Sunday, April 30, 2017

What would you have done?--UPDATED

(update at end of post)
I chugged out of NYC on Friday to attend Malice Domestic, a lovely reader convention that is now the place I catch up with old friends, make new ones, and generally am reminded of why I love this crazy industry.

For example, I attended a panel on sleuthing duos where one panel member mentioned the Hardy Boys as his favorite duo. He stumbled on the name of the first Hardy Boys mystery, offering up The Secret of the Old Clock. A dozen or more members of the audience shouted out "no, that's Nancy Drew!"

You've just gotta love a group of readers at 10am who have read all the books you too loved as a kid.

But something interesting happened later in the day that I'm interested to see how you would have handled.

I was in the lobby (sadly, bar and liquor free) enjoying a sprightly conversation with two writers whose work I've loved for years. We didn't have our heads bent over the table in a clearly intimate conversation, but we were facing each other, and clearly talking to each other.

A man who was probably in his late 70's walked up and said very cheerfully "Ladies, tell me about this mystery thing you're doing."

There was a moment of dead silence.

I said "are you a mystery reader?" and he stumbled over the answer (which meant he wasn't) and then one of the other women in the group (ah, right, I forgot to mention, three WOMEN were talking) gently explained a little about Malice Domestic.  He wandered off a couple minutes later.

I realized I was furious.

And while the other women weren't furious, they were irked indeed.

We all commented on the idea that this man, whom I'm sure is perfectly nice, had not a single clue that he was incredibly rude.  He interrupted a private conversation, to ask about something he wasn't really all that interested in, had no pressing need to know, and the subtext was that we should stop what we were doing to attend to his whim.

The sales person in me says never miss an opportunity for a sale.
The feminist in me says shut this man down in a way that he might actually have a moment of insight.

What I wish I'd said was "You're interrupted a private conversation. If you need more information, google the name of the conference."

What I wanted to say was "get lost buddy."

Given I'm sure I'll run across this situation again, tell me what you'd say. And if you've been in this situation what did you say (and what did you really want to say instead?)

After reading the comments (oh man!) I realize I left out four key pieces of information:
1. None of us were wearing name tags identifying us as Malice Domestic attendees.
2. We were sitting down, not standing up.
3. The man's wife had walked by about two seconds before he interrupted us.
4. The registration desk with mystery books on display was 20 feet away and visible.

This comment thread has been very informative, even those of you who thought my reaction was off target.


Ardenwolfe said...

You did the right thing, Always remember, just because someone else is a douche doesn't mean you have to be too. Besides, life is too short to sweat the bullshit. I mean, after all, chances are you'll never see him again.

So why let some asshole affect you?

mythical one-eyed peace officer said...

Incredibly rude, though not entirely surprising in today's culture. I wonder if your reaction would have been quite the same had the person been a late 70s woman.

AJ Blythe said...

If I'd been in your shoes, the thing that would have irked would have been the lack of niceties at the start of the interruption... "Excuse me, sorry for interrupting, but I'd like to find out more about the mystery thing". I don't think I'd mind the interruption so much then.

The one thing I know would never have crossed my mind was that he interrupted because I (and the others) were female.

I'd answer future rudeness with something like, "Sorry, I can't talk now, but if you google Malice Domestic you'll find out."

And a bunch of readers who've read everything I've read.... that's why one day, I'm going to be at Malice Domestic and/or Bouchercon. Just need to get published first so I can claim it as a tax deduction and therefore justify the expense.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Late 70's, rude, ah the foibles of being old and an asshole.
Young, and an ass, would piss me off.

Old? He's paying the price every day, and that's coming from someone whose age-envelopes-with-windows started to arrive along with my AARP membership.

Be nice, and like Elsa, let it go.

Kitty said...

It sounds like he was looking for a little, y'know, action.

It reminds me of the time my husband and I were sitting at a bar with our daughter. We were in the middle of casual conversation when a guy reached between my daughter and me and, looking directly at me, asked, "Mind if I borrow that ashtray?" (Yeah, that long ago.)

"No, knock yourself out," I said. And then I continued talking with my daughter.

She said, "Mom, he was hitting on you."

"No he wasn't," I said.

"Sure he was. He made eye contact and engaged in conversation. In a bar, that's hitting on someone."

Timothy Lowe said...

Pretend there was a murder in the hotel and the three of you had been called in to solve it.

Well, ok, that might have taken some improv skills and would have given the man more time than he deserved.

Seriously, as a public school teacher, if I allowed myself to get pissed by unintentional rudeness, I'd walk around furious all of the time.

Ardenwolf is right: life's too short. Sweat the important stuff (as your post from yesterday reminds us).

S.E. Dee said...

I can't say I would have been that offended at all. Not sure my gender would have even come into it either. I definitely wouldn't have been rude and I would have probably gone out of my way to buffer any rude responses my mates would have given. Sounds like he just wanted to join the conversation, realised he was out of his depth (as he probably always is for all we know!) and wandered off. Not a big deal.

I also second 'mythical one-eyed peace officer' - would you have been as offended if it were a woman?

S.D.King said...

Yes, it was an annoyance, but that is all. With free flowing drinks and lots of chatty people in a lobby, he may have thought that it was a free-for-all. If he was hitting on woman - well, more to be pitied. If he was just a lonely awkward guy - still pitied.

I am with "Mythical" that if it had been a woman it may have seemed different. My husband chimed it that "A lot of men are clumsy about those things - it's just the way they are."

Life is too short to hold on to little things like that, let alone spending effort to plan for the possible next time. I'm all about letting go.

Ashes said...

I think the setting is relevant here. At a reader convention, I would expect readers to approach industry people, I would expect that to be a big part of the draw of going.

That makes the etiquette, in my mind, a little fuzzier. It would certainly have been easier to swallow by leading in with "Excuse me,". I wonder if he thought he was doing that, or at least leading into his question, with the greeting of "Ladies,", I also wonder if that's what bothered you.

A group of professional women being addressed as "Ladies" could be perceived as disrespectful. It's singling them out with a trait that most professionals consider having nothing to do with their success (in fact, they might consider themselves successful despite it).
It might feel comparable to being addressed as "Dears" or "Honeys", which suggests an intimacy that isn't there. These terms would bristle any feminist, besides being belittling, they imply intimacy without consent and contribute to a culture where men own women.

"Ladies", to me however, is a grayer area. Perhaps the equivalent of "guys" or "buddies" when addressing a group of men. I wouldn't be offended by it. I'd go ahead and take ownership of it. Hell yes, you are you are badass professional ladies.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I would be wondering how the old fellow found a bar when I didn't. Obviously, no sober person would do such a thing.

Then I would be irritable and tear off my face (I do that sometimes) and scream like a sober banshee (the most horrific sound in the universe), I would pause 3 seconds, call the ambulence (for the inevitable heart attack the poor old gentleman would have), and return to what I was doing, erasing the rude interruption from my memory.

Of course, in full disclosure, if I encountered our queen in deep conversation minus the interrupter, I would be building a bar right where she stood so she could sip on her favorite beverage and continue her conversation. I would, naturally, do the tear my face off thing when the hotel personnel tried to stop me. I wonder if Janet would notice the paranormal investigators and the team of exorcists that would show up with the newly constructed bar?

Claire Bobrow said...

I agree with Ardenwolfe and Timothy: life's too short. Let it go. The man was rude and clueless, but he was also old (and possibly lonely?), and I think you did the right thing. I'm a big believer in "what goes around comes around." You landed on the positive end of that philosophy, so perhaps something kind and generous is headed your way this very moment!

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I don't know if it's because I was raised in a small town and have lived in even smaller towns (real rural America) for the last 30 years, but it wouldn't even dawn on me to think this was rude. Strangers speaking to each other at random times and places, even during what may seem like a private moment, is normal.

I've had some of my best spontaneous fits of laughter with strangers who poked their nose into my business in a public place (like grocery shopping or getting my tires rotated).

Maybe it's just who I am... and I've said this before, I sorta folic through life wearing a smile and believing in the benevolence of the universe. I also believe that most people are good and don't intend to be offensive. We all have our individual sensibilities on social etiquette... someone who doesn't mesh with mine isn't going to unbalance me.

Holly Abston said...

It was incredibly rude, in my opinion. When things like this happen, I'm always a little annoyed with myself for not responding "better". What "better" is, is unknown, really. But I usually almost always smile and accommodate the intruder. I've had a man interrupt a conversation I was having with a woman friend to say "Smile, ladies, it can't be that bad!" To which we stupidly smile and chuckle an awkward chuckle, then look at each other wondering what the hell is wrong with the world. In my experience, it is most often older men doing this kind of thing. Though younger men do it also. It is incredibly narcissistic to interrupt a conversation of strangers because a person feels their curiosity ought to be satisfied above your privacy. It is intrusive and rude. We would be fighting micro battles against misogyny and narcissism every day if we took a stand on every one. Sometimes, it seems more of a burden, more exhausting, to try to do so. There have been times I have been quick on my feet and just annoyed enough to tell them off quickly enough that they didn't really know how to react to it. But more often than not, I just play my part in the ridiculous dance. I smile, chuckle awkwardly, accomodate them quickly, then move on, feeling angry and annoyed afterwards. And I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that the old man grew up in a different time. And I tell myself that nothing I say or do will change him. But I hate myself a little for it. Because, certainly, everything is my fault. I will be interested to hear how you handle the next jerk!

Donnaeve said...

I can't stand to be addressed with that whole "Ladies..." thing. It's an old-fashioned word, and much like the word "panties" which I also can't stand, it sort of rubs me wrong for reasons I can't explain, other than, like some have said, it depends on who says it.

I feel my hackles going up when I hear it. A certain unnamed host on TV used to say this all the time. "Thank you, ladies," and I hated when he did that.

It doesn't surprise me in the least this man who is in his 70's would feel like he was well within his rights to do what he did.


What I would have said, "I love mysteries, don't you?"
What I would have WANTED to say, "Excuse me, we're talking here."

I can't help but think back to that situation I had a few months ago in Savannah. It hit me wrong just like this hit QOTKU wrong, but not many out here empathized. This was when I'd had a very nice chat with an older guy at the bar (Kitty - maybe he was hitting on me, who knows). He was joined by his biz partner after a few minutes who turned out to be his sister. Both very nice, and all. The next day when I went by their booth at the tradeshow, the VERY first thing he said to me was "You look different today."

All this time has passed now...and it still seems rude and insulting. BIG Harrumph. And Pfffttt! too. So, reverse it. If a woman said it to me, would it have sounded any better? Not in my opinion. Insulting no matter who's mouth it came out of. What do my looks have to do with a damn thing? Double HARRUMPH.

Now I'm mad again. :) Where's my coffee?

Amy Schaefer said...

Oh, the entitled of this world. They stomp around with their elephant feet and sharp elbows and lack of impulse control. "I want to know what those women are talking about." "I have an opinion I need to share with you, stranger." It all boils down to "if I want something, I get it." I'm not convinced they view the rest of the world as made up of actual human beings. Of course, they would be shocked and hurt if you told them their behaviour was boorish and unwanted.

I tend to deal with this sort of thing politely, if only because politeness tends to shut it down faster than confrontation. Frosty politeness, let's say. But the frosty:politeness ratio increases as the interaction goes on. Nobody, no matter how well-meaning, has the right to your time. That's for you to dole out as you wish.

Donnaeve said...

Ha! I kid you not, I'm editing what I worked on yesterday, and I have this sentence:

Mr. Fowler was putting on a fine display of manners as he made a sweeping gesture with his hand, and said, “Ladies.”

The story is set in 1955. Hello yesteryear.


Boris Ryan said...

Oh no! An elderly person approached four women in a public lobby of a hotel during a convention to ask what the hubbub was about! The sheer horror!
How dare someone be curious and friendly in a public place!

Next time I walk my dog, I will surely afterward take to my blog to lambaste any who dared say "Nice day" to me as I passed by. Didn't they know I was having a private moment with my pooch? Such rudeness can't be borne.

nightsmusic said...

I'm tossing my two cents worth in for what it's worth to say that his actions sound a bit like my father-in-law's although HE turned 91 a couple weeks ago. But the combination of age, the dissolving filter that generally keeps us from being 'rude' and perhaps a touch of the age related dementia that hits a lot of older people might have led him to interrupt. I don't know, I wasn't there. But I wouldn't have looked at it as rude, more because of his age than anything. I would more have treated him with a little patience knowing he'd go away when he had his answer. And I have to agree with Melanie here because while the area I grew up in is no longer a 'small town', it sure was when I was growing up and we had the same interactions that she's had and thought nothing of it.

Given his age, the word ladies doesn't surprise me either. That's a bit of a generational thing which leads me to this question for you, oh QOTKU; forget that it was a man and what would you do had it been a woman, my question is, would you have felt the same way had it been someone from say...25 to forty? Because while I have the patience for the older gentleman, I would have been livid had it been someone younger. They don't have all the age related excuses.

nightsmusic said...

On a side note, I came back to say that my inbox was flooded with old comments this morning, some from as far back as December. Anyone else see this happen this morning?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Man... I must be some kind of weirdo. I simply don't get becoming angry or put off by a stranger reaching out. Or burdened and exhausted because someone worded something wrong.

My husband and I recently went to dinner at a little backwoods restaurant on the Savannah River. There was one other couple sitting on the deck. The woman overheard us talking about the water. She (essentially) interrupted us to ask a question. We ended up chatting across our tables throughout our entire meal, exchanged email addresses, and had a grand time.

I was in a lobby the other day, talking on my phone to one of my nieces. I'm white. A black woman stopped in front of me. I asked my niece to "hold on" and looked up at the woman, who was about 20 years younger than me. She said, "Girl, where'd you get that purse?" Yes, She called me "girl"... and she interrupted my phone call. I told my niece I'd call her back later, and then this woman and I ended up talking for about 20 minutes. She was fascinating, had traveled all over the world. We laughed and chatted like old friends. And ended up hugging 'goodbye'...

From what everyone is saying, I should have been offended, angry, and 'short' in both these situations. I'd rather laugh and make new friends. And accept that not everyone has the same social skills or sensibilities that I do.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

In all seriousness, I think Janet did jthe right thing. I am, myself, an anathema to social norms so I feel a bit of pity on the man who meant no harm or offense. If he meant no harm...

When two or more strangers are gathered near me, I cower in a corner and sometimes build a bar. I would want to join in if I could but so often people call an exorcist when they behold me. That gets tiresome so cower I must.

The Reef is full of finer people than me. Melanie and others have the right of this. You can never go wrong being kind and compassionate. Although, you should be allowed to maintain your personal space so if someone hovers over you and makes you feel uncomfortable and will not take a polite excuse me or kind dismissal, sometimes you have to tear off your face and scream. Not that this was the case with the older gentleman.

And Nightmusic Yes, I got the same bunches of comments from old blog posts this morming. I thought, perhaps, there had been some sagely advice given to groups of writers to peruse this blog? Or somethng like that...

Christine Sarmel said...

What I would have said: nothing. Dealing with interrupters isn't worth the time unless they're younger than 10, super rude, or way drunk.

What I would have wished later I'd said: Hey, maybe you can help us. We're trying to figure out how much acid it takes to dissolve a 195 pound body. What do you think? (bonus point for correctly guesstimating his weight)

Mister Furkles said...

“...he was incredibly rude.“ Well, he was a boor looking for a date. His thinking is, “Lots of women, I’ll get them to listen to me.”

How to handle: Look away, toward one of the other women and talk to her about your own conversation. Nothing compels you to respond to a boor interrupting your group.

Claire Bobrow said...

nightsmusic and EM: I got a bunch of comments from old blog posts this morning, too. It messed with my head for a minute. Off topic, but familiar. Hmmm...

Dena Pawling said...

If I saw three people, ladies or otherwise, having a conversation in a hotel lobby, and I recognized [or even suspected] they might be agents, writers, or others in publishing, or maybe even newbie wanna-be authors like I was, I'd try to work up my courage and say “hi”. Sure, I'd probably pause and wait on the outside of the conversation [being as I'd feel on the outside of anything to do with publishing, not necessarily just this conversation], until someone acknowledged my existence and hopefully looked friendly.

In addition to the learning experience, I thought that's what attending a conference was all about.

Back in the “old days”, which I assume is this gentleman's background, folks used to sit in semi-circles on front porches and talk to passers-by. And a term of respect was to call women “ladies”. Rude was to call them “girls”.

Just based on this description, without seeing any body language etc, I see a lonely old man in a hotel lobby, presumably with advertisements for Malice Domestic. He wanted to be sociable [and maybe he's always wanted to write a mystery or meet an author he's always loved] and say “hi” and strike up a conversation with folks he believed he was treating with respect. Per this description he was cheerful and asked an ice-breaker question which was very much akin to “lovely weather we're having, isn't it?” He's met with dead silence. One of the ladies asked him, possibly frosty because she states she was furious, whether he's a mystery reader. A completely innocent question although might have been perceived as “are you one of us, someone we should be interested in?” Another seemed slightly friendly, although if irked may have also been frosty, and answered his question. Gently.

He knew he wasn't welcome, so he made his excuses and left. People in publishing, at least those writing and publishing mysteries, sure aren't that friendly. Must be a closed group. He doesn't belong.

What would I have done? If I wanted a private conversation, I would have taken it to a restaurant, although I love Melanie's story. But in a hotel lobby, I would have welcomed this man with warmth and maybe a little excitement, told him that Malice Domestic was a convention for writers of mystery novels, and asked if he was a reader. He may in fact have backed away because I paid him a little too much attention.

Thanks for this education. I don't see myself attending a conference any time soon. And if/when I do, I'll stay away from groups of people, and seek out those who appear to be outsiders like me.

Claire Bobrow said...

...and Melanie: I often feel like a complete weirdo in the "anger" department, too. I think it's genetic. My Dad was the kindest, gentlest soul on the planet. Nothing could perturb him. Nothing. To see him angry or upset meant only one thing: one of us kids had said something rude or sassy to our Mom! It would have been an agony to him to be angry with, or rude to, another person.

I was actually once yelled at by a college friend who told me I didn't get angry enough. Oh, the irony.

kathy joyce said...

Look at it from a different perspective. The man is Melanie's neighbor. In his world, joining a conversation with people mingling in a public place is as natural as rain. He was not part of the conference, only curious about it, had a question, asked it, walked away. Doesn't mean he wasn't interested in the topic. Just means his question was answered. He walked away to let you finish your conversation.

As for "ladies," it's his polite and learned version of correct terminology. If he wasn't trying, he would have said "honey," "girls," "sweetie," "gals," or a host of similar labels. Does "ladies" fall into the offensive category? If he would have said "women," is that better? Honestly, what is the correct term today for a group of women?

The lack of an "excuse me," or "thank you," is bad manners. Life would be miserable if we itched at every instance of bad manners.

In this situation, I politely answer the question, and let it go. If the person stays to join the conversation, I say something like, "Sir, I'm sorry, but we can't talk right now. We're in the middle of a private discussion." If the person seems like this won't sway him, I replace "discussion" with "negotiation," or "argument." Still doesn't go? He's trying to be rude. You can too.

Adele said...

Well, you were standing in a lobby - usually a place where those who are stationary in little groups are just waiting, and not in high-level conversation. If lobby-standers were doing something important they'd be somewhere else. He probably just wondered what was going on and approached a group of people who probably ought to know, and asked. Glad you didn't let fly with that flame-thrower of yours; it would have made a mess.

Having said that, I am considering giving up a coffee group I belong to. The attendees are 90% women, but membership is open to anybody, and recently a man in his 70s started to come. When he arrives he starts talking about his pet peeve (usually how bad something is) and when we turn the conversation back to what it was before he got there, he throws himself back in his chair and sulks. Honestly! Part of me feels sorry for him, because the world has changed and he didn't get the memo, and part of me is amazed that he thinks this is appropriate behaviour.

Sherry Howard said...

I guess it's my southernish upbringing, but I wouldn't have seen any rudeness in this. Melanie, you have at least one other who generally considers all people as well-intentioned unless their axe is visible. I'd have probably worried that he was lonely and been extra nice to him because of his age, thinking of my dad or husband, who'd totally do what he did. (They're both dead now so I have an even softer spot for elderly gents!)

At a recent conference here in Louisville, KY, this scenario repeated multiple times throughout the day, with men and women approaching our conversational groups, and it felt totally normal.

We all chat in grocery lines, parking lots, doctor's offices, etc. around here. Nobody ever meets a stranger. I think my job (school principal in a huge school) also "schooled" me in being inclusive and thinking about the place people approach FROM: Was he lonely, unguardedly friendly, senile?

With all that said, I suspect you picked up some nuance that didn't come through in your post, and that was why you bristled.

Beth Carpenter said...

I think you did well to be polite. It is annoying to be interrupted, but only in that living-in-a-world-with-other-people kind of way. Most probably he was just curious about this nest of mystery people he’d inadvertently landed in. Possibly, he was trying to be kind, sort of like when you ask your cousins about their recent trip to Australia more because you think they want to talk about it than because you want to hear about it. Addressing you as ladies was old-fashioned but not malicious.

I once wrote a long post about how life is easier if you assume other people have good intentions. I was addressing people who, after rejections or elections, announced their dissatisfaction and were offered encouraging platitudes. They were furious, because their world had exploded and nobody was taking them seriously. Let it go.

I like this quote from Downton Abbey.

Isobel: “You take everything as a compliment.”

Violet: “I advise you to do the same. It saves many an awkward moment!”

Donnaeve said...

Ah well, I am southern too, but I still see it as rude. Public place or not, waltzing freely into a conversation without an "Excuse me," is bad manners, and my mother would have smacked me for it.

This is allowed: "Excuse me, ladies, I'm sorry to intrude, but what is this mystery thing you're doing?"

Now, THAT would have been better.

Bless his heart.

kathy joyce said...

One more thought, about "the feminist in me." Almost all of my same-age women friends can claim being one the first three girls in something, (first girl on cross-country team, first girl student council president, second girl to take drafting class, etc.) Our first jobs involved a lot of pushback from men (and women) who didn't like how the world was changing.

In the spirit of, "those who forget the past are doomed to relive it," I save my "make a feminist point" for young people, especially the young women who call me "honey" at the checkout counter.

KC said...

If it was fiction, and a man of any age interrupted three women to demand, ""Ladies, tell me about this mystery thing you're doing..."" I'd assume the character is an asshat. Not just because of the word, Ladies, but because there was no apology for interrupting, and he dismissed their work as "this mystery thing." Ick. I'm with Christine Sarmel. Bring on the jokes about body disposal.

Kelsey Hutton said...

A little while ago I actually did tell someone who did something similarly sexist that it was inappropriate, and why. He responded in exactly the right way: saying, genuinely, "You're right. I'm sorry." And then we carried on our interaction.

Often 90% of the battle in moments like these is overcoming the overpowering instinct to smooth things over, minimize, don't "make a big deal" about it. But speaking up doesn't have to "be a big deal." It doesn't have to create a scene. Sometimes it can be a simple interaction that leaves everyone a little bit more aware of how their actions affect others, and I say that's a good thing.

Lennon Faris said...

Anyone over 65 I give a senior discount on tolerance. Who knows what their life was like and where it's going (or not). No matter what comes out of their mouth I smile and pretend they are my grandparents.

When I'm that old, I have a niggling feeling that I'll feel like young people have taken over my planet and I'll have no idea what's OK and what's not.

And like Melanie, I grew up in a rural area and talking to strangers as if you know them is totally the norm. My grandfather (whose 90th ice skating birthday party was last weekend!) attends all kinds of conferences for the different things he's involved in. He is incredibly sharp, but he doesn't own a computer. He gets info by talking to people, strangers or no. He puts his hands on them and laughs loudly and calls them terms of endearment. He means no ill will.

No matter what this guy's intentions or knowledge, you did the right thing to help him!

Susan Bonifant said...

I think we already make too many assumptions that can skew a rational response so I'd skip over the male-female thing. A clueless, 70 y/o woman could do the same thing if she was in need of communication and just as socially awkward.

"Excuse me,"I would say to friends. I would then make eye contact with the 70 y/o, offer a brief response (w no dirty look either), and then return to the original conversation.

Cassandra Briggs said...

For me it would have boiled down to his tone. Was his cheerful question genuinely curious? If so, I would be polite and friendly, and chalk up his lack of social grace to age, upbringing, or awkwardness. If his tone felt patronizing, then the memories of every single entitled older man I've ever worked with would boil up within me and I would respond with...politeness, because you can take the girl out of the mid-west, but you can't take the mid-west out of the girl. But it would be _frosty_ politeness.

nightsmusic said...

At the risk of getting myself in trouble here, I don't get all the feminist comments and frankly, they're maddening. The man is in what is described as his late 70's. If you insist on pushing your feminist agenda, do it toward your own generation. This is a man who will probably never change as we tend to regress into that with which we were raised as we age. Since you're not going to change him, it's useless to shout about feminism at this point. Pushing it on your own generation may insure a better attitude for those coming after you but certainly not those who are already in their golden years. A little patience goes a long way.

kathy joyce said...

We all use language that can offend others, often everyday words that have no offensive intent. For example, we older folks like it better when younger folks say, "When I'm that age," not "that old."

BJ Muntain said...

Well, I do tend to give senior citizens a bit of leeway. I have a soft spot for the elderly. Always have. He probably thought he was being charming by pretending an interest in something you were all interested in. He may have been trying to chat you up.

Or maybe he was just damn lonely. Old people can get that way, I understand. Or senile. Which is why I usually let elderly people get away with things I'd punch a younger person for. (If I could punch.) I'd be thinking, I wonder if his wife just died. Maybe one of us reminds us of her. Because, you know, I have a writer's mind that wants to build stories around everything and everyone.

I would have done as your writer friend did - talk a bit about Malice Domestic.

I would have *wished* I'd say something like, "We're looking for someone to murder." Because, knowing the conversations I have with writers - especially those writing a mystery - this could very well be the truth.

I think there's a different attitude in big cities vs smaller areas. When there are a lot of people in an area, privacy becomes more valuable. You have to stake out your area and put up 'walls' to keep it your private conversation. And anyone who breaches those 'walls' is an attacker. In less populated areas, that's not as difficult. You're rarely shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers unless you're at a huge event, like a concert. People from those areas tend to be more open to interruptions, because they're rare. And I'm speaking from a city the size of Manhattan but with maybe 1/6 the population.

I want to spend time with Melanie. I tend to be of the 'sometimes people make wrong choices and I'll allow them that once in awhile' mind. I often say wrong things. I tend to become friends with people who let the wrong things slide.

RosannaM said...

I find myself landing firmly in the Melanie and nightsmusic camp. I do think the man was oblivious in that way we can all get at times. He had probably seen signage and had been wondering...and wondering...and the curiosity finally got the better of him, and he just had to ask. And I do think his age played into his actions. Unless there was some weird, hinky vibe coming from him, I wouldn't have assumed he was hitting on any of you women.

I do hope he also said, excuse me, or pardon me, that would have been good manners.

And I also don't find being called ladies offensive. The high school girl's soccer coach (a young woman) addresses her team by calling them ladies. Of course, I call everyone 'you guys'. Everyone. Family reunion-men, women, children, old and young. "Hey where do you guys want to have lunch?" If there is more than one person, I call them 'you guys.' Regional, maybe? I grew up mostly in Southern California.

And where you're from might play into this situation, Janet? New Yorkers have to protect their personal space more fiercely than those of us in more wide-open places?

Jenny C said...

Ack! Blogger ate my comment! I will try to reconstruct. :(

My fist thought was to say "I would've fed him to the sharks and been done with it."

But then I read the other comments.This made me think that as writers, it's our job to look at the world through different perspectives. I'm including Janet as a writer because of her wonderful Duchess of Yowl pieces that I still think would make a terrific picture book. Maybe this guy was an awkward conversationalist (Like me!) Maybe he was lonely and wanted to make a connection. Maybe has recently retired and has a mystery novel under his bed in a shoebox and is thinking of giving writing another shot. Maybe he was a serial killer and the idea of so many mystery writers and fans in the lobby made him rethink his plans for the day.

Maybe he was just rude.

Even when it is hard to be kind, be kind anyway because you never know another person's backstory. Janet, it sounds like you and your friends handled the situation well by giving him just enough information that he could move on and you could resume your conversation.

Jenny C said...

* FIRST thought.

The Sleepy One said...

I meet up weekly with a group of writers (all female). At our old coffee shop, there were a group of seemingly retired men who meet at the same time. They had no compunction interrupting us and asking if we'd ever considered talking to each other instead of focusing on our screens and trying to lecture us. One of my fellow writers very diplomatically (and kindly) told him that we are writers and purposefully got together to work. Then looked back at her screen. I thought she handled the matter perfectly. Polite, but didn't position herself as being willing to engage in further conversation.

Kitty said...

Jenny C OMG, sometimes typos are hilarious, like yours. I picture an angry FIST waving at that man! :~)

Mark Ellis said...

Yeah, my dad speaks to strangers in an overly familiar manner sometimes, he's 89, and from Wyoming, where everybody talks in freindly asides, unless your sheep are straying onto their land. Some of Dad's overtures are a bit cringeworthy.

Putting myself in this position, three guys are at a heavy metal music convention drinking in the hotel lobby, and a guy whose obviously not a headbanger sticks his head in and says, "So, dudes, what's this heavy metal thing all about?"

I shake my head and say, "Look, pal, we haven't got time to educate you on the history of metal. Google Black Sabbath's "Childen of the Grave" on'll know right away if it's for you."

Timothy Lowe said...

Relooking at the post one more time, perhaps it was the imperative.

"Ladies, tell me about the mystery thing..."


"Would you..." or "Could I inquire..." or even "I'm wondering about the..."

Nobody likes being told what to do.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

See, here in Canada, that would be an ordinary occurrence as people here generally strike up conversations wherever and whenever and it would be no biggie.

I remember a news article a few years ago when a guy from the US was in Calgary for a visit and one morning when he was walking, a Canadian dude greeted him good morning and asked if he was he attending the Stampede festival. The American said he felt threatened and he wished he had his gun with him at that time. A city-wide chucklefest ensued when it made the news.

I wish Melanie would, one day, build Proud Spirit Sanctuary for writers because I would enlist so she can be my mama for a spell.

Claire AB. said...

I would agree that this man was rude. No matter your age or gender, you should know better than to interrupt people in the middle of a conversation. I certainly teach my kids not to do this. I also think it would have gone a long way had he said "Excuse me for interrupting, but would you satisfy my curiosity and fill me in on what's happening here?"

That said, it was just a momentary thing. My bet is that he was a lonely guy who was curious and unfiltered. Some chauvinism there? Probably, but he's also in his late 70s, so with the generational difference, I wouldn't have felt the need to correct him. For me, it wasn't egregious enough to warrant any reaction. And besides, it would have been an even bigger interruption -- and more unpleasant -- had it become confrontational. Bottom line: I would have politely answered and moved back to my conversation.

Lennon Faris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lennon Faris said...

Kathy - "When I'm that age," not "that old." Ooh, now that I hear someone else saying it, I can hear how that can sound offensive. I am sorry that it was. I don't consider age (or weight, or anything physical) a bad thing at all and sometimes I get in trouble for saying stuff bluntly that may not carry the connotations I mean.

BUT this also confirms my fear. Believe it or not it took me a while to craft that post and it still came out 'off.' I almost never get things 'right' in a real-time, social situation. So I truly feel for this advanced-in-age gentleman of the discussion.

If I'm lucky enough to make it to my seventies, that will probably be me.

Barbara Etlin said...

I think the worst part of what he said was what is missing: "Excuse me. Could I interrupt you for a moment to ask..."

He sounds a bit abrupt, maybe a little rude, probably clueless. Many people who aren't attendees (and a few who are) don't know the etiquette of publishing conferences. Rule #1 is: Never talk to an agent or editor unless it's at an appointment, after a talk that they have given, or in a suitable place where they are alone.

"Ladies" is old-fashioned but not something to get upset about. It's a lot better than singling one of you out and calling you "Ma'am."

But most people would know that interrupting an ongoing conversation among strangers is a no-no without an "Excuse me." He may have been lonely, or he may have slight dementia.

I wouldn't be angry at him.

And the salesperson in you could use the opportunity to say, "We were discussing that fabulous new mystery writer, Colin Smith, and his new novel, 'How Sharper Than A Shark's Tooth.'

Steve Stubbs said...

What this fellow was doing was trying to find a group to join and petitioning for admission by expressing interest in the members. Had he kept up with contemporary politics, he would have noted that there were no men present and that men were not welcome. That is Psychology 101. Men are not welcome in all-female groups. He obviously lacked social skills, but it does not appear he had any hostile intentions.

He obviously also was a low status person or he would not have been so reserved. I am a people watcher. I have seen with my own eyes that a high status person (or someone who suffers from the delusion that he is high status) would have pulled up a chair and barged right in. The irony is that low status people are much more pleasant and much less welcome at the same time.

This is not about googling the group. It is about not understanding human nature. If he was born lower class, his parents did not teach him anything. People cannot teach what they do not know, and lower class parents are like upper class parents inasmuch as they are not into child rearing. The difference is that upper class parents pay to have someone else do it while they party. Lower class parents just kick the kids out of the house and tell them not to come back until supper time.

Had he known what to do he would have stood nearby for a few minutes to see if anyone noticed. If they did and they did not tell him to bust off before they called in a S.W.A.T. team, he would have asked if he could join them. If three of the members responded by pulling their personal mace canisters out of their purses and spraying in the direction of his face, he would have learned something about what feminism is all about.

The best thing to do would probably have been to say, "This is a private conversation."

Megan V said...

I find it interesting that many of the female readers (and it seems like it's only the female readers) have stated that all would have been well (or at least better) if the man had started with excuse me or I'm sorry to interrupt.

Apologizing for speaking is something women are taught, but many men are not and while it's considered proper etiquette it's an etiquette that's reserved for women (and it's one I've tried to check myself on). I don't think anyone should preface their speech with an apology. If necessary, they can always apologize afterwards for being a dunderhead.

In this situation, I would have been annoyed at the interruption (most people hate being interrupted) but not furious. This type of interruption is a common occurrence in small-town Midwest. You were in the lobby rather than sat down to a private meal, and lobbies are generally considered the public areas of a hotel. Older or not, he was likely just trying to be friendly or a bit curious. His interruption while annoying doesn't seem outrageously rude. He didn't cuss at you. He didn't demand you tell him all about the conference or make you listen to him talk. And when he realized he wasn't wanted, he hastily made his excuses and left.

Now, when I had a random gentleman(not an attorney) walk up to counsel table to interrupt me in the middle of my examination of a witness because he thought I wasn't asking the right questions...that I was a bit more frustrated with. But I've always been taught to be kind. Small town mid-west in me always takes over. My response in that situation was a this is not the time or place sort of answer.

Similarly, my response in your situation would have been to simply to inform him of the inappropriateness of his interruption. You could even do it following your perfectly polite sales question.

Oh are you a mystery reader?
"Well, we're in the middle of a business conversation at the moment, but if you'd like to learn more about malice domestic, you should xyz.

Most likely he would have thanked you, made his excuses, and left. And then if he doesn't, that's when things get a bit more frosty.

Colin Smith said...

I'll not touch the "feminism" thing for obvious reasons (i.e., I'm not female), and I'll duck Mr. Stubbs's sweeping generalizations (I've known plenty of very polite, well-bred, people that would be considered "lower class" by those that like to judge people in terms of socio-economic advantage).

As Janet has said more than once when talking about writer interactions with agents, it never hurts to be polite and courteous. And I say that extends even when you are dealing with someone who is not showing you either politeness or courtesy. Just because someone's rude to you, that doesn't mean you have to respond in kind.

That's my take, anyway. :)

Colin Smith said...

... and I've found the indirect object lesson is often a much more effective teaching tool than a shouting match between the offended.

John Davis Frain said...

What an amazing conversation this is becoming.

I'm all behind the thought that "no one is a stranger," so feel free to engage anyone in a conversation. But that doesn't eliminate rudeness from the world. If you would teach your children not to do a particular thing because it's rude, then that particular thing is rude. To act like nothing in this world is rude borders on naïve.

Interrupting people clearly in a conversation is rude. How you handle it is up to you as an individual, but that doesn't change the original behavior.

One common thing among many (not all) men is a feeling of entitlement. They're often used to getting their way. As the world continues to evolve, more and more women are joining this group. Because of their place in the working world, they start to feel like their opinion is more important than everyone else and, therefore, they are more important than the next person. Those people are annoying, plain and simple. I like when people tell 'em so. I'll vote for Donna's response: What I would have WANTED to say, "Excuse me, we're talking here."

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I have one more story, then it's back outside for me. I actually have a million stories, but I'll stick to just one.

This happened a few weeks ago. I was in our local (rural/southern) grocery store. Standing next to me, staring at the same food items, was an elderly black woman. I'm white. She sighed, then said, "Well, what're you white folk havin' for dinner. I'm so damn sick of the same thing."

I laughed out loud, literally. I thought her blunt way of speaking was, truthfully, awesome. I responded, "We're pescatarian, so we're having fish." She furrowed her brow. "Pesaca what?" she asked. "We're vegetarian," I said, "but we do eat seafood. Pescatarian."

"Hmmph," she muttered, then looked at me with the sympathy one might reserve for a kitten in the rain. "Honey, we just call that, we're havin' fish tonight." And I laughed again.

I know a few white women who would've lost their mind over a black woman calling them "honey"... or ANYONE calling them honey. And I know a few people who would've lost their mind over the "you white folk" thing. I found this woman delightful. In all ways.

For me, personally, there is an uplifting freedom in your heart when you genuinely accept differences (unless, as Sherry said, they're carrying an axe). Some have commented, "Don't waste time talking to these asshats (and a few other unpleasant names)." I think you waste more time expecting everyone who was raised differently than you in circumstance you know nothing about, who is a different race and gender, from a different part of the country/world to be in lock-step with your sensibilities. And to get angry because they aren't? That's even more of a waste of time.

Cecilia, I've been kicking around hosting writer's retreats here at the sanctuary. And I'd be happy to mama over you. But be forewarned: When I bring you a hot cup of ginger tea so you can keep pounding out your best seller, I may say something like, "Here you are, dear/honey/sweetie."

Peace out, y'all ... There's a pile of manure callin' my name.

Lennon Faris said...

Melanie, how I wish we lived closer!

And that's my three! Peace to you all!

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Fascinating comment trail and great stories to wander through!

I'm another Midwesterner. In February, I stood in a hallway at work having a discussion with a female colleague (from New York) about the upcoming Women's History Month. She would be putting together printed information for each week of the month. A male colleague overheard us talking and, admiring what she would be doing, he said to her, "Maybe you could do something similar for a male history month." I was stunned. He'd mentioned several times that he's a feminist. But I also know he's in his 70s and that affects his world view. Her response? "I don't have time. My focus is women." He took it in stride.

Melanie: A writers retreat? I like that idea.

kathy joyce said...

Lennon, I'm sorry. I was trying to make a point about how we can all "hear" the same words in different ways. I know better than to use someone's specific words in the current conversation as my example. That was my mistake. I wasn't offended, and didn't intend to call you out. Sorry. Besides, I'm not that old anyway ;)

My final comment, as the daughter of a mom with Alzheimers', the mom of a son with Aspergers', and the mom of a daughter with various neurological difficulties: It makes me cry in gratefulness when people overlook their inappropriateness and social mistakes, and treat them kindly anyway.

shelurks said...

Longtime lurker here. Sometimes we wish that everyone would behave the way we think they should or at least the way we would.

"He interrupted a private conversation, to ask about something he wasn't really all that interested in, had no pressing need to know"

This is exactly what a lonely person might do. He is trying to connect with other people, he is reaching out. And he is doing it in an awkward way.

"and the subtext was that we should stop what we were doing to attend to his whim."

I wasn't there but from what has been described this is not the subtext I see. He's old, he's lonely, he has no clue he's rude. After a few minutes he drifted away because maybe he had nothing to contribute and felt like an old and unwelcome fool.

Donnaeve said...

Ho hey, ho, hang on a minute. There are some stating that by pointing out rudeness or perhaps not having an affinity for the word "Ladies," that's being feminist - or that by stating anything other than he was a sweet old man, some folks don't like to talk to people on the fly.

This is a totally different beast we're talking about.

It is rude to interrupt people when they're talking as I mentioned, and like stated, this is one of the very first things we teach our kids.

"Not now, I was speaking, thank you."


My thing with the term ladies. Work in a corporate culture for 35 years and then come back and talk to me. And we can't say much has changed given the news lately, can we? Some are talking about life's experiences, etc, and to not take offense because someone wasn't raised the same way. Well that goes both ways. My life experiences make me sensitive to certain words. If ladies is something I'd get my dander up over, well, no one should say I'm wrong - or a feminist. I have my reasons.

Why don't y'all take a look at This

This is funny of course, but GOOD GRIEF. No wonder my mother and MIL are like they are. THIS was their generation! Yikes.

Now, the story Melanie shares about the little old lady in the grocery store is VERY different from this situation. She wasn't engaged in a conversation with other people, so having an impromptu conversation with another individual when neither one is engaged in a conversation with anyone - a whole different beast.

There's some muddying of the waters here about the point, IMO.

Donnaeve said...

and like Claire stated

I'm done now - back to writing!

Craig F said...

First off. It weren't me. I had a u-pick at the farm yesterday and went fishing this morning after making some wonderful blueberry muffins.

Besides, I am only sixty.

I have, however, booked hotel rooms and found out when I got there that a convention was there. I am one of those naturally curious types who will walk up to a group of people at a convention, usually to some people wearing name tags, and ask what it is all about.

It is rude to not even feign interest into what you asked a question about and walking away while someone is explaining something is even worse.

I think it was something deeper. Perhaps it hurt him to know that your were writers, literary agents and avid readers. There are many people in this world who struggle with reading. Some of the reasons are medical but many people here are still illiterate.

You should have pity for those who cannot enter into the marvelous world of reading. said...

Oh, Janet. You're such a New Yorker. Or maybe it's a northeast thing, My daughter (who has lived in Boston for three years) was home (NC) for a visit recently and was shocked when someone in line behind her at a store SPOKE to her. "No one talks to you in Boston. They're so rude."

You know what would have happened if I'd been in your group? I'd have smiled at the guy, answered his question, asked him what brought him there that day, and within 20 minutes would know his life story. Because people tell me stuff. Maybe it's because I find people fascinating and they sense that. I'm an introvert, so I also find people to be exhausting, but in small doses there's nothing better than finding new people with interesting new stories to tell.

Add me to the group who wants to hang out with Melanie. As long as I can leave when you all get to be exhausting. ;)

Barbara Etlin said...

kathy joyce, like you, I am a little more sensitive to people who may have Alzheimer's. My MIL had it and my (youngish) SIL has it. And my mother had some dementia. Early Alzheimer's or dementia is not always easily noticeable. In the case of my SIL, you would never guess that Alzheimer's was the cause of some very strange behaviour; she was diagnosed when she was 60.

Anyway, and more on topic, I tend to give more leeway to slightly-off behaviour by strangers.

charlogo said...

My mother is 82 so I constantly think about the aging brain. Gradually, her boundaries and filters have shifted. She interrupts, makes inappropriate remarks, is too familiar with strangers, and sometimes sticks her finger in my dessert for a quick taste.
I figure she put up with me when I stuck my little fingers in her food, so I try to respond with patience and grace. I extend the same courtesy to all her pals.
My children are watching, and I am teaching them how to treat me in the years to come.

Steve Stubbs said...

Re what some of the commenters said: I don't think you need to worry about late 70s men "hitting on you." I am not nearly that old and do not have any health problems except poor vision and partial deafness from some disease in infancy. But what I am hearing from women and men both (mostly women) is that most men smoke like a chimney, take loads of drugs, eat lots of grease, get overweight, and drink like a fish, and by the time they get to be 40 or 50 they don't hit on much of anybody with any serious intent. I met one lady who was 49 and told me if she hinted that she might be interested in something, the men she met changed the subject. Another lady I know told me a lot of people "have" to take Viagra. Well, nobody "has" to take Viagra. It is an extremely dangerous drug, the side effects of which include sudden blindness, sudden deafness, and sudden death. Not realizing that there is no such thing as a subject that can be discussed rationally, I was foolish enough one time to say I thought a recreational chemical that dangerous should be banned. Let the Mafia have that business and take it from pharmacies. I discovered in a big hurry that loads of men consider that their drug of choice and that you do not dis anyone's drug of choice. The deeper significance is that there are a lot of long term smokers out there.

Looking for friends may mean that old fart was incredibly rude, but I'd bet the farm he was not looking for anything else.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Mama Melanie,

I will demand that you call me sweetie every chance you get.

RachelErin said...

Although I can see everyone's point here (and I also grew up in small towns talking to strangers), I also see the subtext Janet is talking about.

I was at a science writer's conference, and an older man (probably in his sixties) who was trying to get media coverage for a product intruded in a similar conversation between three women, all younger than the average attendee, and proceeded to regale us about his product and the successful media coverage it had already gotten.

It was incredibly rude. And he did not repeat this with mixed groups or older people - we kept an eye on him to see if he repeated his attempt. Some part of him, probably subconscious, felt comfortable interrupting (and in our case hijacking) a conversation between young women, but did not feel similarly comfortable interrupting the other groups.

I should add that PR pitches are not welcome at journalism conferences -we're there to learn about writing, not to get pitches. He was not a conference participant, and did not work in that building. He showed up to try to bend the rules and get lucky - and who did he try it on? It's very similar to things that happen in business meetings - where women get interrupted more, talked over more, etc, etc.

It's really hard to describe how it is both subtle, mostly unconscious, and an actual pattern in the lives of most women. It's really, really, really rare for a lonely, clueless, old guy to interrupt a group of men talking. They turn to women as more nurturing and available. And in my experience, it's distinct from cultural misunderstandings about privacy (based on the many places I've lived).

Because it's usually subconscious, I think polite directness is the way to go - "this is a conference for mystery fans and publishing professionals. Please excuse us, we have a lot of business to discuss." There's no downside to being polite, and being direct can sometimes inspire reflection on the part of the interrupter.

But I also think it is healthy to acknowledge the pattern and articulate whatever feelings it brings up before moving on.

Julie Weathers said...

I was going to stay out of this, but I apparently have no self-control.

Remember a few months back when we were all reminded to make everyone feel welcome at conferences? Yeah, not so much it seems.

There were probably signs up all over the lobby about mystery writers and this Malice Domestic group. This elderly man saw a group of ladies and made the mistake of calling them ladies. Strike one. I know in today's enlightened world we like to refer to ourselves as bitches. "Hey, bitch, how you doing?" Well, I'm not a bitch. I detest this term of endearment. I would have said, "ladies" or God forbid "ma'am" which would have sent someone else's head exploding I'm sure. Ah, well, it seems there's a never-ending way to offend people these days. If I haven't offended you yet, the day's not over.

The man "cheerfully" approached and asked a polite question. He was received with dead silence. I'm sure someone gave him the stink eye to boot. Finally, one lady gently explains, and he gets the hell out of Dodge. I don't blame him. I would have recognized I made a huge mistake trying to speak to this group, also. For all the comments about how you lose your mind once you hit the magical age of 65, people aren't really as stupid as you think. They do still recognize the signs they're unwanted.

The question comes up would the same response have been as irritated toward an elderly woman? I'm guessing not. What if it had been a very well-dressed elderly woman instead of just a cheerful elderly man?

I've learned today that once you hit 65 you are dottering mindlessly around and can be excused of about anything. I'm glad to know that.

What would I have done? I'd have asked if he likes mystery. What does he like to read, and what he's visiting for XYZ for? I never miss an opportunity to find out if someone's a reader so I can recommend books.

I doubt he was trying to hit on anyone.

Who the heck knows what his story is if he's in his late 70's. He probably served in the military. Walter Reed is in the area, maybe he was there for treatment. Maybe some "rude old man" was a medal of honor winner or just had an interesting story to tell if anyone had taken a moment to act interested. I'm like KD give me five minutes in a grocery line and I know someone's life story. It drives my son insane.

"Someday you're going to strike up a conversation with someone in a grocery line and they're going to confess they're a serial killer. Then what are you going to do?"

"Ask for details, I guess. I'm a writer."

It's been my experience that a lot of older people have lived in interesting times. Margaret Mitchell used to ride her pony with the old Civil War veterans and listen to them talk about the war and the south after everyone else had long ago tired of listening to their boring old stories. Every generation has their old people asking questions and wanting to be heard.

This conversation has come up before here as I've said. Years ago at Surrey I was in a lobby and Diana Gabaldon was surrounded by a gaggle of fans. She noticed me and excused herself to come say hi and ask about Will who was in Iraq at the time. We were discussing Will when the imp came up, leaned on the book table and said, "So, Diana, what do you think about the current state of publishing these days."

He had inserted himself directly between us when he did so, so he couldn't be ignored.

She answered the very vague question with a gracious and vague answer and excused herself, saying she would talk to me later. Always err on the side of graciousness.

RosannaM said...

This has been an engaging exchange that really points out how different perceptions are and how important it is to realize that and try in our social interactions to take care.

AJ Blythe said...

Interesting reading the conversation that has ensued over night. What it seems to boil down to is there is no right or wrong, as our own personal experiences and values determine how we interpret JRs experience.

I used to work in the Outback, and out there everyone (finger) waves to one another when you pass them on a road (after all, they might be the only person you see in a day's driving). When I would come to the coast it would be hard to break the habit and I'd wave for the first few minutes. I'd get the strangest looks and not one wave in return. Just not what they were used to (and too much traffic to be honest).

Over here, it's very common to issue an invitation to someone that isn't actually meant as an invitation - it's just being polite. It's all in the way it is said. At our old place our back neighbours were American, and they took what was said as literal. So we (and others) would do the polite thing and say "you should come" or something similar, and find they took it as an actual invitation. They weren't being rude, they just had different experiences to shape their view of the world.

My experiences have shaped who I am and my expectations of what others should do. It doesn't say I'm right and they are wrong.

And nightsmusic, I also had a dozen or so old comments in my inbox this morning. Weird!

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

I wonder what the subject guy is doing right now - doing crossword puzzles? playing crazy eights with his grandson? buying Chinese backscratchers from Amazon ? - blissfully unaware that writers from all over the world are posting 100-300 word comments about his behavior one afternoon in a hotel lobby.


Joseph Snoe said...

This is an easy one.

I would have answered his question. I would have explained what Malice Domestic was (The name gives no clue as to what it is). I would have explained it is a very prestigious event and some of the most famous mystery writers and some serious mystery readers attend.

I would not have thought him rude at all.

In fact, I've been on both sides of that type of encounter (more or less often) and never have I thought it rude. Also in fact, it's my basic nature to help people when I can, and if all they want is information, I'm happy to oblige.

I wonder how many of the mystery writes attending have written a scene where the sleuth (my fancy word of the day) interrupts people to ask a question. TV Show "Colombo" comes on in an hour. I'll watch to see if he interrupts someone's conversation. meeting or social gathering to ask questions.

P.S. - I had to stop in the middle of typing my comment because my cat decided she wanted to be held and petted. She jumped on my chest and wouldn't leave. I explained to her she was being rude, but she stayed there anyway.

Joseph Snoe said...

For you Nancy Drew fans,

A former student wrote me her poem about Nancy Drew was included in an anthology titled "Nancy Drew Anthology: Writing and Art Featuring Everybody's Favorite Female Sleuth" published by Silver Birch Press.

(Sorry Miss Marple. Nancy Drew is number 1)

Wow. I checked the book out on and I see it is Volume 15. There must be a lot of serious Nancy Drew fans out there.

shelurks said...

Like Julie, I enjoy talking to strangers so I would've chatted with this man.

I wonder if what made you furious Janet is that you didn't say what you wanted to this man. You wanted to say what you thought and what you felt and you didn't. This man who you felt was being rude to you forced you to feel that you needed to be polite in responding to him. Very frustrating to walk away feeling that you didn't say or do what you wanted.

If you had said what you wanted would you feel better? Or would you feel worse? Would you have still written this post?

As for me, I don't regret the times I've been polite or kind to people. It's the times I haven't that make me shake my head at myself.
I've talked to many strangers and some of them are great characters and some of them would make a great characters.

shelurks said...

Bollocks! Please forgive the a in the last sentence.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I never thought the gentleman/subject of this conversation had cognitive problems (as an excuse for being rude). I never felt his behavior, as described, WAS rude. When an adult can't walk up to a few fellow human beings who are standing around talking, in a NON-intimate setting, and ask a freaking question... C'mon.

This is my fourth comment about this... Admittedly, it sorta has me rankled. I was raised to make the world better, in tiny little strokes. Pick up litter, whether you dropped it or not. Ease suffering. Offer a kindness.

None of us saw his body language, none of us heard his tone of voice. Maybe both of those things screamed "obnoxious" person. Maybe both of those things suggested he was not obnoxious, but rather a gentle soul. To proclaim he was rude because he stepped up to a few people who were chatting and asked a question? Sorry. That's not rude. That's simply human beings occupying the same planet.

BJ Muntain said...

Dear Mr. Steve Stubbs,

The 'human nature' that you seem to understand is not 'human nature' everywhere. That's Anthropology 101.

I think you need to broaden the statistical population you get your information on 'human nature' from. When you're getting the same answer from a lot of people, you're talking to a very small subset of the general population.

Every writer can learn from speaking to all sorts of people.

Joseph Snoe said...

I like you, Melanie Sue Bowles.

I agree 100%.

I did chuckle on the picking up litter part. I attended a wedding yesterday and at the reception one of the catering staff clearing off used plates and glasses, dropped a small piece of fruit on the floor on her way back to the kitchen. So I picked the fruit off the floor and put it on a used plate on a tray by the wall. (I did not ask the plate if it was okay to do that, however.)

BJ Muntain said...

After reading all these comments, I see something very interesting happening. The group is dividing itself into two sub-groups, based on the world they live in.

One group lives in a world that is mono-cultural - everyone understands everyone else's etiquette, and anyone who doesn't is rude.

The other group lives in a more poly-cultural world. Whether this is where they grew up, what they learned elsewhere, what they've experienced, what they've done... they understand that there are many subcultures in our society, and are patient with those from other subcultures, whose etiquette may be different.

AJ's point about 'polite non-invitations' is interesting, and not something I would have considered. I would have been like the Americans who would believe the invitations were real, although I would probably have begged off, anyway. Rudeness is different in different subcultures. In some subcultures, it's rude to use the front door. In some subcultures, it's rude to eat with your hands. In some subcultures, it's rude to wear green to a funeral or white after labour day.

So, was this guy rude? To people in certain subcultures, yes. Was he just being friendly? To people in other subcultures, yes. Would telling him off be rude? To some subcultures, yes. To others, no.

And I think folks who are conflicted about what they should do or say in that situation probably understand more than one subculture, but and thus understand this fellow was being rude AND was being not rude, and that responding in the way they wish they responded would be considered not rude but ALSO rude. Hence, the conflict.

BJ Muntain said...

(Note: Please remove the 'but' from the final paragraph. Dang. I thought I proofed this thing.)

Panda in Chief said...

Interesting points of view.

There is a difference between joining a conversation and interrupting one. There seem to be all sorts of assumptions made about the man doing the interrupting, from poor sweet doddering lonely old man, to overbearing mansplainer.

Without context of his demeanor or behavior, it's hard to know whether I would be pissed off or welcome him into the conversation. If I was in the lobby during an event and I wanted to know more about it, and saw a fascinating trio of women talking animatedly, I would sidle over and evesdrop until I got my nerve up and say, "Excuse me, but..." And I don't think it's being overly subservient to say "excuse me" in a situation like this.

I live in a small town, and it's not uncommon to get in conversations with people you do and don't know in the grocery store. Once I was in a restaurant in Italy and an older gentleman stopped by our table (while we had just gotten our food served) and asked if we were from Whidbey Island. We answered in the affirmative and it turned out we knew his daughter and son in law. Had the conversation ended there with a few "small worlds" thrown about, it would have been one of those heartwarming moments. Unfortunately he could not bring himself to stop talking, our food was getting cold, and my dining partner was too polite to start eatig while the man was there talking. I think I finally started eating and ignoring him, and eventually he went and sat with his stranded dinner partner.
But what I really wanted to say....

Joseph Snoe said...

BJ Muntain

Since when is NYC mono-cultural? And rural Georgia poly-cultural? I can't buy into your theory. Sorry.

roadkills-r-us said...

First off, I don't think any of us can give definitive answers on what the guy was "really" doing because I don't think any of us of us know him or his story.
Beyond that, only Janet was there. We've no idea what made her feel the way she did. Janet may not even completely know. Because who she is and her background frame her responses. Her ability to pick up on cues does, too.

All that said, I can only answer for me, not for what anyone else, would / should do. And even then, it's only my default answer.
I generally give people the benefit of the doubt unless I have a reason not to do so (I certainly have stories about this). Said reason may or may not be reasonable.
Depending on the people involved, and our moods, and the nature of the conversation, and whatever I was picking up from the interrupter, my answer might have ranged from bringing the guy into the conversation to asking him if we could talk later to saying, "I'm sorry, but we're in the middle of something; you might ask at registration over there" (pointing helpfully) to "Perhaps you missed my magnificent beard; I am not a lady". (The latter response is fraught with potential pitfalls.)
I have certainly used each of these in similar situations, depending on the factors mentioned.

Amy Johnson said...

This is fascinating!

Most of my thoughts have already been mentioned, so I won't repeat. I hope if I were in that situation, I'd be kind to the man. I hope I'd keep in mind that we all goof up sometimes--with our wording and otherwise. Maybe he didn't intentionally offend. Maybe he was taught and believes the respectful and polite way to address a group of women is "Ladies." I hope I'd try to treat him as I'd like to be treated. Which is rude/unkind? Interrupting a conversation, even if perhaps you didn't mean to, or responding to hearing about it with name-calling? (I was surprised by the name-calling directed at him here today.) I hope I'd assume the best about him and not get angry. I keep saying "I hope" because I know I goof up sometimes, too. And when I do, I hope people will treat me the way they would like to be treated.

John Davis Frain said...


I like you. I like what you do. And I like the way you think. But we're not going to agree on this one. Neither of us were there, of course, but I think you're giving this guy too much benefit of the doubt.

He wasn't a guy in a grocery store asking another customer what's for dinner. He wasn't helping to bridge a racial divide in the country. He was simply a guy who wanted attention. And he chose to interrupt three people in the middle of their conversation to get what he wanted. There were scores of other ways he could have gotten what he wanted without interrupting them. He chose to interrupt because he deemed himself that important. (I'm not buying this lonely old guy routine some people were spouting, sorry.)

I don't care if you're from a small town, a big city or the chairman of the board for the United Way -- if you think your time is more important than other people's time, I'm probably not going to agree with you.

I also try to look for the good in people. And usually find it. Like most writers, I also engage in conversations with strangers. But if I left my two friends in the lobby to learn about this new guy's life, then I'd be the rude person for abandoning my two friends. But hey, we're all different, and I can respect that.

In a different topic, I'd appreciate if someone would tell me how I'm supposed to correctly address women. Assuming "ladies" is incorrect, what term might I safely use? It's actually a question I've pondered before as I find myself often in a situation where I'm about to address a small group of ... um ... women(?) and I don't know if I should use "ladies" or "guys" or what's protocol.

AJ Blythe said...

John, I can't speak for everyone, and I acknowledge I'm often a bit different in this regard, but I have no problems with "Ladies". Not really sure what else you would use? I mean, that's a very polite term for a group of females.

Over here, "guys" tends to be used for either blokes alone or more in a generic sense (eg "what do you guys want to do?") for both men and/or women, not so much to address a group of women. Having said that, I wouldn't be offended if it was used.

The Hub calls me the Wench, but I don't think that would be appreciated *grin*.

If there were a group of men I would address them as "gentlemen", and I can't for the life of me imagine they would be offended.

To be blunt, I have XY chromosomes, I identify with having XY chromosomes, therefore I am female and should be referred to accordingly. Why this is becoming a problem I can't understand?!

kathy joyce said...

John Frain, I don't know. I refer to a group of men as "gentlemen," and a group of young women (junior high and high school) as "ladies." ("Girls" gives me so much baggage). Mixed groups, I say "folks," (never "you guys"). Grown women, I say "Hi there," or "Excuse me." When that doesn't fit I say "folks" again. The worst is when I forget that my kids' friends are now in high school and call them "sweetie." Language is so confusing.

PS: Caught up on A-Z on your blog last night. Great writing and great fun!

BJ Muntain said...

Joseph: It's not about how many cultures are present. It's about how many have been experienced. And New York has it's own subculture, one where you don't block traffic on the sidewalk; basically, you do not irritate anyone, interrupt them, or get in their way. They can be very nice, if you don't do something 'wrong'. And what is 'right' and 'wrong' in NYC often has to do with it being a huge population in a relatively small space, and having to live with everyone that way. Japan is the same way - they have their own cultural taboos, etc., that have to do with so many people sharing space. It's ways to protect one's privacy.

Whether rural Georgia is monoculture or polyculture, you're from a subculture that thinks it's okay to talk to strangers, who is more ready to accept other people interrupting your privacy.

The polycultural people here, though, are seeing both sides, and are the ones who would be most conflicted if they were to go one way or the other. For instance, as Janet did, to sit quiet rather than ream the guy out. Many people who are pure NYCer wouldn't have thought twice about reaming the guy out for breaking their privacy. But while that would have been appropriate in the general NYC subculture, it would be inappropriate in another subculture that Janet is experienced with. And she was in a place where the subculture is different from New York's. So she sat and watched, not knowing which way to go. And then she was angry at herself for not acting like a New Yorker. Which, in some subcultures, would have been seen as ruder than what the fellow did.

It's all really fascinating, to tell you the truth. said...

Y'know, it doesn't really matter whether any of us would be offended in that situation. That's not what was asked. Janet was offended and furious. That's not up for debate. She wants to know what we'd do in a situation where we were offended. That's my take anyway.

I have a very very long fuse. It's almost impossible to offend me. But when I get angry, stand back. Especially if someone has hurt family or one of my friends. I would verbally eviscerate the offender. What I would say, exactly, depends on the situation. I wouldn't even hesitate and I wouldn't be tactful. Maybe that's why I have such a long fuse. I've learned over the years how much damage I can do when I'm angry and try my best to contain it. But if you've earned it, man, you're gonna get it.

John, I have no problem with the term ladies. I dislike calling grown women "girls," and "gals" makes me cringe. Apparently we're not supposed to say "female" because it can be used for non-humans (female cat or turtle or whatever) and "women" is preferred. But that doesn't always fit the situation.

Joseph Snoe said...

Interesting, BJ

I guess I was thrown off by the nomenclature.

RosannaM said...

AJ I know it is poor form to correct commenters here, so forgive me if I overstep, but XY is male. XX is female. (sorry)

I'm going to throw out one more thing. We weren't there, did not see body language or hear tone of voice, but one other thing strikes me and that is Janet's expectations. Sometimes things bug us because we had a different expectation for how things should play out. In this scenario, I picture Janet as looking forward to her visit with these other women, who she doesn't get to spend much time with and the man's intrusion felt, well, intrusive into the limited time she had to enjoy her conversation.

And with that, I bid everyone good night. Everyone. There, that should about cover it nicely.

BJ Muntain said...

Joseph: Yeah. My vocabulary isn't at it's best right now. There may have been a better way to describe it, but those were the words that came to me that fit. It's been a couple of decades (or more) since I took anthropology. :)

John: As for what to call a group of women? I don't really care. Just don't call us late for supper. :P

I try not to use 'girls' - I used to use it, but got told by a few angry people that it's wrong. I just use 'guys' in person for male or female close friends, and 'folks' in more formal instances (such as written, or they're not close friends, or something like that.) Even if it's a group of women, I'd use 'folks'. I have no problems with 'Ladies', as such, but some do. I think it's very much generational and cultural.

So you'll just have to learn what the situations, the generations, and the cultures all think of the term 'ladies' when deciding what to use. With a multigenerational and multicultural group, I find 'folks' is just simpler.

AJ Blythe said...

*blush* Thanks RosannaM! Absolutely no problems correcting me (not an overstep in sight) - I'm glad you did. Though I had to read your comment twice because I really do know XX and XY, and I was sure I'd written the right thing, so didn't understand at first. Rather embarrassing because I have taught genetics *taking my tomato cheeks to hide in the corner* lol.

AJ Blythe said...

I'm fascinated by the use of "folks". Didn't realise it was so widely used in the States. Not really used here at all. Would you use it as a direct substitute, eg "Welcome, Folks" could replace "Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen"?

BJ Muntain said...

AJ: I'm in Canada, so I can't speak for the US. I don't know a lot of people who use 'folks', but I do, because I'm tired of trying to figure out who would be insulted by any of the other terms that are perfectly fine for everyone else.

Can anything really replace 'Welcome, Ladies and Gentlemen'? :) I use folks in e-mails, such as 'Hey, folks. Let's go here for supper this week'. If I had to welcome a group of people at some kind of event, I'd probably just use 'everyone'. "Welcome, everyone, to this fine forum of feisty fantasy writers." Or whatever. I just try not to use the word 'girls'. I can't keep up with everything else. :)

LynnRodz said...

Janet, I won't repeat what everyone else has written, but you yourself said, We didn't have our heads bent over the table in a clearly intimate conversation... so the gentleman probably didn't think he was being rude when he interrupted. Here's where I think the problem lies, you were in a lobby "bar and liquor free." If you had a few drinks in you, you may very well have asked the gentleman to pull up a chair and join the conversation. Being sober is what angered you more than the gentleman did and that I can understand. Voilà!

Colin shows more restraint than I do, so I'll address Steve Stubb's comment. Being polite and knowing how to act has nothing to with social status or as you put it, Steve "lower class and upper class." You actually stated If he was born lower class, his parents did not teach him anything. It's crazy to categorize people like that! I've met people from both spectrums, poor people who were polite and courteous and well-behaved, and rich and powerful people who were crude and had no manners. (There's a person in the WH who's a perfect example.) Knowing how to act and being polite crosses all social levels and the saying "money doesn't buy class" is definitely true. You say you're a people watcher, I think you need to watch a lot more people before coming to your assessments.

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
LynnRodz said...

(I hope you know I was kidding, Janet!)

Megan V said...

Who'd've though a what would you do question would have stirred such controversy? There was an interesting variation of answers today. All in all, I think what it comes down to how everyone experiences the world around them. Context is everything.

I don't think any answer is wrong or right. That said, I agree with Melanie that the world needs as much kindness and niceness as it can get. There's too much anger and upset in it already. I learned early on that you've got to be the good you want to see in the world or else you might not see any good at all.

Steve Stubbs said...

BJ Muntain,

I do not know why it matters, but NY has thousands subcultures. Partly because of Ellis Island and partly because of the United Nations NY is easily the most cosmopolitan city in the world. There is no cuisine served anywhere on earth that does not have its own restaurant. There is no language that someone there does not consider it his/her first language. Taxi drivers are required to NOT speak English. Anyone who has never spent some extended time there cannot really understand it. Britain, for example, is an amazingly homogeneous society, and yet they believe they are "multicultural" to the nth. I never say anything when I hear that, but I do smile inwardly. Unless they have travelled abroad, they do not have any idea what multicultural is.

As for New Yorkers being "nice," they are relatively much nicer than they were when I lived there. Those were the pre-Giuliani days when it was not unusual for a complete stranger to pull out a six-inch knife and start charging in my direction. Storekeepers acted as if they were doing customers a favor by taking their money. If I did not leave a large enough tip in a restaurant, the waiter would stop me on the way out, hand me my money and say, "Sir, you forgot this." I have seen people almost come to blows over a dispute whether change was a penny short. I found it amusing and exciting and miss it, but "nice" is not a word that comes to mind. It was not a town for the thin skinned.

I do not drive, but had fun in Brooklyn a couple of years ago riding in someone else's car during rush hour. Rush hour in Brooklyn means you better bring something to read because the traffic is not going anywhere. Some people seem not to regard this with the serenity I enjoy, and lean constantly on their horns as if that will magically make other cars disappear. The fellow who was driving was apologizing to whoever was honking, oblivious to the fact he could not he heard with the windows rolled up. It was all glorious fun.

I know you have not lived there. It is a unique and interesting experience. There is no place like it.

So here is a question: when did "ladies" become a naughty word, and what is OK today?

Brigid said...

What I would have done: been polite and mad about it.
What I wish I'd do: be clear about my boundaries and gracious about it. Work of a lifetime, that.

There are some excellent comments here--I particularly liked RachelErin's summary, and kathy joyce's comment about non-neurotypical folks coming across as rude, and others being kind anyway. But in my eyes, Mark Ellis's death metal example shows it really is rude in my subculture, no matter the context. No friendly preamble? An imperative? And then to minimize it? Eeurgh. It's possible, as Cassandra Briggs said, that he was friendly and curious. But Janet has good instincts, and it hit her the wrong way. Let's believe her.

So given that, I'd like to say I'd cheerily point him towards a welcome table or some brochures. "A mystery writers' convention. There are brochures on that table. You should come next year, it's great! Excuse me." And turn firmly back to my friends.

Brigid said...

Steve Stubbs, you sure do make a lot of declarations. Can't say I agree with many of them. Particularly your statement of "what feminism is all about".

In our brief bloggish acquaintance, you've been dismissive of feminism, groups of women, and YA as a genre. I think you're being dismissive of BJ Muntain, too. How do you know if she's lived in New York? I certainly don't mean to be rude in return, but I find your statements shortsighted.

Janice Grinyer said...

A man who was probably in his late 70's walked up and said very cheerfully "Ladies, tell me about this mystery thing you're doing."

"Oh, this? We are learning how to violently murder inquisitive strangers who interrupt private conversations...and not get caught."

*remember to smile sweetly while saying so*

MA Hudson said...

John - to me 'ladies' sounds old fashioned more than anything. Musty, dusty, out of date. I'd address a group of women the same as a mixed group; 'Hi everyone'. Probably use that for a group of men too.

As to what I'd do in the interrupted convo situation - hopefully I'd give him a one sentence explanation of mystery writing (just enough to keep it mysterious), followed by an apology for being rude (me woman, me apologise) and explain we were talking business but would be happy to direct him to the information desk or a pamphlet with a website on it, or ask him to write down his email and offer to send him more info later.

Of course, what I'd have like to have done would be pull out the old interrupting cow joke!

The thing is, if this fella seemed like a really nice guy, you probably wouldn't have got irritated by him in the first place. Of course you can interrupt people and talk to complete strangers but the reaction you get will depend on whether you do it with charm or entitlement. I'm getting the vibe that this guy was showing much charm!

MA Hudson said...

* wasn't showing much charm

Gypmar said...

This may be the most fascinating comment thread I've ever seen on this blog! I feel like I know all of you much better after reading your takes on this post.

CynthiaMc said...

I didn't find anything remotely offensive in this man's behavior. You were in a lobby at a conference. This wasn't a secret meeting of the star chamber or a hidden bar during Prohibition. Networking is usually expected at conventions. Lobbies are usually considered neutral territory. He wasn't even networking. He was asking a question.

"Ladies" and "ma'am" are being polite where I come from. "Guys" annoys me. I have beasts and a vagina. I am not a guy. I am a lady. That used to be a compliment. Apparently now it's an insult. Being a Disney survivor, "folks" annoys me. We call it Disney's F-word. I still believe in ladies and gentlemen. I find bitch and ho offensive.

My boss calls us all baby, honey, sweetie all the time. She's a black woman and she's younger than me. Do I get all huffy? No. She's a delight to work for and I'm happy she loves me. It's a Southern thing.

I've been guilty of the sin of talking to people in a hotel lobby and I'll probably do it again. And people have asked me "Hey, what's going on" and I've told them. And I'll probably do it again.

I talk to people everywhere. They talk to me. Usually they talk to me first. Do I get all huffy about it? No. Do I assume they're hitting on me or unfit to talk to me because I'm a woman and they're a lowly male? No. I love men.

This is a crankier tone than I usually take. It's 5 a.m. I've been working really long days. I have a migraine. What annoys me more than any of this is the thought that now we have to be careful not to talk to people in public places? Oh, hell no. I may even say ladies or gentlemen. I've been accused of being a Goody Two Shoes all my life. Who knew I was really a rebel in the underground?

Going to conventions is very expensive in time and money. This does not make me want to spend either. This feels like "us" (those who are in the clique) and "them" (everyone else). I don't have time for that. I didn't have time for it in grade school or high school and I don't have time for it now.

CynthiaMc said...

Breasts, not beasts (though I probably sound beastly today).

Donnaeve said...

I see this comment trail goes on.

John (MS) Frain - the ladies thing. :) Soooo. Like MA Hudson mentioned, and IMO, yeah, it's musty, dusty, out of date.

But, for me, when it's used, it takes on the persona of demeaning - I know, I hear the shocked intake of breath from some of you. RUDE? Ladies is RUDE???

This really just stems from some of my own personal/life experiences. As you might have read, some are perfectly fine with it.

Picture the term being used in this way:

"Oh, we'll get the ladies to do it," or "I'll have the ladies do it," or "would one of you ladies mind getting me that..."

*insert Donnaeve's frownie face.*

So, it's not to say that I'm ignorant of the fact that ladies is generally used as a polite manner of speaking to a group of women. I suppose I've heard it used one too many times to send us bunch of cackling hens off to do some menial chore.

One last thing I'd like to point out...from what I've gathered reading all of the comments, all of us including myself, would have been polite to this older man. The responses given as to what would have been done are very different from what we might have thought. So the ones here who are upset about those who would consider him rude - rest easy. It appears most of us have enough common sense not to bite someone's head off over a minor infraction, although we might be irked for the interruption.

Barbara said...

My mother dropped me off at school my first day of kindergarten, and left me with these words. Be friendly, and play nice. It generally works.

Ann Bennett said...

My father would have spoken to a brick wall. However, he would have charmed you. He would have had a better opening line.

When I read late 70s, I would have given him a pass although he probably did not deserve it. Life is short. It is not what happens to you but how you react to eh?

Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said...

The first day I was strong enough to walk after I'd had abdominal surgery I bumbled down the sidewalk. I was 40 after that one. Before that operation I'd had great health and no patience for slow people in my way. That day I was being pushed around. It was humbling.

I decided never assume what was happening inside another persons head or body. I wasn't wearing my scar on my skirt. Others couldn't possibly know how I felt.

I'm not sure how I might have reacted given the situation, the interuption, the comment. When I talk people always interrupt me. It's kind of a joke at our house.

I hear Elsa's song: Let it go.

Aline Pusecker Taylor said...

Assume the best about the gentleman. I've managed elderly housing properties for sixteen years. I don't want to stereotype but sometimes what is obvious to one person, isn't to a person with early Alzheimer's or dementia. Striking up a conversation with a group of women may put zing into his day - wife there or not! I've seen it all - was good to give him the benefit of the doubt, let it slide and blow it off. You probably made his day.

nightsmusic said...

I love NYC. I spent many summers there growing up, staying at my aunt's who lived a block from Lincoln Center. My uncle kept a car though I don't know why. His garage fees were more than my house payment is now. We'd occasionally drive somewhere, CT to visit a cousin, and he would always get caught in the rush hour traffic coming home. It's not a bit different than it is here in Michigan or Chicago or California or many other places. I drove rush hour traffic in Michigan for years. I don't have to anymore and I've gained the lost three hours every day that I used to spend in the car. It's a wonderful thing. NYC isn't always as unique as people think. I could wax on about NYC, but I won't.

That said, I commented fairly early so I'll just say this; I spent most of my working life in a male field. Shirley Muldowney was the only other woman at the time I started. Most of the men respected me and my skills and I never really had the whole "you're a woman, you're worth less" and when I did, I gave it right back. And I've been called a lot of things in my life but I'll tell you what. I'd much rather be called a lady than a whore!

And I'm done.

stacy said...

To me, this signals a cultural difference between people who live in small towns and those who live in big cities. My reaction would be similar to Janet's, but that's because I lived in Chicago for 12 years. When you live in a city, you don't interrupt strangers' conversations--period. In fact, you do everything you can to pretend you're not even overhearing. It's just considered rude to do otherwise, mostly because the close spaces makes it almost certain you'll overhear something personal at some point.

Joseph Snoe said...

I've lived in Houston, Austin, Los Angeles (West L.A.), Chicago, Montgomery and Birmingham (Homewood), and I don't recall acting differently in any of those places.

Another anecdote: A few yeas ago I took three visiting Brazilian judges to the oldest restaurant in Alabama (The Bright Star). While we were eating, someone from the next table turned and started a conversation with something like "I couldn't help but overhear . . ." we talked a little about why the judges were in town,etc.

Afterward, the judges (at least two of them) said in Brazil one doesn't listen in on conversations at other tables. One of the judges said her father listens and sometimes talks to other people and it embarrasses her.

AS to Janet Reid's UPDATE information, it doesn't change a thing. My goodness, just thinking of all the stress and mental energy involved in evaluating every act or statement occurring around you to decide if it should be criticized is so draining.

Or. as one of the commentators on a baseball blog I frequent often responds when someone brings up some petty annoyance or inconvenience - That's a first world problem.

Joseph Snoe said...

One more semi-related anecdote.

My sister and brother -in-law won tickets to the fancy seats at an Astros game in a charity auction. Include with the seats is a free buffet type dinner in a rather large banquet room under the seats (not open to the public). Many of Houston’s bigwigs congregate there. And then there was us from northeast Houston.

My mom was with us. Two or three people (folks) in front of us in the service line was former President George H.W. Bush and, more importantly for this story, former first lady, Barbara Bush.

My mother got out of line and rushed up to Barbara Bush and held the pearl necklace Barbara Bush often wears (while the necklace was around Mrs. Bush’s neck) , and begins telling Barbara Bush how much she loves her necklace. (My mother is Italian so there was a lot of touching in this conversation).

I didn’t know what to do. I was half expecting the Secret Service to pin my mother to the ground, but they didn’t, and Barbara bush was gracious about the whole thing.

Boris Ryan said...

Re: kdjames

I was born and bred in Boston as were my parents and grandparents and so on for generations. It is a wonderful place filled with neighborhoods where everyone knows each other, and where the yearly influx of tourists and students and people seeking medical care are welcomed.

I speak to and have been spoken to by strangers my whole 50+ years. It is natural for humans to interact, that's how friendships are formed.

Your daughter having lived in Boston only three years would still be considered a stranger, an outsider, by those who are actual Bostonians. When she mentions people not speaking to her, how does she know these people are true Bostonians, and not any of the millions who pass through or have just recently arrived, be it for work, or school, et cetera? Does she strike up conversations with strangers in line on a regular basis and is shunned, allowing her to make this judgement about people from Boston?

Much as people love to claim they are from Boston, landing a new job in Boston, or going to college in Boston, or staying on in Boston after college, or moving to Boston, does not make someone from Boston, or a Bostonian. It certainly doesn't give them the fierce pride and loyalty of a native Bostonian or knowledge of what it means to be a native Bostonian or what it was like to grow up in Boston.

Boston is the Hub of the Universe. It is a champion of freedom, knowledge, and technology.

To label an entire city as "rude" is in itself rude.

Bill D said...

Be nice to old people. After all, you may be one someday.

And, if that's the worst thing to happen on that day, the day has been pretty good.

CynthiaMc said...

It's entirely possible the husband was asking for his wife. Sometimes I'll wonder about something and my husband will go find out for me. Sometimes I'm too lazy or too shy to ask for myself. He puts it in the category of giving me what I want (in this case information).

BJ Muntain said...

Mr. Stubbs,

I may not have lived in NYC, but I've visited several times. I have a friend who has lived there for a couple decades now, and who has tutored me in the fundamentals and finesses of life there. She lives in the East Village, in a part that is particularly multicultural.

I know that NYC has many cultures. But there is a general consensus that your business is your business, and you don't get in anyone else's way. This is common in large, crowded urban populations, and it's a necessity in those areas. The way New Yorkers handle this consensus is very much New York.

A subculture isn't about where you or your ancestors were born. A subculture is what is agreed to be valuable among the people in that subculture. A gangster subculture, for instance - anywhere - places less value on human life, and may place more value on honour or money, depending on the specific sub-subculture of gangster subculture. Other subcultures might place more value on the human soul and those who posess such a soul. Still others place more value on animals than people (think PETA.) A political subculture places value on power, no matter the type of politics. In NYC, privacy is valuable, because it has to be protected. It's not guaranteed.

And a person may belong to several subcultures at once. In fact, a person who doesn't is pretty shallow. There are political subcultures, religious subcultures, amicable subcultures (among friends), familial subcultures (which includes ancestral cultures as well as current values)... The list goes on.

And it's when those subcultures conflict that people have inner conflict. I think that Janet's value on people conflicted with her value on privacy, and that was why she didn't go one way or the other. She didn't ream the guy out, nor did she invite him to join her. She was conflicted. And afterwards, her New Yorker subculture came to the fore, saying, "You should have done this."

(And thank you, Brigid. :) )

I think Donnaeve's experience shows how one subculture can influence someone. The use of 'ladies' in the way she mentions is situational, and it's affected the way she views that term. In my experience, growing up, the term 'ladies' was always used to denote adult women who commanded some type of respect. And since I was raised to treat all adults with respect, that means that all women were ladies.

Dax Varley said...

Why didn't you just grin and say, "It's a mystery. We can't give it away."

Unknown said...

Given his apparent age, he might have been a bit addled, or making a lame attempt at being friendly. (One septaugenarian's idea of being friendly can sometimes be a younger women's idea of being sexist). Even though I'm not the best at coming up w/the right/appropriate/effective thing to say at the moment (terrific at Monday-morning "I shoulda said"), what comes to my mind is, you could have smiled and said, "The registration/information desk/table is right over there. I'm sure they can answer your questions."

Panda in Chief said...

Here are a couple more observations, which may or may not be of consequence.
1) over the years I've learned to pay attention to my gut feeling, even if I can't identify what is triggering it at the time. Janet's reaction sounds like one of those gut reactions, and she may not know why it hit her that way, but it did. That's good enough for me.
2) the comments seem to be giving more credibility to a total stranger who we have no knowledge of, than to Janet, who we know as well as we can from her writing here over the years we've been following her.
3) it does make a difference, at least to me, that they were sitting down. I might still evesdrop on their conversation (ha ha! Rude, that!) but I don't think I would interrupt it even if it was quite interesting. Even in a crowded public space, a seated group seems more like a closed one than a standing group.

I grew up on the east coast, where it always seemed that people were more open to conversations with strangers. I moved to Seattle in the late 70's, and while people were polite, they weren't what I would call open to being friendly to strangers. As several people have said, it's all in the context.
Bless his heart.

Okay. I'm done here. said...

Boris Ryan: Thank you for sharing your opinion of Boston. My daughter actually loves the place and has made many friends, native Bostonians and transplants. Any slur was unintentional.

My point -- which I, being a writer, of course made badly seeing as how words were involved -- was that my daughter considers it rude behaviour for strangers not to talk to you, whereas Janet considered it rude (in this one instance at least) that a stranger did. I find that to be an interesting dichotomy.

MA Hudson said...

Nightmusic (and John Frain)

'I'd much rather be called a lady than a whore!'

I'd say that's the whole point about why some people don't like 'ladies' - it's a judgement call. There is no equivalent for men.

AJ Blythe said...

Miss Janet, your update doesn't change my viewpoint in my previous comments, but it's funny how assumptions are made. You said the actual situation was:

1. None of us were wearing name tags identifying us as Malice Domestic attendees.
2. We were sitting down, not standing up.
3. The man's wife had walked by about two seconds before he interrupted us.
4. The registration desk with mystery books on display was 20 feet away and visible.

I'd assumed:
1. You had name tags.
2. You were standing up.
3. He was on his own.
4. There was no other obvious place to get the information.

For those who have said they don't think they would be welcomed at a conference based on the comments here... I think you have to remember it was very obvious this gentleman wasn't an attendee based on the question he asked.

If you were to go to a writer or reader conference, the best ice-breaker question to approach a group of attendees with is either "what do you write/read?". I have no doubt you would be welcomed and included in conversation.

Craig F said...

This has haunted me for several days.

I am sorry, but your update just seems like you were attempting to justify something you somewhere realize. You over-reacted. It might have happened for several reasons or be a natural reaction.

The premise for Malice Domestic is violence against women, that might be the reason. Whatever it was it seems that you felt threatened and lashed out. That is sad.

Boris Ryan said...


Thank you for the clarification.

I wish your daughter the best as she settles in to the Boston lifestyle. :)