When Strangers Behave Offensively

This blog is written by Lee Gale Gruen to help Baby Boomers, seniors, and those soon to retire find joy, excitement, and satisfaction in life after retirement. Her public lectures on this subject are titled, “Reinventing Yourself in Your Retirement.” Her memoir, available at Amazon.com, is: Adventures with Dad: A Father and Daughter’s Journey Through a Senior Acting Class. Click here for her website: http://AdventuresWithDadTheBook.com

Now, on to my blog:

Offensive StrangerWhat happens when a stranger you encounter in public says something or behaves in a certain way toward you that you find uncomfortable or disagreeable? The stranger’s behavior may be so sudden and unexpected that it catches you off guard. That, along with knowing that your reaction will be on display for everyone nearby to observe, can be disconcerting and cause you to fumble and stumble in your response. The whole matter becomes embarrassing with the stranger seeming to win the day.

I’ve had that type of scenario happen to me many times, and it always upsets me since I didn’t invite or desire to be placed in that position. Recently, I found myself in yet another such situation and was proud of myself for handling it on the spot rather than mulling over it and coming up with a good response several hours laterway too late, beating myself up with “I-should-have-said” thoughts.

I was in a restaurant with a group of people I didn’t know after we had all attended the same lecture. I sat down in a seat with no one on either side of me. Suddenly, a swaggering, blustery type of man entered, looked around the room, and announced in a loud voice for everyone to hear, “I think I’ll sit right here next to this nice young lady” as he plunked himself in the empty chair directly to my right. His line was condescending and sexist, especially considering that he had no idea whether I am nice, and I am certainly not a young lady. Yes, given his age, he was probably old school. You know the type: women are just objects to be available for the enhancement of men. To be clear, men can be the victims of offensive behavior from strangers, too.

These situations are frequently foisted upon us without warning and with no time to prepare. I managed to blurt out, “Oh, I probably will be moving my seat soon as I want to sit near the speaker when she arrives.” It was both the truth and a good, take-charge response.

Mr. Swagger, still playing to his audience, continued in his booming baritone, “Oh no, you sit right here next to me.” Having a history of feeling intimidated when confronted by strong personality types, my normal reaction would have been to just laugh politely, try not to attract any more attention, and follow his orders to stay where I was not knowing what else to do.

Instead, picturing the entire meal with this controlling bore sitting next to me, I said, “I came to this lunch for one reason and that is to be able to converse with the speaker. I will sit where I choose when the speaker arrives.” Mr. S. never said another word to me as I guess I made him look foolish after his great pronouncements.

I was proud of taking care of myself and my needs and not letting someone else dictate how the occasion was going to progress for me. If a stranger, or anyone else for that matter, chooses to behave in a manner that sets up how things are going to go for you, you have a right to be just as obtuse and set them straight. This is difficult for more reserved types, especially if public display or rocking the boat are not your thing. However, you must take care of yourself folks. No one else will.


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3 responses to “When Strangers Behave Offensively

  1. Roger Trammell

    Sometimes, you need to fight fire with fire.

  2. That was wonderful! I try to remember times when I’ve put my foot in my mouth, give others the benefit of ignorance. You were great to give him a chance, and then not put up with more of his backwardness.

  3. Alan Levine

    A wonderful example of diffusing what could have become a dangerous situation with Mr. Blowhard .

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