Some people did a thing, and some folks are not pleased:

The perception of the London commuter as an unfriendly curmudgeon has been bolstered by the mixed reaction to a mystery campaign to encourage tube passengers to chat.

Badges emblazoned with the question “Tube chat?” have been distributed on the London Underground network, to the horror of some regular users.

Transport for London (TfL) said it was not behind the badges, which are identical in font and design to the official “Baby on board” pins given to expectant mothers.

Commuters were quick to express their disdain for the idea, for which no individual or group has claimed responsibility.

I… sort of like the idea? As an introvert, maybe I should hate it. Or maybe I should love it, since I can decline to wear one if I’m tapped out and people will not bother me? It seems to actually cut across the introvert/extrovert divide, with both sides seeing problems. “Why should someone need a button for me to talk to them?” The extrovert asks.

But those who are not especially socially attuned don’t always pick up on the cues that make the distinction between being friendly and being a bother. This comes up in gender discussions a lot because women often both (a) don’t want to be bothered by strangers unless (b) they are the right strangers. And guys have little or no idea whether they are the right stranger or not. When women complain, men often hear that they’re going to get their heads ripped off if they get it wrong. When men complain, women often hear that men just want license to trap women in conversations that it would be rude to escape. It’s not reasonable to expect women to take all comers, nor is it reasonable to expect men to be mindreaders.

As it applies to that, it also applies to just talking to people. Social dolt that I am, I am not good at picking up on the cues. The only real exception are smoking habitats. You can sort of tell if someone on the smoking deck doesn’t want to talk by their body language and location. If they’re off to the side, or tilted slightly away, you need a reason to talk to them (“Do you have a light?”

For the most part, though, smokers tend to be a really social bunch and if you’re in the communal area, the threshold for starting a conversation can be really low. Which was, really, one of the coolest things about smoking for me. It kind of put me into low-pressure socializations. My social skills improved a lot because of smoking. It provided me an environment where I could understand the rules, and where not wanting to talk to people had to be a conscious decision. One that I would sometimes make, and sometimes not make.

So any sort of opt-in or opt-out mechanism for sociability seems to be in the best interest of everybody. It doesn’t solve the gender problem before (because it’s as likely to be person-specific, not situation-specific), but it’s a start.


Category: Elsewhere

About the Author

Will Truman (trumwill) is a southern transplant in the mountain east with an IT background who bides his time taking care of their daughter while his wife brings home the bacon. You will probably be relieved to know that he does not generally refer to himself in the third-person except when he's writing short bios on his web page.

8 Responses to Talk To Me, Don’t Talk To Me

  1. fillyjonk says:

    I’m a serious introvert, and I kind of like the idea. I like the idea of being able to tell the world, “Yes, please talk to me” or, conversely, “no, I’m not up to it.” (I guess there aren’t “Chat? No” buttons but maybe there should be).

    Much of the time I am up for chatting with relative strangers; I describe myself as “an introvert who likes people” or “an introvert who can pretend to be an extrovert.” (I would have more problems if I knew at the end of the trip I couldn’t get away from people – like, if I lived in a barracks)

    That said: yes, I have had what are sometimes referred to as “creepers” try to chat me up in public, and no amount of “I’m really super uncomfortable” body language will shut them up. Usually getting up and moving will do it, and once or twice I’ve had someone come to my rescue (“Is this guy bothering you?”)

    At some of the comic-cons, I understand they have a “stoplight” system, considering that some con-goers are on the Autism/Asperger’s spectrum: a green button means, “Yes, please come and talk to me or even hug me!” Yellow means something like, “I might be okay with talking but don’t be offended if I don’t make eye contact” and red is “No, please don’t talk to me.”

  2. A few random thoughts:

    1. I like the idea because it’s an opt-in.

    2. In Cherryplatte, it’s not uncommon for strangers just to start talking to each other at, say, a bus stop or in line at the grocery store. Here in Big City, though, it’s much less common. Or perhaps I’m so much more comfortable in Cherryplatte and Cibolia that it’s not as hard for me, whereas here it’s much harder.

    3. A work colleague of mine has a problem with people (fellow coworkers) talking to her in the breakroom during her lunch break when all she wants to do is spend the time reading. I solve that problem for myself by taking my lunch very late in the day. (I have the advantage of being able to choose my lunch time, or whether I get one.)

    4. (With no. 3 above) I am very self-conscious when it comes to eating in front of strangers, and especially in front of most of my friends/acquaintances. I’m much better now than when I was younger, but that’s another reason I choose to have late lunch breaks (however, I usually don’t eat lunch anyway, but if I do, I don’t want people to be around).

  3. fillyjonk says:

    I find the longer I live in the South, the more prone I become to talking to people in the grocery line and the like.

    (The last time I was in the Kroger’s, the woman in the next line was kind of half kneeling down and looked slightly pained. I paused for a moment – because you never know if someone could be praying or something – and asked her if she was okay. She was, just having some back pain after toting around a four year old grandchild all day the day before. But I figured it was better to ask and not have her need help than not ask and have her collapse right there on the floor)

    • Cibolia isn’t the south, but it borders on the north of what I imagine your state is, so there may very well be a regional issue going on. (I’ve never lived in the south, so I don’t know what it’s like there, but a friend of mine from North Carolina has said similar things about living there.)

      It’s good you asked that person. I’m usually too shy about asking. I realize this is selfish, but another reason I refrain from asking is that I don’t know if I’d want to do what is asked/required of me.

      A tangent: In Big City, I’ve found that if I initiate conversation (or even a brief “hello”) with a stranger, it’s very likely that I’ll be hit up for money. That depends on social class, of course.

      • fillyjonk says:

        I used to live in Ann Arbor (25 years ago, now: I’m getting old). I perfected the art of the “looking ahead without appearing to be focused on anything and never making eye contact” because I got so tired of the pamphleteers, the “sign my petition for xyz,” and especially the panhandlers.

        My state is one of the ones with a panhandle. I am in the far south-central of it. Our culture here is very southern; many of the early Euro settlers (as opposed to the tribes that got forcibly resettled here) were from Alabama and Mississippi.

        Some things I still haven’t quite got used to; other things I adjusted to right away.

        • From what little I know of your state, it does seem like a mix if West, Midwest/plains, and south/southwest.

          Cibolia is one of the rectangular states. It has the Mountain West thing going on, but also a plains portion. Cherryplatte is probably in some ways more of a plains city although it gets a lot of its cachet as a “mountain city” even though it’s not in the mountains. It’s also the “big city” of the region, even though I understand it’s probably something like the 25th biggest city in the US (by population). People are sometimes surprised at how far the mountains are (not very far, but farther than the reputation makes it seem) and at how much it looks like flatland when arriving at the airport.

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