How can I appear less threatening?
December 19, 2018 3:17 PM   Subscribe

A couple of times a week, I take a walk through a local neighborhood to get dinner and catch some Pokemon. Now that it's getting dark so early, I've noticed that people are getting a little more skittish when I walk by. How can I pre-emptively allay fears?

I'm 6', white, goatee, short hair. Normal dress is motorcycle boots, jeans, Old Navy waffle-weave long sleeve shirt. I attend a 12-step meeting in a town on the peninsula in the Bay Area, and my habit for the last several months has been to arrive a couple of hours early, park my motorcycle near the meeting site, then walk the mile to downtown to get dinner beforehand. This is good head-clearing time, good exercise, and there's a bunch of Pokestops between the site and downtown.

Now, though, it's getting dark on my walk to, and full dark on my walk from, dinner. I often find myself walking up behind women walking their small dogs, couples strolling, and families with small kids coming out of the small park I walk by. I know I've startled people before, and I feel terrible every time it happens. I'm not really used to thinking of myself as intimidating-looking but, to a woman walking alone with her dog or someone shepherding their toddler, I can imagine that me walking up behind them could be a source of anxiety. So... what can I do to help make myself appear less intimidating? And, the obvious secondary question, am I overthinking this?
posted by hanov3r to Human Relations (66 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe since you'll have your phone out anyway, pretend to be talking on it? Partly because it makes you seem uninterested in anything but your own business, partly because you'll be making noise and thus not 'sneaking', partly you could be saying something dull or reassuring like "Yes, I got the dry-cleaning and the diapers. Yes, dear. Yes, I'm heading right home" Or "Look MacNeil, I need those quarterly TPS reports on my desk by midweek. The Cleaver account is riding on this one, man, I need you to step up." or anything cheerful like "Hey buddy! Happy birthday! Dude remember that time---" You can pretend to be leaving a voicemail if you don't feel like inventing a one-sided conversation. Everyone uses those bluetooth earpieces these days so I doubt anyone will miss the other side of the convo.

As a Woman Walking Alone, this would certainly reassure me that you meant no harm.
posted by The otter lady at 3:23 PM on December 19, 2018 [15 favorites]


IMO there's really not anything you can do besides be careful not to walk up too close to anyone, especially from behind. As a woman who often walks alone at night, my radar is just up for *anyone* I hear near me. If someone's behind me and walking faster than I am, I'd prefer they just pass quickly. If it feels like you're surprising people and that's the main issue, do something that makes noise (clip jingle-y keys to a belt, or wear louder shoes) so that they can hear you coming.
posted by augustimagination at 3:23 PM on December 19, 2018 [39 favorites]


There's not much you can do about sneaking up on people without being annoying, but wear a high-vis vest. For the most part, someone who's looking to start trouble isn't going to draw that kind of attention to themselves.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:23 PM on December 19, 2018 [31 favorites]


Wear a dopey looking pokemon beanie while you're out doing pokethings. Like a big yellow fleece pikachu hat. Walk noisily and talk aloud to yourself about pokemons. OH BOY A BULBASAUR in tones of extreme delight coming up behind me in the dark is probably the least threatening thing I can imagine.
posted by poffin boffin at 3:28 PM on December 19, 2018 [85 favorites]


it would be extremely kind of you to cross the street if you find yourself walking behind a woman alone on an otherwise deserted street in the dark. I'm not saying you have to. But if I were that woman I would be grateful.

If the street is full of people then I don't think you need to worry. Being on the phone could be nice I suppose. Gives warning that you're there and engaged in your own business.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:28 PM on December 19, 2018 [71 favorites]


You could carry one of those speakers with you and play feelgood music. Bonus is that it makes everyone happy. (Caveat: this might vary locally? But it’s fun here.)
posted by schadenfrau at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


And yeah, give them a wide berth.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:30 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


I would think that if it was somehow clear that you were playing Pokemon Go then you would lose all sense of being threatening. When I go running (usually at night) I put my phone on an arm band (with Pokemon Go playing) and will stop at various Pokestops or if an interesting Pokemon shows up. When I'm walking and playing it does look like I'm just on my phone though. Maybe turn the sound on so people can hear the game music.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:32 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


In Brent Staples's essay "Just Walk on By: A Black Man Ponders His Power to Alter Public Space," he mentions whistling classical music to signal his harmlessness to other pedestrians.
posted by bunderful at 3:34 PM on December 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


Thing is, not -everyone- knows about Pokemon Go. If you were blatantly catching invisible creatures in a dark street behind my mom, for example, she'd assume you were totally insane and/or high as a kite on The Drugs, and be terrified.
posted by The otter lady at 3:37 PM on December 19, 2018 [39 favorites]


Please cross to the other side of the street rather than walk up directly behind a woman alone. Or walk in the street to go around them if possible. Make some kind of noise as you approach so you don’t startle them—cough or sneeze or shuffle your feet or something. I like the suggestions for a high vis vest and jingly keys.
posted by a strong female character at 3:40 PM on December 19, 2018 [10 favorites]


Yes, I am your size and appearance as well. And I wear a bandana because I sweat from my head a lot. This is what I do:

You can sort of tell if the other person isn't aware of your presence as you approach them. What I like to do in this situation is unobtrusively signal to them that I am there, and not a threat.

Ways I have done this include coughing or scuffing my shoes loudly on the pavement. Anything as long as the noise is not scary or threatening. When they look around startled, I give them a brief polite smile, break eye contact immediately and keep moving away from them.

It helps a lot.
posted by seasparrow at 3:41 PM on December 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


Yup, I have no idea what someone catching Pokemon looks like, and I think there are plenty of people like me, so I don’t think that’s going to help. And anyone talking to themselves about anything, pokemon or otherwise, with no earpiece in, is going to raise my alert levels as someone potentially odd and increase my fear.

Agree that crossing over is appreciated if you’re behind a woman alone, if that’s not possible pass as quickly as you can, giving as wide a berth as you can.
posted by penguin pie at 3:46 PM on December 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


I am a late night person who likes to walk around outside at odd hours, and I share the same concern. I give people a lot of space, man or woman. If there's traffic and I can't walk into the street, I take my hands out of my pockets, wave as I approach, and say hello. If I'm coming up behind a person and they don't notice me, I'll try to say excuse me before I walk past. If you get stuck walking behind a woman for too long, she might stop and let you pass. If she doesn't, just keep your distance and use your best judgement. If cities weren't built so poorly we wouldn't have this problem. Sidewalks are stupid.
posted by mammal at 3:57 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Are you walking fast? It might be the motorcycle boots which have a certain heavy sound, a solid heel striking the pavement. If everyone else is wearing sneakers which are quieter, a boot might sound more threatening. Just a thought.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:00 PM on December 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


The late night walkers around me who wear some sort of small blinking light, something for a bike or jogger so cars notice them, don’t startle me. Partly because I see them coming, but also because knowing they are willing to draw attention to themselves helps me think they aren’t up to no good.
posted by lepus at 4:09 PM on December 19, 2018 [22 favorites]


Bike bell?

It's a pretty universal "coming up behind you" sound, which will come off as odd from a pedestrian, but it means you don't have to reinvent the wheel or put mental energy into faking a conversation.

Agree about a light-hearted hat.
posted by itesser at 4:11 PM on December 19, 2018


You could try a jaunty silk scarf or big headphones while walking with a slight boogie.
posted by alusru at 4:16 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


If you are close enough to the person to speak without yelling, you can look at them from a respectful distance, then smile and say "Hi! Please don't mind me. I'm playing Pokemon Go!" or "Hey! I'm out playing Pokemon Go right now and didn't want to startle you." When people say stuff like that to me, I usually laugh and feel reassured. And while I'd hardly consider my presence to look threatening at all, I'll say stuff like that, too. A little communication goes a long way, and being a little extra friendly -- we're just talking a smile and line or two -- can really help.

Also, good of you for being so mindful and also for attending those 12-step meetings!
posted by smorgasbord at 4:18 PM on December 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Nthing the feedback to avoid coming up too close behind people. It really freaks me out when anyone — of any gender or size — “tailgates” me on the sidewalk (i.e., walks a couple of feet behind me without going around).

IMO, speakers or a bike bell may make you less threatening (or at least less likely to accidentally sneak up on someone), but they also make you rude, which is only marginally better.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:22 PM on December 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


Safety vest and/or headlamp are a good mark of "I am unlikely to be a super creep" although watch out for shining a light in someone's face if you are approaching them. It's important to know that any sort of "trying to get your attention" action that isn't part of the whole "Hey I am harmless" motions may be perceived as scary. Meaning that if you say "Hey" and then wait to see if someone has heard you before you say "I am playing Pokemon Go!" that person may already be like "Why did they say hey to me?" and start getting/feeling defensive or scared. But by and large a quick wave if you appear to be just lurking followed by "playing Pokemon Go on my phone" would go a long way towards making someone feel you weren't randomly out on the street with ill intent. Many people won't mind or won't think about but, but for the ones who do, a little forethought can go a long way. Thanks for thinking about this.
posted by jessamyn at 4:27 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Smile and say hi, or "sorry for sneaking up behind you," and then keep walking so it's obvious you're not going to stop and chat unbidden. Say pardon me as you pass. Really, I'm always shocked at the idea that people in the city are supposed to signify *everything* through non-engagement. Giving the fucking pained, I'm-having-a-bowel-movement white guy grimace to strangers on the street is literally eroding our social contact. Being actually friendly without acting like you expect anything (including continued interaction) out of passers-by is what you should be doing, not crossing the fucking street.

Also, wear a hat with a pompom.
posted by tapir-whorf at 4:34 PM on December 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


If I'm coming up behind women I usually go out into the street if it's safe to pass then while walking, keeping at least two arms-lengths from them, or walking on the other side of a parked car.

When approaching women who are walking I move all the way over to give them room and am careful not to look at them.
posted by JamesBay at 4:37 PM on December 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


Nthing the goofy Pokemon hat, and cheerful polite “excuse me!” and similar if you come up behind someone or overtake them.
posted by sailoreagle at 4:58 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


This is a great question.

If I were walking after dark and some guy went out of his way to apologize for startling me, I would think he was up to something — guys who need to announce that they are harmless raise my suspicions, because then it becomes my job to validate them.

Please also resist the temptation to play “fun” music on a portable speaker; the signal that sends is is “norms don’t apply to me and I don’t understand boundaries.” And no whistling. (Whistling always seems to precede acts of horrible violence in the movies. Or at least in cartoons.)

Really, seasparrow has it. What would you do if you saw someone with a white cane and, realizing they probably couldn’t see you, you wanted to alert them to your presence? Do that. Shuffle your feet. Clear your throat. Sniffle. And just don’t buzz them; pass with the same buffer of personal space you’d afford another guy when overtaking him.
posted by armeowda at 4:58 PM on December 19, 2018 [52 favorites]


I think you are over thinking this. Give them a much space as the sidewalk allows, apologize if you bump into them by accident, and otherwise just ignore them.

But if you really want to come off as non threatening, carry a folding cane.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 5:01 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Oh, also: clothes that make noise (puffy jackets, corduroys) are as good as squeaky shoes or jangly keys, if you just want your stride to be more percussive.
posted by armeowda at 5:02 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Do you carry anything with you? If I saw you with, say, a messenger bag, I would think “guy with a purpose on his way somewhere.” When I see a man not carrying anything, I’m more likely to assume he’s lurking, or ready to snatch-and-run. That’s probably not a true indicator of someone’s intent, but it’s my gut reaction.
posted by Knowyournuts at 5:04 PM on December 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm also a big guy who walks fast and quietly. If I realize I am coming up fast on a woman I will usually stop for 30 seconds and fiddle with my clothes, or look like I'm trying to see something in the environment or pull out my phone for a glance so she can get farther ahead of me. I'll then start out walking slow.

If it is a couple or someone with small kids I might cough and say, "Excuse me, I'm running late." and then speed up just a bit to pass.
posted by ITravelMontana at 5:25 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


My husband is quite tall and has a broad frame. He always crosses the street when he encounters a woman walking alone, whether he’s walking toward her or behind her. So many women have been victims of assault and he sees crossing the street as a small thing he can do to not terrify someone who may already feel very uneasy about walking alone.
posted by quince at 5:38 PM on December 19, 2018 [17 favorites]


Maybe since you'll have your phone out anyway, pretend to be talking on it?

If I figured out that a potentially threatening guy was just pretending to be on the phone while walking behind me, the level of threat he posed in my mind would increase a hundredfold. It would make me wonder why he was trying so hard to appear uninterested. YMMV.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 5:41 PM on December 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


I tend to just speak outloud, like a bell caller.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:47 PM on December 19, 2018


Please don't talk on the phone in a noisy and obnoxious conversation, whether fake or otherwise. People who blunder around blabbing at top oblivious volume do not only irritate people such as myself, because in general I find they are paying no attention to their surroundings whatsoever, but actually are endangering themselves, making themselves convenient targets for predators. Targets include large males, if they look distracted enough and the person doing the targeting is desperate or bold enough.

Instead, as a woman, I would ask you to jingle your keys if coming up behind me, say "to your left," or the like to indicate your presence, while moving slowly and giving me a chance to figure out you're there and what I want to do.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 5:48 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I don't think you're overthinking this. I'm a runner and I hate the feeling when I scare or startle someone.

With that said, after long observation, I've concluded there's very little you can do. Making a point to be heard will put some people at ease but for others it will make them think you're deliberately creeping them out. They're out in public at night and know what they're getting into; and you have just as much a right to your space as they do. Just give people as wide a berth as possible, and keep to yourself.
posted by ftm at 5:49 PM on December 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


In my experience while trail running, the least startling way to come up on someone from behind is to cough loudly when you are about 20 to 30 feet behind them. Alternatives, like yelling “coming through”, cause people to leap like startled deer.
posted by monotreme at 5:58 PM on December 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


as a woman who often walks alone at night, +1 to appreciating if you cross the street, or walk in the street to pass me. I think the creepiest is when the person happens to match my pace and is close to me, so the easiest thing to do, if you don't want to cross the street, might be to slow your pace for a little bit such that the distance is larger.
posted by wym at 6:06 PM on December 19, 2018 [5 favorites]


Having your hands obviously full is a helpful signifier of "I'm going about my own business" and "it would be somewhat logistically difficult for me to bother you." Maybe a cup or thermos of coffee?
posted by eponym at 6:26 PM on December 19, 2018 [6 favorites]


As someone who’s had to walk alone into parking garages and such with men behind me, I’d appreciate if you hung wayyyyyyy back and put a lot of space between us on the street so I don’t have to wonder what you’re up to back there.

Also, thank you for asking this.
posted by _Mona_ at 6:34 PM on December 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


One thing is to just make plenty of noise so that people can hear you and you don't accidentally sneak up on them. You can narrate your activities to yourself, for instance. When you see someone, give them a little smile and then look away.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:39 PM on December 19, 2018


As a single woman walker, I really dislike the idea of a man crossing the street so I won't be scared. Give me some credit. And if you were wearing a reflective vest, indicating you want to be seen, I wouldn't think twice. If you'd like to make a positive impact, wear a buccaneer's hat with a big feather - that would put a smile on my face.
posted by kestralwing at 6:52 PM on December 19, 2018 [8 favorites]


Coming from behind on the sidewalk: vaguely quietly cough, murmur, or hum when walking past those slow, distracted, obtuse pedestrians.

If you think that someone on the street might feel threatened by you, then just stare at your phone and be absorbed.
posted by ovvl at 7:03 PM on December 19, 2018


I agree that making low-key noise is a good thing, but please start it when you’re still a good ways behind the person and try not to make it too percussive. That minimizes the startle response. If I heard shuffling feet right behind me it would startle the fuck out of me. If I heard softly jangling keys 20 feet behind, I would be less alarmed.
posted by delight at 7:10 PM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Also, I don’t think there’s any need to smile or say hi to anyone, since unexpected interaction in the dark can be alarming. This is one of those cases where staring at your phone, oblivious to the world around you, can be quite comforting for passers-by who recognize that you’re going about your own business.
posted by delight at 7:14 PM on December 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


Please do not smile and say hi and expect this will automatically put a woman at ease. The moment a strange man on the street attempts to engage me in ANY kind of conversation, I am instantly on the alert. I think the idea that just smiling is a better option than crossing the street is ridiculous. I’ve been harassed by plenty of disgusting assholes who started off by smiling and saying hi. I’m much more relaxed if a dude doesn’t fucking look at me or acknowledge my existence.
posted by a strong female character at 7:24 PM on December 19, 2018 [42 favorites]


A bright blinky LED vest would do a lot to reassure me. So would someone whistling, although apparently mileage varies on that.

Honestly, though, a couple weeks ago I was walking alone in an unexpectedly dark part of downtown pretty late and a huge guy literally said as he was coming up about 15 feet behind me, “Hey, coming up fast behind you, but don’t want to startle you!” in a big cheerful voice and that was pretty effective. I also notice and appreciate dudes who cross the street if it’s particularly deserted, although I don’t think it’s 100% necessary especially if there are a few other people around.

You are not overthinking this and I appreciate that you are trying to make the world a better place. As a small woman I really do feel anxious being silently tailgated when I am by myself after dark. I do think you can be less worried about freaking out anyone who is with another adult.
posted by charmedimsure at 8:17 PM on December 19, 2018 [9 favorites]


I think the idea of carrying a coffee cup or some other object in your hands--ideally, something unlikely to conceal a gun or knife or something else that could harm me--is a great one. Like a to-go cup of tea and a little bag containing a croissant. That signals that you're enjoying yourself and you have a plan. You're not meandering around looking for trouble.

And nonverbal cues, like body language, are also huge. I'm glad you're thinking of this, and make sure you're thinking of it when the moment actually arrives--don't default to a slumpy posture or a looky-loo facial expression, if you're prone to that. In the moment, just hold yourself upright, walk briskly, and look like you know where you're going and you could give two shits about some pedestrians and their stroller.
posted by witchen at 8:44 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of Brent Staples’ story called “Whistling Vivaldi”. He would whistle classical music in these circumstances to put people at ease.
posted by slateyness at 9:37 PM on December 19, 2018


Female city dweller in Europe here: I would find any whistling, talking or other intentional noise startling in the sense that it heralds unwelcome interaction with a potentially dangerous stranger in the middle of the night.

I am most used to people muttering „‚scuse me“, as they push past. On the other hand I wouldn‘t expect you to cross the street for me.

So I guess my favourite thing would be for you to give me a wide berth while simultaneously speeding up to overtake me. Like, actually move off the pavement into the street if it‘s safe and the pavement is narrow. Super bonus points if your phone screen is glowing, indicating you were preoccupied a moment earlier.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:20 PM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


For me, the high-viz vest / blinky LED thing as mentioned above would work. That signifies to me "I'm out and about because I'm doing sports or a sports-adjacent activity, and I feel safer if I can easily be seen."
People who are up to no good would not want to be so visible.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:18 AM on December 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


I am a woman, and I have in fact crossed the street to avoid men at night when they're not obviously otherwise occupied. If it is easy to do so (the street is clear, you don't need to walk back to a crossing or anything) I think crossing away is a kindness. Alternatively, if you appear likely harmless - carrying something with both hands, wearing a hi vis vest, wearing a big colourful silly bobble hat - I will feel much safer.

I would find somebody talking to me to be VERY STARTLING because in my experience a man talking to me out of nowhere is likely to want to continue talking to me.

I hate when people come up behind me, and would prefer they speed up to overtake me to minimise the amount of time I can *hear* you but not *see* you. And yes, as wide a berth as possible.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:23 AM on December 20, 2018 [4 favorites]


From the time of day — early evening — and the people you’re talking about startling — couples and families — this is kind of strange. That is, you’re getting a lot of general advice on how not to worry people walking alone late at night, but people walking in groups in the evening shouldn’t be as easily concerned.

I would do some more introspection about yourself and the situation and try to be sure that you really are disturbing people, because from what you’ve described, it seems unlikely that you are. Do you think you might be, for other reasons, worrying about this when it really isn’t a problem at all?

If you’re sure that you really are making people jumpy, then I think you are very plausibly unintentionally doing something strange — is your sense of personal space off, so you’re walking too close to people? Staring at people unusually? I can’t tell what it might be, but for a man walking alone on a city street to be frightening people in the early evening, he’d have to be acting odd, and if you are, maybe you can figure out what is you’re doing and adjust your behavior.

But my first guess is that you’re not scaring people at all, and you’re just being overscrupulous about it. Which indicates that you’re a decent person, but maybe one who should worry less.
posted by LizardBreath at 4:54 AM on December 20, 2018 [7 favorites]


Can you have your phone flashlight on while playing pokemon?

Otherwise yeah, just inform people you're coming.

Surprised by people suggesting moving out into the street; the one time I was (unsuccessfully!) mugged in Oakland, I was flanked by one guy while the other rolled up behind me. Actually crossing the street is one thing but walking on the street alongside someone is innately alarming. Wolves flank you.
posted by aspersioncast at 4:55 AM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just because nobody has suggested it yet: walking more slowly could prevent you from sneaking up behind people.
posted by ropeladder at 5:02 AM on December 20, 2018


A "'scuse me" and a quick walk past would work for me. When you're passing from the front (like walking towards them) put your hands in pockets and don't look directly at the woman. Anything more would raise suspicion. If you feel awkward, grab your phone and look at it as you pass, even angle it so she can see that you're playing Pokemon Go if she happens to look. IMO you don't need a hi-vis vest to safely pass single women in the evening. Hands in pocket, minimal talking and continue on.

It's great that you are asking this question. In my opinion, think the key is to not make a show out of it with hats and vests and greetings. It may be that you're startling people because they're not expecting *anyone* to pass, which isn't something you can fix or control!
posted by eggs at 5:16 AM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I agree with the safety vest /blinking light / silly hat suggestions. Reason being, hardly anyone ever wears things like that. So while you may be a little startling your first time out, those items make you more easily recognizable to the regular walkers. You become "oh there's pokemon hat guy" to the neighborhood, and people will not give you a second thought. Basically, bright, easily identifiable clothing is significantly better than dark clothing, because as someone said above, it signals that you are not afraid to call attention to yourself.

If you must make a noise, "on your left" works but you must be somewhat close to the person to use it. A cough or scuffing a bit further back may be more useful.
posted by vignettist at 5:32 AM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


You could try wearing an oxford shirt to communicate “office guy,” which as a heuristic may be reassuring. But I think more likely to the extent you’re startling people at all, it’s probably more from them being absorbed in what they’re doing and not noticing you until you’re quite close.

When I’m out running and gaining on a walker who doesn’t seem to be moving over in anticipation of sharing the space, I call out “On your left” in a cheery voice, like people do on bike paths. (I’m female but when men do the same to me, I find it nonthreatening.)
posted by lakeroon at 5:33 AM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


You might read more aggressive because of the motorcycle boots and goatee. Wear some kicks that look more "I'm out taking a walk" and don't have the aggro sound of boots and I'd already start to feel better.
posted by thirdletter at 6:51 AM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I find a lot of this advice really strange. (Credentials: I'm a woman who walks alone in a city a LOT.) You don't need to carry props or change the way you dress or create false explanations for why you're walking around. Just give people a wide berth. Don't walk directly behind them matching their pace, cross the street if it's convenient, shuffle your feed/clear your throat and say "excuse me" as you pass. That's all. I'm on some degree of alert ALL THE TIME, but you can make yourself a nonissue by just giving people space.
posted by desuetude at 7:21 AM on December 20, 2018 [26 favorites]


If you're actively playing i.e. staring intently at your phone, stopping randomly, etc, I think that's plenty unthreatening already (speaking as a woman who walks a lot in a city, also playing pokemon). Particularly if you're in an area where people walk regularly, which you most likely are if people are there with their toddlers! I wouldn't worry too much unless you're actually seeing people visibly notice you and react negatively (beyond just being startled).

If you're noticeably alarming people you could be giving off weird vibes but it's probably just that your steps are very quiet and/or you're wearing dark clothes and in the shadows, which are things that you can change if you like. I scuff my feet intentionally when I'm close to people if I want them to be aware of me for whatever reason (e.g. if I'm trying to head around them and don't want them to move into my path).

Definitely walk in a path that takes you well away from other people's paths, and subtly change directions if you seem to be "following" anyone unintentionally.
posted by randomnity at 7:38 AM on December 20, 2018


I'm a very small person who is not a man / is not seen as a man and the only time I get people looking over their shoulders in fear is when I'm wearing moto boots. The heavy clunk sounds menacing in a way a softer tread does not.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:50 AM on December 20, 2018 [3 favorites]


Seconding people who suggested walking with a purpose. In my experience, it’s never a good sign when I see someone walking slowly or aimlessly or inconsistently. I’d steer waaay clear of that person. So yeah, walk with a purpose, give a wide berth, and announce your presence with a shoe scuff or cough.
posted by sucre at 9:48 AM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


A silly hat would kind of alarm me in this context, for what it’s worth.
posted by delight at 10:41 AM on December 20, 2018 [8 favorites]


I tend to startle people (I'm a very fast walker), and so I try to be noisy as I approach people from behind and to give them as much room as reasonably can, starting some distance back. I also wear blinky lights. I have them hanging on my coat and my bag, so I always have them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:43 AM on December 20, 2018


If you are walking in the dark, it is safer for you to be wearing either something reflective or an LED armband or something anyway. Not something silly that might make it look like you're not a person in control of your own actions, but something that makes you look like a responsible normal adult because you're doing the responsible normal adult thing. I agree that crossing the street is best if you can do it, but in general, you know, you might as well kill two birds and reduce your chance of getting hit by a car while you're at it, especially if you're looking at your phone a lot.
posted by Sequence at 10:49 AM on December 20, 2018 [2 favorites]


As a woman playing Ingress I walk around alone a lot at night. If there was someone walking behind me that I couldn't identify I'd stop and lean against a wall and focus on my phone - maybe there are nearby portals, or I should charge some keys - while furtively watching the person. When they passed by I'd resume my journey.

You could do this too - if I'm concerned by you I'll turn a corner as soon as I can and then turn another one. Just give me enough time to walk farther away.

I also make an effort to be kind to the homeless people in my neighborhood - some of them know me by name. I like to think they'd be there if something happened.
posted by bendy at 10:39 PM on December 20, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'd like to strongly nth reflective jacket/reflector

1. I do not expect a mugger, rapist, or murderer to wear one.
2. It's totally socially normal, unlike some of the suggestions here. (full pokemon cosplay would work to reassure me, but as mentioned, others would find it creepy)
3. It's not a lie/fake.
4. And, as a final bonus, it's considerate to drivers! When I'm driving I always wish I could give an appreciative high-five to the people I see wearing reflectors because it's just so considerate and nice and prosocial
posted by Cozybee at 7:54 AM on December 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


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