heighten pretty soon, all on their own. After about a year or so, you'll just know.

Go ahead and practice your flat affect and abilities to ignore outright, but it'll happen soon enough regardless, as you get into the swing of things.

*I still do this, but wear really dark sunglasses. :)
posted by functionequalsform at 6:14 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

looking at PEOPLE out of curiosity*
posted by functionequalsform at 6:15 AM on July 12, 2012

If you've got headphones or a book, and get talked to anyway, be as polite/helpful as you want to be for the first interaction (Hey, got a clip?). Whenever you're done, whether that's the first question, or the second, or the third, don't even address the question, say "Well, I'm going back to my music/book/walk now, have a good afternoon." ("well..." can be substituded with "sorry..." "thanks, but..." "actually..." etc) Say it decisively, but not argumentatively. It's just a statement - Reading your book is not what you wish to do or what you're asking to do or what you're threatening to do, it's what you're doing. Then switch your focus to the task, look down or close your eyes if possible and try like heck not to look at them again.
posted by aimedwander at 6:30 AM on July 12, 2012

I was you, about a decade ago. I don't know what it is, I guess I just have a friendly face or something because I always seem to attract random conversation from sketchy strangers.

Some methods I have used or seen used:
- Flat affect, as mentioned above: toneless, monosyllabic responses. I also use this one to dissuade garrulous colleagues.
- Headphones. Then if someone insists on interrupting you, look patiently pissed off and make a big deal out of removing your headphones ((you can ham it up and sigh while you're doing it) to hear what they have to say. Usually most people don't want to extend the conversation after this.
- Polite lies, as practised by my friend in response to drunken dudes attempting to talk with us - "Look, I'm sorry, we've just had some bad news, we're not really in the mood for a conversation right now". (This did not work)
- Directness, as practised by me when the above-mentioned drunken dudes would not quit - "Look, we do NOT want to talk to you, okay, so please leave us alone." (This worked!)

It is a bit sad because I do consider myself a friendly person but when you live in a big city you become protective of your personal space. I think it's harder for us women, because we're brought up to be nice and accommodating, to switch into that mindset. But you do, you'll see in a few months that less people are bothering you because you're giving out less "approachable" signals.
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:37 AM on July 12, 2012

Surprised no one has mentioned this - do NOT! pretend to be busy by playing with your phone or have headphones on while walking alone. It's better to be completely aware of your surroundings (making eye contact with other, friendlier looking strangers if you are approached and need to yell for help or make a scene, scoping out a store you could duck into or an alternate safer path you could take) , walk with purpose, and with an unfriendly/neutral look on your face.

A few weeks ago I was followed by a man on a bike after leaving a restaurant, three blocks from my boyfriend's apartment. He was behaving exactly like the men you describe but eventually escalated to asking me to come home with him and things of that nature. I was not alone on the street, but no one else was relatively close by. I initially tried to ignore with a neutral face, but eventually put on a mean scowl, said NOT INTERESTED, and pulled out my phone to call my boyfriend and hopefully further deter the creep. He yanked the phone out of my hand, knocking me down in the process, and sped off on his bike. From the initial contact, I had no idea that this interaction would degrade from small talk, to "hey baby, what's up" to theft and assault.

What would I have done differently? As soon as the conversation took an inappropriate turn, I would have done whatever possible to get to a well lit area, near other people, even if it meant abandoning the most direct route home (if he had continued following me and had not stolen my phone, I would have had to walk past a small unlit park). I would not have been afraid to shout at this person to get away from me, and I would have made DAMN sure that he knew I would call 911 before I even thought about pulling my phone out of my bag.

You owe absolutely nothing to strangers of the opposite sex. Do not entertain any interaction, no matter how inocuous it may seem at first. Be forceful in your speech if you tell them "not interested", powerful in your gait, AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS, and do NOT pull out your phone, unless you will immediately be dialing 911.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 6:40 AM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

because you're giving out less "approachable" signals.

Ugh I'm sorry I just reread that and it came out wrong. All I mean is that in a few months' time you will have that closed-off, "don't disturb me", unfriendly vibe that all or at least most seasoned big-city dwellers do. It's something to aspire to! :)
posted by Ziggy500 at 6:41 AM on July 12, 2012

You really don't have to answer people at all. Seriously. You don't need to respond to strangers to be "a very nice person." You can be very nice while also wandering away from strangers, giving them the hand, giving them the finger, or saying, "not right now, thanks."

Also, FYI: a reason very observant Jewish men sometimes strike up a conversation if you look Jewish but not obviously observant is to try to get you "back into the fold" as it were. Twenty four years in NYC have led me to be extremely skeptical of anyone trying to discuss my Judaism or lack thereof with me.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:44 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

YMMV, since many people have said not to make eye contact... but I find sometimes, depending on how the situation is and the type of person who's bothering you, maintaining really flat, dead, silent unblinking crazy eye contact is a really good way to make conversation dry up, because most people don't know how to react when someone's just... staring silently right at them. It makes most people uncomfortable and any conversational gambits usually die off.

I have to agree with this. Certain strains of crazy people get triggered by not being acknowledged, or by being fucked with in some way (like the non-sequitur suggestion). This is going to escalate as often as it doesn't. And it kind of goes against the whole point of the question, which is that other people are not our playthings.

Also- there are two kinds of "I'm not looking at you" postures: there is the truly-not-paying-attention one, and then there is the one that I see a lot of people putting out there, and which seems to make everyone including themselves unhappy, and that is the please-teacher-don't-call-on-me-I'm-invisible stance. This does not work, because you aren't ignoring the people around you really, but you are instead super-acknowledging them by freaking out about their presence.

Specific answer: "BUT WHAT THE HELL. First of all, why's everyone trying to ask me how school is? Are these guys my grandpas or something? Is this how they pick young girls up? At first, I think they're just being friendly, but frankly I don't think these "friendly" conversations happen man-to-man...I think they're reserved for young girls. There's really no reason to be asking such personal questions on a subway platform."

No, they aren't reserved for young women. There is a percentage of the population that is just pathologically extroverted. They just like talking to people, they love it when people come up to them and start conversations, and fail to understand that not everyone feels the same way. The "are you in school" thing *is* because you are young, because it seems like a good way to start a conversation with a young person. Old ladies (of all ages and genders) just LOVED my Danny Bonaduce red hair when I was younger- there was no stopping them. Now, (not uncoincidentally) I'm in my 30s and have close cropped hair. Now I get guys imagining I served in the military, or that I'm a cop. But these people are just super interested in talking to people, and don't particularly care about demographics.

Unfortunately, it's just part of city life. You are crammed on an island with a couple million too many people, and that amplifies the percentages of running into all kinds of people. It's sort of the price you pay for the energy of the big city.
posted by gjc at 6:53 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't really have advice from myself because I'm like you on this, but I just watched the Jenna Marbles sequel video "When The Face Doesn't Work." I think she has a point when she says that the guy doesn't care if you're pregnant/lesbian/taken/anything...and the only thing that will get him to go away is scaring the shit out of him. I'm now thinking about doing animal on the next guy myself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:57 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A few things:

- This happens to everyone,

- It is not your fault for smiling too much, for not wearing headphones, for being "too approachable",

- There is no single great response that immediately shuts down every crazy person you meet. To be perfectly frank, for every post here that claims to be a "great method", I've tried it and found that in that particular scenario, it actually escalated the issue. (For example, playing with my cell phone to ignore someone led to that person yelling and screaming at me for using my cell phone).

It sucks to feel unsafe or targeted in your city, but ultimately you have to accept it and keep your goal of defusing the situation in mind. Sometimes that means not engaging in conversation. Sometimes that means putting on your headphones. Sometimes that means giving a one word answer and then walking away. And sometimes it will mean calling 911. You'll develop a better instinct for these things over time. But ultimately your safety is the most important thing. Remember that.
posted by telegraph at 7:00 AM on July 12, 2012

To be honest, it's hard to judge without being actually present at these interactions. But honestly, from the conversations you've posted it doesn't seem at all like the second conversation is intended to be creepy old man hitting on a young woman. I think it's a classic example of the difference between life in the city and in maybe a smaller town or more close-knit community. Because everyone has conversations like this in a tiny town- in line at the grocery store, at the post office. You're socially expected to make small talk. You say he shouldn't apologize for sitting down and yet- it's simply polite to say excuse me or I'm sorry if you're making someone get out of your way or move their things.
And why do they ask you how school is going? Well, the generation gap between old person and young person is wide enough that there are few things many old people can think of that aren't "So, we have weather!" I get this, too. It's mostly older couples coming through my line at Golden Corral. All us young whippersnappers- basically anyone under 30- are "in school." It's not hard to say, "Oh, I can't really talk at the moment. Have a nice day!"

Yes, living in a city does have your creepy interactions [yeah, the first one is just plain weird]. I have had my share from living in Chicago. Everyone's methods here are good but I do have to point out- if you are walking down a street at night do not put both headphones in with your music turned up. It is difficult to pay attention to your surroundings then and notice if anyone might be approaching you in an unsavory manner.

I've found that a polite smile and a "I'm sorry, I do have to go now. Have a nice day!" works well for long conversations that you want to get out of. Most occasions these are people not understanding when you ignore them that they don't want to talk. They think "Oh, the nice young lady has stopped talking to me! She must not hear me." and talk louder. If they continue, a more forceful "I really must be going. Goodbye." usually works. I don't know if it will work for you, but the more forcefully polite I am the better people seem to take it.

You don't have an obligation to talk to people. You don't have an obligation to be friendly or even polite. Sometimes it helps to be friendly, but a cold stare can work wonders, too.
posted by shesaysgo at 7:19 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

YMMV, since many people have said not to make eye contact... but I find sometimes, depending on how the situation is and the type of person who's bothering you, maintaining really flat, dead, silent unblinking crazy eye contact is a really good way to make conversation dry up, because most people don't know how to react when someone's just... staring silently right at them.

Wanted to chime in that I vigorously recommend against staring someone down to whom you don't want to talk unless it's something you feel REALLY COMFORTABLE AND SOLID with. Probably not even then.

Ignoring people/being rude/"I got somewhere to get to" is part of the urban landscape. It's understood and people know how to deal with it. Some will call out "Bitch" at you. It's what is, but it's generally not out of line.

Squaring off on a guy and staring him down eye-to-eye is a challenge.

Don't play crazy if you're not crazy, and don't play tough if you're not tough. This isn't poker. Bluffing is almost NEVER a good idea on a subway platform. And if he's not someone whose intimidated or put off by being stared down, you've taken a step closer and are person-to-person engaged with someone (probably stronger than you) who makes you uncomfortable, expecting he's going to be the one to choose to back off. And you have shitty cards to boot.

Stare down the wrong person and you are absolutely inviting attack. The NNSD website is stuffed to the gills with pertinent personal-safety information, in addition to GoF recommended above. In particular, read the section on "Give him a face-saving exit so he won't turn on you and attack to preserve his honor".

Being ignored by a woman on the subway is par for the course for urban sketchos. Challenging them eye-to-eye is an escalation, pure & simple. Especially because if you don't have the proper mindset behind it, that will come through in your eyes and body-language. And then you're signaling to the predators "Trying to look tougher/crazier than she is". Those are the herd beasts that get chased down.

Being rude, walking away, ignoring people (while maintaining constant awareness of your surroundings and the people in them) is safer, much less likely to provoke things going sideways.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:27 AM on July 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

Ugh I'm sorry I just reread that and it came out wrong. All I mean is that in a few months' time you will have that closed-off, "don't disturb me", unfriendly vibe that all or at least most seasoned big-city dwellers do. It's something to aspire to! :)

This "vibe" is what I hate about being in the big city. Ironically, when I was in NYC recently, I noticed I felt a little more comfortable than I normally do in big cities, and I think it's because there is a different level of the vibe going on. The normal vibe people are putting out in downtown Chicago, or urban areas along the East coast, is what you describe: the closed off, "you fucking people are in my way, quit bothering me", hurried, harried, unfriendly vibe. It drains the life out of me, and they don't look particularly happy either. And we all still get grabbed by the Jews for Jesus people to get proselytized to at the same rate.

But in NYC, Manhattan specifically, there was a different vibe, that seemed a lot healthier for everyone. Which was, as far as I can describe it, a complete lack of concern. They aren't projecting anything. They are behaving as if they are walking in an empty forest. They aren't asking anything of you; if you dropped dead in front of them, they'll just step over you and let you have your heart attack in peace, the same way they'd step over a cow pie. It reminded me of how sometimes you see a large group of animals eating. Some species get all fighty, growling and displaying to maintain their space; and other species just go about their business, and really only squawk if another individual takes food directly out of their mouth or bites their leg.

That seems to be the winning approach to coping with city life. There are just too many damn people to be silently growling "stay away" at all the time.
posted by gjc at 7:30 AM on July 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

Example Two. I was waiting for the subway (Brooklyn) around 9:30 PM, and all the seats on the platform were taken except for the one next to me. I had my backpack on the seat, so this old guy said "Excuse me" and I moved it. He said "I'm sorry," which is just weird cause just sit if you're going to sit, why are you apologizing.
I imagine he was apologizing for prompting you to move your bag, i.e., I apologize for the inconvenience.

For what it's worth, I'm a mid-30s white guy, and random old people will strike up conversations with me from time to time, and ask all sorts of amusing questions. I think this is partly a function of being an old person.
posted by BurntHombre at 7:31 AM on July 12, 2012

Clarification on my agreement with the eye-contact advice: yes, staring someone down is a challenge. But actively NOT making eye contact when someone is looking at you is also a challenge.

The point of that specific advice was that once an interaction has begun, it can be helpful to give that person seemingly undivided attention, while also communicating a dispassionate attitude. You give them the dead eyes. You are being polite, so as not to trigger anyone's crazy, but you are also saying "I am not an interesting person to talk to. I am not worth your effort."

I don't think the advice was meant as something to do at anyone who seems crazy, but only as a tactic once you've been engaged.
posted by gjc at 7:41 AM on July 12, 2012

Just say "See ya."

"Do you have a clip, cause my kippah keeps falling off?"
"Sure, here you go. See ya."
"So how is yeshiva? Where do you go?"
"Dude, I said see ya."
posted by cincinnatus c at 7:52 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

A trick for maintaining a flat effect is to look at someone without actually making eye contact. Don't look directly into their eyes- instead don't focus on anything in particular, but vaguely direct your gaze at your interlocutor's right ear, or left eyebrow (or something similar). This can give the effect of looking through someone, but it will also help in terms of controlling your own non-verbal responses to eye contact. It may be that (by trying to be polite) you are maintaining eye contact in a way that tells someone "I am continuing to be engaged in this conversation." They may feel this is giving them license to continue speaking to you, regardless of what you actually want. You can do this while giving a flat response to someone's attempt to start a conversation, but it also works when someone approaches you who you think might try to start up an unwanted conversation.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:55 AM on July 12, 2012

I favorited this question because this happens to me fairly often, including a very unpleasant interaction with a young guy on a train this morning who broke my physical boundaries. What I did this morning was I just got off the train, being late to work be damned.

I find that actually just walking away has worked best for me most of the time. Reading, listening to music, staring anywhere but at the person, have all failed. I have also begun to stop being even reasonably polite, which makes me a little sad.
posted by sm1tten at 7:56 AM on July 12, 2012

Didn't your mother teach you never to talk to strangers? The script goes like this:

Him: "Do you have a clip, cause my kippah keeps falling off?"
You: "..."
(and you keep moving)

And try wearing big, colorful, ear-engulfing headphones, not little ear buds. You want to be obviously listening to something and plausibly unable to hear others.
posted by pracowity at 8:32 AM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

As women, we've been socialized to be polite and accommodating and to never be rude or cold (aka "a bitch"). It's not always natural to set that aside, but that's what these situations call for. I think it gets easier the more it happens.

I tend to adopt a general rule of ignore. You're chatting me up, hollering at me, or whatever and I don't know you? Nothing. No glace, no gesture, no words. Very occasionally, I will respond to a "How you doin'" with a "Good/Fine, thanks" and keep walking, but sometimes that turns into a "I want to fuck you" or other gross comment that I never want to hear. So ignore is safest. Sometimes that gets a "what's your problem?" or some other rude comeback, but they're being the dick by harassing and expecting you to give them your time, NOT YOU.

In the case of a request for help, if you feel okay helping, do so. If the interaction extends past the finite request for help, say "I don't want to talk to you anymore." If you're feeling polite maybe add "Have a good one." If they don't respect that, feel free to tell them to fuck off. Literally "hey, I'm done talking to you. Fuck off." If you feel unsafe, don't escalate. Try to get away, pull out your phone and call a friend, duck into a store and call the cops, whatever you need to do to separate yourself from this person.

And remember, the only thing anyone ever owes a stranger is to not be an unprovoked, active asshole towards them. Ignoring someone is not being an asshole. Telling a stranger to fuck off when they ignore your statement that you don't want to talk to them is not being an asshole. Demanding a stranger's time and following them down the street is.
posted by radioaction at 8:42 AM on July 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

I say, with a pleasant expression, "Excuse me," and move away. Even if I'm walking in the same direction, I just physically move away from the person so it's clear we're not walking together. If the person keeps trying to talk to me I will just shake my head or move farther away from them and not respond.

I like the "no thank you" wave suggestion. I tend to do that when someone is trying to hand me something, but I may start using it for other unwanted interactions too.
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:46 AM on July 12, 2012

I believe you that these are in fact "special" interactions. My boyfriend and I have compared crazy-person stories, and while his are often ridiculous and obnoxious (he is worse than me at shutting people down), his rarely get him shouted down, spat on, or asked for sex. Being a lady is a special thing in the city.

My best approach is to do some combination of the hand-wavey "no thank you" thing someone mentioned their husband does above, and saying "I'm sorry" in an earnestly apologetic sounding way (even while I want to kick them in the ears) and turning away like I can't hear them or understand or something. It's really fucking exhausting. Sometimes I just let the conversation go on and peter out while I pretend like it's not even happening around me. I agree that complete disregard is better than ice queen usually, just because men don't feel the need to get in your face and prove their manhood as often. Ugh, fucking assholes. Don't feel sorry for being a bitch, I've been spat on for doing absolutely nothing (and called a bitch for walking with my face down during a sleetstorm!).

And while some might tell you that old men are just being friendly, I'd say that about 30% of the time when an old man talks to me on the street, he is just being friendly. The other 70% he is crazy or a dumbass lech. So I really have no interest in talking to old men on the off chance that they're not going to tell me a crazy fucking violent story or make comments about my body. Sometimes I try to imagine being an old man who feels welcome to tell young women on the street that they're working it or whatever bullshit and I can't, it's so fucking rude and entitled.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:51 AM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

There's sadly no one-size-fits-all solution to this, but I've found The Headphone Yank helpful in multiple situations.

Basically you never remove your headphones fully until you're sure they're not crazy/skeezy. If you have the over-the-head kind, pull it a couple inches away from your ear on one side ready to twang back into place at any moment and if you have the bud kind, pull it out of your ear on one side, but keep your hand hovering a couple inches from your ear ready to cram it back in.

It subdues the ones who escalate if they don't get your attention because they have your attention (albeit briefly). It provides a visual indicator for the ones who are simply socially awkward that they're inconveniencing you. It also means that if you want to end the conversation firmly with a "Gotta go" or "See ya" that you can make it sound more final by simultaneously snapping the headphone back into place and breaking eye contact.
posted by the latin mouse at 9:48 AM on July 12, 2012

But then he asked me "So how is yeshiva? Where do you go?" like he was just some old friend, like WTF?? He also asked "Are you Ashkenasic or Sephardic?" Why? Why would he ask this?

Because he's trying to figure out if you're someone he can marry.

Is this how they pick young girls up?

Yes. Also, 30 is not a grandpa.

There are more complicated cultural things going on in the first interaction than just normal not-respecting-boundaries NYC pushiness. I don't get this kind of stuff a lot because I look very goyish and am covered in tattoos, but my sister and her friends have dealt with it quite a bit. The only way to respond is to be ice cold and unfriendly unless you want to invite mounting aggressiveness.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:58 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

BUT WHAT THE HELL. First of all, why's everyone trying to ask me how school is? Are these guys my grandpas or something? Is this how they pick young girls up? At first, I think they're just being friendly, but frankly I don't think these "friendly" conversations happen man-to-man...I think they're reserved for young girls. There's really no reason to be asking such personal questions on a subway platform.

I will confess that I do these things. I'm a woman, fwiw, so the creep factor is less, and I do take a hint if they don't want to talk, but I like to make conversation and learn about new people, and some people don't mind talking.

I've also found that as I get older I find young people cuter (in a small puppy kind of way, not a sexy kind of way), and it can sometimes make me want to interact with them in a way I wouldn't if they were 35. I guess it's always been true that kids are fun to interact with, but as I get older my definition of "kid" gets older too.

The guy following you was socially clueless at best and deserved a big fat shaming, but the old guy I expect was just being small-town friendly.

Also, when I was your age I felt the same way you do, so I sympathize. I got relentlessly hit on and stalked so it made me very closed off to everyone, and rightfully so. Now that I'm middle aged a) I don't get the relentless attention, thank god & b) I'm more comfortable taking each interaction one at a time. Some days I like to talk. Some days I say "I don't feel like talking, thanks." Some people I feel like talking to and some I don't.

As a side note, I get big fat privilege from looking the part of a middle aged mainstream white woman, at least by Bay Area standards, and I'm abusing it to the hilt. Part of that privilege is that I people will more likely stand up for me if a social interaction starts looking dicey. So, my point is, that this gets easier as you get older, both because of how society looks at you and because you get more confident about maintaining your boundaries, including loudly and righteously publicly shaming people who act like the guy who followed you.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:02 AM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Totally agreeing with the people pointing out that you don't need to stop moving just because someone says something to you. Your head rotates only slightly, looking towards them (not in confrontation, just letting know that this is directed at them) as you say "Sorry, too busy.", and then goes back to straight ahead as you move on.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:12 AM on July 12, 2012

Gonestarfishing mentioned this above but I feel like it deserves repeating. I'm sure since so many people recommend headphones that it can in fact be helpful and effective, but walking around by yourself with headphones on is not necessarily a great idea. You are VISIBLY not fully aware of your surroundings. I am an old, ugly, broke-looking guy but I would still not walk through my neighborhood with headphones on.
posted by zoinks at 12:19 PM on July 12, 2012

I'm WAY older than you are, and I was probably never as cute, but for some reason, I have a vibe that tells people, "HEY! How are you? Come tell me your problems!" I mean, every random person on the planet has a approached me at some time or another.

I lived in Oakland and worked in San Francisco in the eighties and it was loaded with aggressive, crazy-assed panhandlers. My Dad, being a therapist and reasonably fearless would engage these guys on their level all the time. He never gave money to any of them, but he was always perfectly pleasant about it. "Sorry Dude, can't help you," was his typical response.

Once we were at Marin Joes and this way-drunk guy complimented Dad on his lovely wife and daughers. My dad? He says, "let me introduce you, this is Lillian (motioning to my sister) and this is Dorothy (motioning to me.) Dad is kind of a doofus. (The names refer of course to those ladies of silent cinema, Lillian and Dorothy Gish.)

But I digress. I have that same gregarious personality. Sometimes I'm that sketchoid bothering you. If you look puzzled in the grocery store, I'll offer to help. If you seem lost in a city, even one I too am a tourist in, I'll whip out my phone and see if I can't help you with my GPS.

But, as a woman, I understand that safety and the ability to walk down the street unmolested are our absolute rights.

I agree, you don't want to be friendly. I find that a non-commital, "no thank-you" to pretty much anything works fine and provides NO opportunity for further contact. Once you've said "no thank you" you are off the hook from replying to any further comments.

One thing I will tell you, that I learned from Professor Cialdini, is that if you need assistance, and you need someone to help you, the best method for that is to indicate a particular person. For example, if you're on a crowded street, and some sleezo is bothering you, specifically address a passerby and ask for assistance, "Hey, you with the Times and the wayfarers, I need help, this asshole won't leave me alone." It is VERY difficult if you have been singled out by a person asking you particularly for help, to not render it. If you just keep making a scene people won't engage because they think you're not talking to them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:48 PM on July 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for all the great answers, guys.
In case this thread is still being read at this point, i just wanted to add that most of these special conversations happen while we're both sitting, or I'm sitting and he comes up to it's not just that I'm walking past and some stationary guy says something i can easily ignore. If I walked away, I'd have to actually get up and make a big scene. Thanks to you guys though, now I don't feel so bad about actually having to do that.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 4:01 PM on July 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm rather older than you, but was approached today beside a big park by a man with a bike. I had earbuds in. The man indicated he wanted to speak to me, so I debudded, and the conversation went like this:

Me: What can I do for you? [Possibility he might legitimately want directions?]
Him: Um, it's a nice day, isn't it?
Me: Sure is. [Moving along]
Him: I guess I'll get going then.

One nice thing about getting older, as a woman, is that you can let the deep-freeze thaw a little. Not that you want to pick people up, but that you can sometimes assume you're not being skeeved by a sketcho. Now and then there's actually a nice little exchange with somebody that means nothing and goes nowhere, but brightens your day.

However, at 21, you've a ways to go before you reach this stage.
posted by zadcat at 4:33 PM on July 12, 2012

When I was riding the bus and subway back and forth into Boston every day, I learned to keep my headphones on all the time, and to completely, totally ignore anyone who tried to either talk at me through the headphones, or tried to get me to remove them. In cases where someone was really persistent, I'd make a big deal out of fishing out my iPod, turning it off, taking off the headphones, and saying "...what?!" It generally worked. It was hard at first, because the urge to not be rude is so ingrained, but once I realized that I had no obligation to be polite or friendly to anyone, if I didn't want to, it was easier.
posted by sarcasticah at 5:13 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think a big thing is to just start verbalizing things it normally would never occur to you to say out loud. "I don't want to talk to you." "Stop talking to me." "Leave me alone." "I don't want to be friendly." "I don't know you, go away." Sometimes you can dress these up more politely if it feels right. "Sorry, I don't want to talk." "Please let me read." etc. Sometimes you want to get loud so that the people sitting or standing around you can hear and be put on notice that something's going on.

What this does, I think, is it takes away the cover of the person who wants to think of himself as well-meaning, and it tells the jerks that they can't count on your silent compliance.

I will say that it does get easier and it starts feeling more matter of fact and 'whatever,' instead of heart-poundingly confrontational.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:04 PM on July 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Wanted to chime in that I vigorously recommend against staring someone down to whom you don't want to talk unless it's something you feel REALLY COMFORTABLE AND SOLID with. Probably not even then.

Yeah, maybe I should clarify - this has only worked for me for a very specific type of man, and in situations where there've been many, many other people around, so I've been relatively safe. I've only done this when the person who's being a bother is genuinely socially clueless and can't pick up on social cues, and can't realise when you're being rude and/or politely telling them to leave you alone - I mean when saying 'I don't want to talk to you' doesn't work and moving away isn't an option. I don't mean it in a 'make it a staredown' way, I meant it as 'make yourself look as crazy and unappealing as possible without rocking back and worth muttering to yourself' kind of way. I agree with Pirate - in the wrong situation with the wrong guy with an ego problem, this would be bad.

As I said, in retrospect this probably wasn't the best advice for New York transit. I'm sorry this is happening to you, and I hope it gets better from here!
posted by zennish at 7:09 PM on July 12, 2012

Sometimes I just leave my headphones on while not actually playing any music and that dissuades people.
Sometimes I will say "I'm sorry" when people try to talk to me and then just basically ignore them.
Agree with chesty_a_arthur that I would be very skeptical of anyone trying to discuss my Judaism in NYC.
posted by mlle valentine at 8:47 PM on July 12, 2012

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