How to deal with strangers who crowd you?
November 22, 2019 12:14 PM   Subscribe

I seem to attract people who deliberately crowd me, seemingly to control where I go and when. They also like to stand in doorways that I am about to walk through. It does not seem to be cultural. It happens in situations that are not otherwise crowded. It is irritating. If this were happening frequently to you, how would you handle it in a mature, responsible way?

Substantive answers showing emotional maturity will be most appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A step backwards away from the crowding person, along with the words "excuse me" to indicate I'm doing it on purpose. I'd speak quietly if it's the first time, but if they crowd closer again, I'd say it louder with eye contact--not aggressively loud, but just specifically acknowledging that I'm making space.

For someone standing in a door I want to go through, I would stop, make eye contact, and say excuse me--again, without belligerence; with the same tone of voices as if they were facing the other way and had no way of knowing they were in my way. Then I wouldn't go past until they let me.

That's if I wanted it to stop. I'm pretty okay with being in close quarters to people, so I'll squeeze past someone in the doorway if they seem to not care; possibly I wouldn't even notice.
posted by gideonfrog at 12:20 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Do you feel like this is something they're doing deliberately, or just them being oblivious?
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:21 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

This is me in public sometimes. I think it's a combination of being somewhere where the customs are different (people with backpacks or rolly bags at airports don't really know how much space they are taking up) and sometimes an anxiety thing (I really like having a small bubble of don't touch me around me). For me the solution is to mostly act like I am not being crowded as an active thing and that people are just being clueless and I move into the space I want to be in, if it's a doorway or whatever, and just say "Excuse me please" and move through. If this is a person I KNOW personally I would just take them aside and say "Hey, you seem to stand closer to me than is really comfortable, would you mind giving me some more room?"

It's possible, though pretty unlikely, that there is something about you personally that seems to make this more likely. Are you super small in some way? (I am short,and female, this is the reason it seems to happen to me). You could also try expanding the space you take up by having a puffy coat or a backpack and then you'll keep people further from your actual body if that's a concern.
posted by jessamyn at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

My guess would be that this is not deliberate and that it may be more common than you think. I've noticed that it often seems to happen just by complete chance- at a moment when there aren't many people around, someone seems to come through the door at the exact moment that I need to, and may or may not let me pass. My suggestion with urban annoyances in general is to assume that people may be dealing with something you can't imagine (maybe their cat just died, maybe they're going through a divorce, etc) and they most likely aren't trying to get in your way, they're just preoccupied. If you don't presume rudeness, it may bother you less. If you do say "excuse me," definitely don't say it in an annoyed tone, because that's likely to annoy the other person and cause a cycle of more annoyance on your end as well.
posted by pinochiette at 12:35 PM on November 22, 2019 [9 favorites]

If you're not white and the people who are crowding you are white, point out to them that they're in your way. Subconsciously expecting people of color to get out of the way is a thing white people do -- I say this as a white person -- and we need to be called out on it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:57 PM on November 22, 2019 [11 favorites]

Particularly if you are female and the crowder is male, this can be a way of subtly sexually harassing you. They want you to bump into them or slide past them in such a way that your bodies touch. I agree with the 'step back and say "excuse me" approach' above.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2019 [17 favorites]

This happens to me a lot. I think it's because when I am at rest/sitting on public transport etc I naturally tend to have a relatively timid/not taking up too much space/inwardly-drawn kind of stance, and people who are more inclined to be big space-taker-uppers see the area around me as a spot they can expand into without push-back. One of the things I have had to consciously work on throughout the years is to develop this default pose of mine into a slightly more forceful and space-holding shape. For example, instead of crossing my arms to tuck my shoulders in, I deliberately rest my hands on my thighs in order to square myself off a little.

When I'm on the move and people are walking/standing in a way that seems like an attempt to herd me or block me, I will make deliberate eye contact and say "Heads up!" or even "Beep beep!" with a little smile, and then I will not slow down even a little bit as I approach. 95% of the time this will result in people moving aside. The other 5% does usually result in minor physical contact as I squeeze by, unfortunately, which I don't love, but I feel I have given fair and friendly warning that I'm moving that direction. This has never resulted in an altercation (so far), I think because I'm a really fast walker and I just zoom on out of the whole thing before people have a chance to get mad about it.

That's the other trick I have, when I feel like someone is trying to "herd" me - I just pick up the pace and get the eff out of there. If someone is just casually harassing anyone they randomly pick, it makes me too much trouble to bother with. This trick will work less well if you have mobility issues, unfortunately.
posted by DSime at 1:18 PM on November 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

I am very confused about why this is anonymous. But the reason behind making it anonymous may actually be relevant to the situation.

Sometimes my energy transmits submissiveness and/or meekness. Sometimes I transmit assertive or even aggressive body language. When I am unafraid of taking up my own space, I am less inclined to have this crowding happen. It is when I am turned in to myself, moving with insecurity or hesitation that it tends to happen more. That might be something you want to look at.

So OP, I would suggest working on commanding your space, modifying your posture and how you carry yourself so you can dial up your sense of bold presence when you want to reduce the chance of this happening. Moving with a sense of purpose and like you have a right to be wherever you are is a general place to start.
posted by crunchy potato at 1:23 PM on November 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

I know that there are some days when this seems to happen to me, everywhere I go. Such as, at the grocery store, there will be A Person who is literally every single place I am, in my way, reaching for the same items, etc., in a freakishly consistent manner.

Or I go to get coffee at work, and every time I go to the coffee area, someone is already there, taking up all the space. Or random techbros are having A Major Bigtime Convo right there, and acting miffed that people want to be there too, doing coffee-related things.

So- I guess what I am saying is, the sense of what you are describing, I feel does also happen to me- but it's kind of arbitrary, and not every day. But some days- yes, I feel this vibe pretty strongly. Not sure why, though.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2019

They also like to stand in doorways that I am about to walk through.

not to discount the possibility that there is indeed something about you that makes you a particular target for this, but let me assure you there are tons and tons and tons of people out there who just pause in the @$!@#$ doorway because nobody ever taught them not to. They're oblivious. I do a curt "excuse me" and if they don't move I just shove through. Sorry not sorry, it is really not my job to teach them not to stop in the doorway (or in the middle of the airport concourse; at the top of the escalator; etc.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2019 [14 favorites]

I am a tallish woman and I 100% get this often on public transit. When I do its from short women. No judgement or ideas to offer, but throwing it out there.
posted by travertina at 2:22 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also came here to say that white people subcosciously expect people of color to just automatically make way for them, and so do men for women.
When men do it, it can be a subconscious power thing, OR it can be a deliberate and sexually-charged act. Growing up i thought I was self-absorbed and slightly crazy because I never had proof that older men were doing this with intention, until other women started telling their stories about it.

The fact that you're asking for mature and responsible way makes me believe you need a routine to deal with people at work? Or maybe in a religious space? Unfortunately this is one of those situations the occur because of unspoken social contracts, and stopping it - i.e. breaking the social contract, will inherently be seen as unnecessary, rude, or even hostile. When people are trying to herd you (waking close to you to direct your course in a specific way), I tend to stop suddenly so that puts the person a step or two in front of me, and then go behind them while apologizing "Sorry, I'm going in this direction", and then continue to walk away from them.

When people are standing in the doorway, be specific. "I'm sorry, do you mind stepping to the side? I just need to get in here". Blatantly ask them to move out of your way, just do it politely.
posted by FirstMateKate at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Women experience this phenomenon at the hands of men and POC experience this phenomenon at the hands of whites. There are any number of first-person accounts of not moving to accommodate this phenomenon and having space hogs literally bump/crash into the person who is expected to move. A glare and excuse me is usually what gets it done for me if I want to address it, though sometimes I'll just keep my course and bump into someone in hopes that they realize that the whole world shouldn't be expected to divert our course in order to accommodate someone with more cultural/social privilege. Having confident body language and a resting bitch face also tends to help.

I live in a place where lots of tourists visit and the phenomenon of a group of tourists walking side-by-side on a sidewalk is not uncommon. If they're facing me, I keep walking at the same speed and don't divert my course so that they have to split up. Again, I hope that they register that a public sidewalk is for all and that creating a complete block isn't in-line with common urban courtesy. Same with people who clump up to chat in the middle of a sidewalk or who stop abruptly to look at their phone or whatever. If they're not facing me, a loud "excuse me" or "behind you" works.

That's not even mentioning people who attempt to plow into a train or bus or elevator before giving right of way to those who are getting out. I hold my space and don't yield to people like that.
posted by quince at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Related, but different, are the people who are moving in the same direction (thus not deliberate, just oblivious) on a sidewalk, or at an airport, and who suddenly stop for any of a number of reasons. The above-mentioned loud "excuse me" or even "excuse us, please" is helpful to point out that it's not just one person being blocked. Another, but seldom used: "Can't just stop here. People coming through."
posted by megatherium at 2:39 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

For doorways, 5 feet before I get there, I clear my throat, or cough, or say "coming thru", so that they have time to move before they can make me stop.

For general closeness, if I think it's really egregious, I sometimes turn into an ogre and breathe on people, cough on them, sneeze on them, etc. Usually, though, a cheerful but loud, "hi", "what's up?", or "'scuse me" gets it done.
posted by at at 2:42 PM on November 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

anecdotally, i've heard multiple people say they noticed a real change when they started walking with purpose, looking confidently where they're headed versus at the ground, upright posture, etc., when before they would always have to be the one to change course to avoid collisions on sidewalks with oblivious people, and now people move out of their way automatically. it's a weird, kind of sucky thing.
posted by gaybobbie at 3:03 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

As a public transport veteran, let me say something about voice.
If you want people to fucking move out of the way, use a forceful, deep voice. Especially if you're a woman. Aim for baritone. Don't yell, but let your voice carry like a stage actor. No squeaky "excuse me!"
I'm a petite woman. I lower my voice, look grave, and say "PARDON ME." I've seen people jump and get out of my way. It kind of freaks people a bit when you're not afraid of being loud and you don't smile. It's part of looking like you mean business.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:27 PM on November 22, 2019 [13 favorites]

If people are not making space for you they are assuming you will make space for them - if they even notice you at all, that is. You may get better results by upping your dominance behaviour. Instead of aiming for the space beside them and hoping they will move aside so there is enough room, you can try aiming directly for them as if you intended to run them down. Some of them will move aside to avoid the incipient collision. Others will stand their ground and force you to choose between bumping into them or stopping. If you do stop, stop a little closer than is polite and give them a tiny incredulous smile. The trick is to make it look and feel like they stepping into your path and need to justify having done so.

If they are looking for a confrontation it will be unpleasant so you want to avoid interacting. Instead of saying excuse me, and trying to nudge them aside verbally, you will have to stare them down or make them uncomfortable by standing too close while you wait for them to move. If they don't back down almost immediately you are the one that will have to back down, and it is usually best to do that without words. The expression to wear is that of amused contempt so faint as to be barely perceptible. You should be looking upward to avoid making eye contact, not down. Done correctly and with sufficient subtlety they may startle, apologize and move aside.

If you do have to get too close to pass them, it's good to have an item to lead with. The part of you that should brush past them is preferably your bag or your elbow, and the touch should be such that you can plausibly deny doing it deliberately. This means that your bag needs to be placed well before you actually impact and the collision done in such a way to make it look like you put the bag on your arm to avoid impact, but the impact occurred because they failed to move.

Wet sounding coughing fits can be effective too if they seem to be oblivious to your presence.

Everything you do has to be completely subtle and confident. If you are dressed wrong so that they type you unconsciously as being weaker, or lower status than them, or if you have become older and look haggard, you probably cannot carry off the dominance behaviour you need to get them to move.
posted by Jane the Brown at 3:52 PM on November 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

oh, you've also reminded me of a weird thing that happened the other day -- I was in line at a store, and the guy behind me kept getting way too close to me. I didn't sense danger from him, just cluelessness. The first time I moved to maintain the distance between us. The second time, as he got closer again, I just looked him in the eye and said politely but assertively "I'm gonna need us to maintain some personal space, ok? Please just stand right there [indicating the spot where he'd moved from.]" He looked startled and kind of horrified but he moved and didn't bother me again.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:35 PM on November 22, 2019 [15 favorites]

Generally I don’t do anything if it’s just overcrowding because most people are clueless, harmless and really don’t mean it. Just let it slide. But. Every now and again you get a really obnoxious person who goes out of their way to be an asshole and I reserve my finest work for them.

Like the lady in the checkout line behind me who insisted on purposefully ramming her trolley into my foot very painfully three times to get me to move even though I was trapped behind someone else and had nowhere to go. I said at the top of my voice “Excuse me, would you like a step ladder so you can climb right on over me?!” Everyone looked. She turned bright red and looked like she wanted the ground to swallow her whole.

Or the couple who stopped at the end of the escalator where you were supposed to walk off, to have a chat.Myself and everyone else behind plowed right into the back of them. There was literally no avoiding it. Natural consequences for stupid people.

Or the men (and it’s always men) who insist on taking up a full footpath m, right down the middle and make it clear they won’t move, with the expectation that I’ll step off the path to make way for them. I look them right in the eye and keep on my side of the path. These people are so accustomed to the world accommodating them that they’re surprised that they have to move slightly for someone else.

You have as much right to occupy space in the world as anyone else, in a non obnoxious way. Don’t let people literally walk all over you because for a few people, given half the chance they will.

And if these are my experiences being an able bodied privilege white woman, I can only imagine the horror stories that minorities or the disabled must have to tell trying to navigate the world.
posted by Jubey at 7:59 PM on November 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

Short woman here living in a small city where (in my anecdotal experience) people are low on situational awareness.

There is one thing I’ve learned from time spent in bigger cities with faster-moving people who actually watch where they’re going and don’t hate women. It only works in moving foot traffic, and only with about 65% confidence.

It is this:

Noses are almost as reliable as blinkers. Point your nose, deliberately and sharply as you can, in the direction you tend to go. Within reason, move as quickly as you can in the direction your nose is pointing, just as you would do if you were signalling your intention to change lanes. And watch for other people’s noses: the ones moving with purpose will also naturally point their noses in the direction they intend to move, and the most self-aware of those will consciously watch your nose as you approach. Even the moderately observant will instinctively counter for it.

Now, for the times when noses are useless:

If you ever find yourself, say, at the Trader Joe’s in downtown Salt Lake City, this strategy will not work. Everyone is rubbernecking and hazy from breathing the thin, bad air. The strategy for these circumstances is to imagine you are a ghost in a cheesy ‘80s movie, and assume you are invisible, and to pilot yourself accordingly.

I really do feel like it’s less an issue in more cosmopolitan, less misogynistic places — there’s less personal space to go around, but people ration their share more carefully. YMMV. Space invaders gonna space invade. Know that you’re not alone.
posted by armeowda at 9:19 PM on November 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Men often expect women to get out of their way, eg to fold themselves in on trains for manspreaders; to move out of the way of men on the footpath.

Also, able bodied people feel entitled to crowd and/or touch anyone who is visibly disabled eg walking stick etc.
posted by Murderbot at 2:47 AM on November 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

If this is happening to you at work, and you are unable to politely say anything, start carrying a clipboard. It is natural to hold it mostly perpendicular to your body and it makes a natural barrier. Very clueless/low-RAM people will run into the clip once and then remember not to crowd you.
posted by blnkfrnk at 7:28 AM on November 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

This admittedly passive-aggressive approach has worked for me, particularly in the grocery line when person behind me stands within an inch while I’m swiping my debit card. Turn your head towards them, look startled and say “Sorry, you are standing so close I thought you might be a friend who was joking and I was the one being rude.”
posted by pipoquinha at 10:25 AM on November 23, 2019

On mass transit or any "standing" situation where someone is crowding me needlessly (it's not a packed car), I put my hands on my hips/in my pockets but with elbows out. If my elbow hits them, that means they're really way too close to me and I say something vaguely apologetic like "Oops!" This has also happened to me in the supermarket line, and creating space by starting to look through my purse/some other way to move my arms or belonging as a buffer works too, again accompanied with an "Excuse me." I don't move out of the way and I don't slouch. Now is a fine time for people to learn that they can't be all up women's space.
posted by zem at 11:49 AM on November 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

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