How to respond to a stranger offering me money?
January 14, 2020 5:32 AM   Subscribe

How to respond to a stranger offering me money? Details inside.

I am a female college student on a tour with a musical group from school. Most tour expenses are funded, but we are expected to pay for some portion of meals, sightseeing, etc. depending on our individual financial situations. We have two bus drivers that travel with us--they happen to speak my native language, and I've talked to them occasionally since the start of the tour.

Today as we were unloading our bags, one of the bus drivers approached me and told me that he'd noticed that I hadn't been eating. He more or less said that he watches over us students during the tour and notices who goes out often and who doesn't, and said that he could give me money for food if I needed it. I was very surprised and basically said no thank you, to which he responded that we could discuss it tomorrow.

This interaction made me uncomfortable for several reasons. I wasn't sure how he came to the conclusion that I'm not eating well, aside from the fact that I didn't eat when we stopped briefly at a rest stop in the afternoon (I knew we would have lunch provided later). I definitely have enough money for the rest of the trip, but I am trying not to spend it carelessly. I was also uncomfortable with the dynamics of the situation, being a young woman being offered money by an older man I don't know.

In addition, I'm much better at talking about sensitive/social situations in English than I am in my native language, but I often feel awkward switching to English with someone when it's already established that I can speak the other language. What would be the best way to respond if he approaches me again about this? I'm worried that if I just refuse politely again he'll think I'm just too shy/embarrassed/whatever to accept. I've told a couple other students about what happened and they offered to make sure I'm not alone with him for the rest of the trip.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are there any members of the group who *could* use a little help? Especially, given the dynamics of the situation, a male student? Maybe you could divert the bus driver's interest by saying "I'm fine, actually, but you know, Mike is really struggling and would really appreciate a few bucks for a meal."

If the driver is really looking out for his riders, then helping him determine who really could use some help is a win-win. On the other hand, if he's just being creepy then you'll hopefully shut him down.
posted by Reverend John at 5:44 AM on January 14 [22 favorites]

No thank you is a complete sentence and conversation. If he opens it up again, I would just stay firm: No thank you, as I said yesterday, I'm just fine.

If he then keeps going, he's trampling your boundaries and there is something weird going on. You do not have to find him any alternative for his charitable impulses; if that's what they are he's more than capable of finding another student who needs help, if there is one.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:09 AM on January 14 [18 favorites]

As a young college woman who struggled with poverty, I had an older male professor once finagle a grant for me after discovering that I was working a graveyard shift at a shitty place to make ends meet. When he asked me why I kept falling asleep in class, I explained and he helped. He was kind. This bus driver may simply have misunderstood your situation and attempted to be kind in response. In your place, I would thank him again and repeat that while I appreciated his offer, I did not need it and did not want to discuss the matter again.

Also, it's totally okay to switch to English for this conversation if it makes it easier for you. Do what works best for you. You feel awkward already thanks to this guy, however well meaning he might be. There's no need to attempt to protect this guy's feelings by trying to stick to your native language. Using English is also potentially a way to introduce some more distance between the two of you to further drive home the thanks-but-no-thanks point. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:26 AM on January 14 [42 favorites]

Don't discount the fact that there are a lot of genuinely nice people out there. Odds are very high that he's legit trying to help. "No, thank you" is the perfect response every time.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 6:30 AM on January 14 [24 favorites]

I frequently try to do things for young gay folks as a way of "helping my people" and I've experienced similar when I was considerably younger in the older Irish community in Chicago. (...shoutout To Sally Finnegan and her brother who were going to make damn sure no Irishman ever went hungry again!)

So he may just care and have a sense of "my people".

That, however, doesn't speak to how you feel about the interaction, so part of that also needs to be taking care of his peeps by leaving them the hell alone if they decline his generosity.

I'd assume generosity and a sense of brotherhood on his part unless he pushes through the boundary you have clearly set by a polite "No, Thanks".

Then it is school administration time, I'd say. People who are actually generous don't force feed you.
posted by Tchad at 6:32 AM on January 14 [13 favorites]

Yeah, this is very ambiguous.

It would be entirely reasonable, if he thought you were poor and embarrassed about it, to approach you while you were alone, to speak in this other language you two shared, and to give you some time alone to think about his offer.

It would also be textbook predation to establish a debt like this. He may even be making this offer blindly in the hope of stumbling across someone who needs the money.

It sounds like he's driven for these tours before. Is there anyone around who would have heard if he has a reputation?

Also, you don't say what shared language you speak, but in some cultures the etiquette is to offer repeatedly (in China, three times) to prove that the offer is genuine, in which case you'll have that to deal with.

I would just keep telling him, no, thank you, that's very kind but I don't need it, etc. You can follow that by asking for some other small favor you wouldn't mind letting him do for you, which may reassure him that you are not categorically unwilling to accept his help, and will at least change the subject.

The question of language is meaningful. If the shared language is part of your connection with him, and part of his motivation for looking out for you, then switching to English would be denying that connection. Which isn't to say do or don't speak English, only know that there would be this implication. If you don't want to push him away like that, you can explain that your English is better.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:50 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]

You say that the three of you - you and the two drivers - speak a language that is not English, and this makes me think that there is a non-English language culture involved, too.

You mention that the language (and possibly associated culture) is 'native' for you, so my advice to you would be to handle this in a way that is appropriate and gets you the desired result in the respective culture.

For example, this is how I would handle the situation in my own native culture:

'Thank you so much, that is incredibly kind of you!' (effusive thanks).

'It is so touching that you noticed that I might have a problem!' (more effusion, plus underscoring that they have acted in a pro-social way by taking note of the well-being of people around them and acting on it).

'Fortunately, I actually am doing OK on the food front - I've just decided to skip some of the meals/ snacks along the route because I want to make sure I can eat at the scheduled times together with everybody else. But don't worry, it is not because of lack of money! I'm just not much of a snacker (or whatever)'. (Kindly deflect their worry, hint at reason why their worry is unfounded in order to reassure them that it's not just you being shy or polite, say something to make sure they don't just move their worry to another issue).

'Thanks so much again for being so kind!' (again, note kindness etc).

Optional: 'I've also noticed that Mark and Sarah seem to be a bit strapped for cash; they might really appreciate your offer' (if there is a positive impulse in the group, no reason to let it go to waste).

I'm somewhat baffled by the responses you got so far; Metafilter is usually the place that makes a big deal about looking out for each other and / or respecting different cultures, but suddenly the knee-jerk response is that this guy is a creep? Of course, it's entirely possible that he ends up being a creep, but I don't see why we should lead with that assumption. Responding as some people advise here would be regarded as entirely antisocial in my culture, while responding with kindness has the advantage of rewarding pro-social behaviour, if that is, in fact, what this guy is doing, and making sure that he keeps looking out for others who might need it more than you do. If he does turn out to be a creep it forces his hand into more obvious behaviour without the cover of plausible deniability, which also allows you to react more strongly, rather than allowing for a trickle of creep that can end up making the rest of this journey very uncomfortable for you.
posted by doggod at 7:03 AM on January 14 [18 favorites]

I've definitely been the person who uses their position to observe and help others. That in and of itself isn't weird or creepy. I did this as a professor. I was acutely aware of each of my student's comings and goings and moods while in my classroom. I was the same way with my last work team as well.

However, if someone said "no thank you" once to an offer of help, I would let them know it stands but wouldn't offer again unless they reached out to me. If he asks again, tell him that you're honestly fine and that his offer makes you uncomfortable. If he presses after you have noted that it makes you uncomfortable, then maybe alert someone who is in leadership, because that then becomes inappropriate.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:08 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Just in case this wasn't obvious from my previous answer: what this guy is doing is utterly normal where I come from, I've had it done to/ for me A LOT by both men and women both as a young woman and now that I am middle aged, and have done it in turn quite a bit as a way of paying it forward.

I simply cannot imagine how you can have a community without this kind of stuff going on; if this guy ends up trying to take advantage of your (perceived) need and vulnerability as well as such necessary pro-social models of interaction, shame on him.
posted by doggod at 7:09 AM on January 14 [9 favorites]

While it reads as normal and thoughtful from the question, you also might be picking up on less than obvious/describable stuff in the interaction that we can’t see—so I say trust your gut and take your friends up on the offer not to leave you alone. I understand the strong dislike of having someone watching you closely when you don’t need the help.

I think it’s worth a little spending to get some food next time there’s an opportunity to show that you don’t need help, and maybe you can avoid the conversation. If he asks point blank again, say “Thank you so much for offering, but I have plenty of money. I just have a small appetite. You don’t need to worry, I’m fine.”
posted by sallybrown at 7:33 AM on January 14 [7 favorites]

I'm somewhat baffled by the responses you got so far; Metafilter is usually the place that makes a big deal about looking out for each other and / or respecting different cultures, but suddenly the knee-jerk response is that this guy is a creep? Of course, it's entirely possible that he ends up being a creep, but I don't see why we should lead with that assumption.

Because many of us have experienced (and discussed on Metafilter over the years) the hard-to-describe uncomfortable vibe of being a young woman and trying to figure out whether an older dude is genuinely trying to be helpful, acting out a rescue fantasy, actually meaning us harm, or some other hard to parse thing. Sometimes the helpful older guy who seems well-meaning is, and sometimes he turns out not to be, and because it’s really really hard to predict, you get your guard up especially in situations like this one where you’re not at home. I know exactly the feeling the Asker here is describing.
posted by sallybrown at 7:42 AM on January 14 [67 favorites]

You get props for being aware and assessing the situation critically. It's okay for a person to offer help, and I would assume good will, yet maintain boundaries. If asked again, No thank you, and I don't wish to discuss it again. Have a great trip.
posted by theora55 at 7:43 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Trust your gut, especially if you're from the same culture, you know what's right and what's "off."

If this seems off, it's off.

That doesn't mean, like, call the cops or punch him in the nose or anything, but don't feel bad about doing what makes you feel comfortable.

I have done things like this too, to help people like me, and I'm sure sometimes it felt weird or creepy. That is totally fine. The goal is to HELP THEM, and if they are not feeling it, then that is totally okay by me because it's not about me. So do not feel guilty or bad about avoiding him or saying no or doing whatever. If he genuinely wants to help he'll be okay with it.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 7:50 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]

Don't discount the fact that there are a lot of genuinely nice people out there. Odds are very high that he's legit trying to help.

Yes -- and these same nice, well-intentioned people might have a habit of trampling boundaries, and being genuinely nice doesn't excuse that.

I would also feel weird about an interaction where someone offered help, I said no thanks, and they said "we'll talk about it again tomorrow." If the driver continues to push I would highly recommend talking with whomever might plausibly be "in charge" -- the group's tour manager, a faculty advisor, etc. It doesn't need to be anything confrontational, just "This thing happened and it made me uncomfortable and I wanted someone to know" can help that person keep an eye on the situation.
posted by zebra at 8:23 AM on January 14 [5 favorites]

[One deleted. Folks please stick to addressing OP directly, not debating other commenters and talking about OP in third person. It's ok if people have a range of different takes on this; just make your points and OP can decide which advice is most applicable to her full situation.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:37 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

We really don't need to guess what's in his mind. At this point, he's Schrodinger's Nice Guy and ideally you don't want to open the box and find out for sure, because opening the box puts you at risk and it doesn't matter what's inside the box.

You don't want this box. You just need to decline the box in the most normal and unambiguous way possible.

Emphasis on normal - I don't understand all these suggestions to just say, "No, thanks." No matter what people who have recently discovered the word BOUNDARIES would have you believe, nobody actually talks like that in real life. When someone is (at least ostensibly) going out of their way to be kind to you, "No, thanks," is brusque and rude as a response. It's needlessly inflammatory. "No" is a complete sentence only according to grammar Nazis, and there was never any type of Nazi who set a good social example for anyone to follow. Your boundaries aren't going to be compromised in the least by saying something like, "Oh, you are so thoughtful! I'm totally fine, though, I just don't have a huge appetite for snacks," and smiling. Be normal in your response, not rude.

Of course, if he doesn't go away, if he argues with you or insists on buying you things or corners you again, then you have a different problem altogether: the box is open, the worst possibility turned out to be true, and you will likely need to report him ASAP. But that hasn't happened yet. This is still Schrodinger's box. You can be polite and normal when you decline to accept delivery of this box.
posted by MiraK at 10:13 AM on January 14 [14 favorites]

Personally, I would just get food next time you're at a rest stop and then let him see you cheerfully eating it.
posted by rue72 at 11:22 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I also want to point out that even if he's not "traditionally creepy", it's perfectly okay for you to not want to expect or cultivate some kindly-uncle type role for him. In fact, many young women prefer to err on the side of being treated as young professionals, not kids who need pocket money.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:36 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I'm worried that if I just refuse politely again he'll think I'm just too shy/embarrassed/whatever to accept.

Don't worry about what he thinks. I know, this is easier said than done, because we all want to be understood and believed.

But don't let his assumption and his paternalism make you feel embarrassed or shy about just matter-of-factly repeating "no thank you." It's not your responsibility to assuage his intentions or manage his offer for him. If this was a respectful well-intentioned kindness to you, he should drop it. By expecting you to discuss it further, he's making this about himself.
posted by desuetude at 2:03 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

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