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Not Feeling The Stranger Love

A few things to know: I am in my early twenties, I am newly married and I have a severe neurological disability. I’ve got the parking permit and the cane and, although it’s clear with a little observation that I cannot move very quickly without falling, I do not look “disabled”. I look like a normal young woman, if a little tired and pale.

So one day my husband and I went to Wal-Mart. It was a bad day for me so I was waiting on a bench by the entrance of the store. At the same time that a woman in a motorized scooter was going by me, I noticed my husband coming towards me with the groceries. I stood up shakily, almost dropped my cane and then heard the woman in the scooter ask in a very cruel tone of voice, “And what’s wrong with you?”

Startled, I looked to my left to see this woman craning her head around to scowl at me. I’m not very fast on my feet, so all I managed to do was stutter out a quiet, “Excuse me?”, that I’m not even sure she heard. She gave me the up and down, rolled her eyes and then scootered away.

My husband reached me as she was going out the exit doors and he asked me what happened. Still confused I told him, and he thought that was stupid as all heck, but my question is this, friends: Should I have explained? If I had been faster on my feet, would a brief ,”I have a neurological disorder so I use this cane to help me walk,” have been okay? Or does rudeness like that not warrant a response?   0812-11

Ehell NO! You should not explain whatsoever since it is absolutely none of the woman’s business what your health issues are.  She’s a total stranger, why should you give one iota of thought as to what she thinks of you?  I wouldn’t even dignify her with looking at her, that’s how far I’d go to ignore her comments.   Saying, “Excuse me?,”  is the limit of verbal interaction one should have although next time say it with more astonishment and indignation.  Widen the eyes and arch an eyebrow for added effect.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lizajane August 24, 2011, 8:40 am

    I am pretty fast on my feet, but that’s not always a good thing. I would have probably popped off with, “What’s wrong with YOU?”

    Then we could decide if we wanted the list to be alphabetical or in general.

  • Enna August 24, 2011, 8:43 am

    I think there is more than one right answer. If the OP does not want to say she has ABC then she doesn’t have to. This Scooter-woman made an intersting assumption which, if the OP finds herself in the same situation again she could politely correct “I have ABC.” Maybe then the person who made the mistake will think twice for making the same mistake again with someone else. So long as it’s polite then there’s nothing wrong with it.

    I was on the front desk at work and having a snack as my blood sugar was a bit low. A patient walked in (I work as a GP receptionist) said “Having your lunch?” and I said “Diabetic snack” and munched on. I thought that in the unlikely event I needed help that man would know that I was diabetic.

  • Nestholder August 24, 2011, 9:09 am

    Absolutely no need to explain anything. She had no right at all to know your details, and was rude to ask, particularly in such a fashion. You don’t need to tell complete strangers anything about yourself, as it is none of their business.

  • Just Laura August 24, 2011, 9:18 am

    Okay, she’s at Wal-Mart. There are all sorts at Wal-Mart, and anyone who has even stepped foot in one knows this. Simply go to that [in]famous website featuring all the “interesting” people who frequent the establishment. Frankly, if I don’t encounter someone rude (shopping cart taking up entire aisle, yelling into cell phone, dragging screaming child through produce section, wearing “F-y’all, I’m from ___” shirt), I consider it an excellent trip. That’s not to say the OP deserves rudeness, but I hope no one was surprised by this. On my last visit, a woman glared at me and asked, “How do you walk around in heels?” (Why does she care???)
    I replied, “one foot in front of the other.”

    I would have answered Scooter Woman with “Nothing.” Who is this woman to assume something is wrong with the OP? A person can’t have a cane and sit on a public bench?

  • J's Mama August 24, 2011, 9:27 am

    I probably would have responded with, “None of your business.” Somebody that rude and nosy does not deserve a polite response.

  • V August 24, 2011, 9:44 am

    Lady ” What’s wrong with you?”
    OP “I have ABC and all of the store’s motorized carts were taken so my husband must shop without me. May I use your cart?”

  • Alexis August 24, 2011, 9:54 am

    I would have been sorely tempted to ask her why she was riding a scooter instead of walking. After all, if she really couldn’t walk she’d have a wheelchair, wouldn’t she? Was she just lazy and entitled, as she implied YOU were? No, you don’t owe a rude nosy stranger any explanation. If she had really been worried about unauthorized use of handicapped parking, she was free to quietly copy down your plate number and report it to the police. Her objective was to make herself feel morally superior to you by publicly shaming you. Now THAT’S an e-hell violation!

  • AS August 24, 2011, 9:58 am

    It seems like we have been getting a bit too many posts of late about strangers being rude to people with disability. What’s wrong with these people? I am sorry that OP had to go through this.

    Answering your question – these comments don’t deserve any reply. So, just say whatever comes to your mind first. I liked what Lizajane said for this particular woman on the scooter – you can ask back “what is wrong with YOU”?

  • Wheelchair Bling August 24, 2011, 10:08 am

    If something so appalling ever happens again, just grin in a deranged fashion and fantasize about saying, “I’m just not lazy enough to ride a scooter!” Then fantasize about whacking her with your cane, and grin more broadly until she scoots away…

    Honestly, it would be nice if people who had suffered in life would have sympathy with others, but often they don’t. Sometimes the best you can do is make them go away, hopefully without rudeness.

  • Nadine August 24, 2011, 10:31 am

    Just look at the person as though they are some kind of freak, then compose yourself and direct your attention elsewhere.

  • --E August 24, 2011, 10:35 am

    Admin is 100% correct.

    While I’m sure there are a few unscrupulous people who acquire handicap parking passes and don’t really need them, it’s not up to strangers to make judgments. Even young-looking people without canes may have a “invisible” problem such as a heart condition or recent abdominal surgery.

    I injured my knee when I was a teenager, and for several years afterwards, I would occasionally need a cane for a day or two when I overdid my activities. (Being injured is not much of a deterrent for an active twenty-something!) If someone had said something so rude to me, they’d be lucky I’m too civilized to thwack them with the cane.

  • livvy August 24, 2011, 10:36 am

    “I get premonitions of incredibly rude behavior. That one was a doozy.”

  • Katy August 24, 2011, 11:23 am

    My parents, at one point or another, have both used handicapped placards (my mother, who suffered from Polio as a child refused to use the handicap spots until a couple years ago when she said it was just too much for her to walk from the back of the lot anymore). With my mom her disability is obvious, especially if she’s wearing shorts.
    But my dad got a temporary placard when his kidneys started failing and he was on near daily dialysis. Walking into the doctors office was a chore for him, but it was a little better when he was done with dialysis and he would occasionally go into a movie theater or a restaurant, always with ‘an assistant’ in case getting back to the car was a chore.
    One day after I picked him up from dialysis I took him to lunch. He and I circled the lot a couple times in the hopes a close spot would open, but when it didn’t I took one of the handicapped spots and put up the placard. As I was helping him out a woman decided to loudly announce her disdain for ‘normal people who abuse their family member’s handicapped placards’ and said that she hoped the police stopped by so the obviously not-handicapped got a ticket. My dad looked right at her and said ‘If my nonfunctional kidneys were on the outside of my body, would that be an obvious enough handicap for you? Because I honestly can’t wait to get them out, and if you give me your address I’ll be happy to send them to you as proof.’ (He never did, they left them in there when they did his kidney/pancreas transplant). I told him not to answer, but I think he was finally fed up of holding his tongue, which is something he doesn’t do easily.
    If you feel compelled to say anything, I’d say something along the lines of ‘unless you are my Maker or my Doctor, it’s none of your concern’.

  • Louise August 24, 2011, 11:35 am

    Woman on the scooter was rude, OP. Just because someone asks doesn’t mean you have to answer, even if they honestly believe you do.

    Like Lizajane, I might have blurted out, “Nothing, why, what’s wrong with you?” Not that I recommend that course of action. I also favour the blank look mingled with mild curiousity, the one that says, “Who are you and why have you invaded my personal bubble?”

  • Ashley August 24, 2011, 11:48 am

    Maybe the woman in the scooter thinks you have to be in a scooter to qualify as disabled? Idk. It’s really up to you what you feel comfortable explaining. I don’t see why it’s her problem at all in any way though. She doesn’t know what goes on in your daily life that leads to you needing a cane, so she shouldn’t just assume things.

  • Anthony August 24, 2011, 12:22 pm

    I completely agree. No explanation is necessary. I find it interesting that it is not just the young with the lack of manners as so many older people like to claim.

    Anyway, just found this site. Plan to check in often.

  • Seriously? August 24, 2011, 12:32 pm

    to the OP, absolutely NOTHING is wrong with you. I have severe hearing loss and have often been asked “what is wrong with you”, to which I reply ” Absolutely Nothing is wrong with me, I am perfect, thanks”

    People assume that because just because you live with a condition or have a “disability”, that there is something wrong with the individual. You are fine as you are and there is nothing wrong with you. Even if you were to stumble and drop your cane, her language did not dignify a response.

    I have had people ask, or beat around the bush trying to ask, about my hearing loss. When treated with respect and with a question asked with the intention of expanding their understanding of my hearing loss, I am happy to oblige. When confronted by a Wal-Mart Wheel-Witch, I would not respond.

    There is a huge difference between “What is wrong with you” and ” I noticed you stumbled there, is everything alright?” (or in my case, I noticed you have a hearing aid, may I ask how you lost your hearing?”)

  • beckstar August 24, 2011, 12:54 pm

    I’d have been tempted to hit her with my cane… 🙂

    Seriously, it’s none of her business where you are sitting, what you are doing or what mobility aids you might be carrying. A sharp glare would do the trick, I think.

  • Yvaine August 24, 2011, 1:03 pm

    She was appallingly rude, but this:

    I would have been sorely tempted to ask her why she was riding a scooter instead of walking. After all, if she really couldn’t walk she’d have a wheelchair, wouldn’t she? Was she just lazy and entitled, as she implied YOU were?

    is an unfair assumption. She may well have had a legitimate condition too (beyond boor-itis!).

  • Thel August 24, 2011, 1:35 pm

    I agree completely with Admin. Not only you do not have to give this woman an explanation, I believe it would actually be counterproductive to offer one. In eHell, there’s the saying “don’t engage the crazy”, and I think this is a perfect example. Telling her something so simple as “I have ABC” could trigger all kinds of (unwanted) responses, including the always-popular “Oh, *really*? You don’t *look* like you have ABC!” (everyone’s a doctor, you know), and she could use it as an opportunity to try to pry even more into your business. If she was a polite person who respects boundaries, she wouldn’t have opened her big mouth in the first place!

  • Rug Pilot August 24, 2011, 1:42 pm

    I would return a look I call “the snerg”. It’s basically wrinkling my nose and looking down it while thinking “Are you quite sane?” The rest of the face follows.

  • Haruspex August 24, 2011, 1:51 pm

    There is a very good response to situations like this. It’s known as “I beg your pardon.” Let’s all use it more. It covers a lot of territory.

  • Jennifer August 24, 2011, 3:30 pm

    I agree with Yvaine yes it is rude of the scooter person to ask you what is wrong but it is also rude to respond with asking them why they are in the scooter in the first place. I also agree with Haruspex, there is no need to disclose what illness/ailment you have to some stranger who asks. I worked as a cashier for a few years and had this one woman whose son was autistic, I did not ask she informed me. What strikes me as sad is the fact that she felt that she needed to explain. I would have, in all honesty, ignored the child, as I had before with other customers, unless he/she was creating a nuisance in my lane. I don’t think people need to explain themselves to anybody, especially when they have done nothing wrong. I can’t help but think that people these days are just nosy busybodies who don’t care/know about personal space. I wish people would start using a filter and ask themselves “would I be offended if someone asked me that question?” or any variation of that question. I think it would save a lot of frustration and annoyance at the invasion of privacy people feel from complete strangers.

  • Riva August 24, 2011, 4:07 pm

    I think you made the right response. Your restraint showed dignity. She was just a mean, rude stranger. It sounds like she likes to take out her own bitterness on others.

    It must have really hurt though. It helps me feel better when I remember Jesus’s words to pray for those who spitefully use you. If I can feel sorry for them as a poor, bitter, unhappy person, it takes the sting out. And if I am doing them a secret favor by asking God to help them feel better, I feel like I’m a kind stranger rather than the victim of a mean stranger.

  • Hemi Halliwell August 24, 2011, 4:10 pm

    “None of your business” or “Nothing. What’s wrong with you?”

  • Kitty Lizard August 24, 2011, 4:14 pm

    Also having a neurological difficulty which can sometimes give me a very strange gait in which I can suddenly lurch to the right without warning, I have gotten some very cruel comments. People are nasty. I’ve just learned that an icy stare or, better yet, an excuuse me??? is usually the best and only response you can give. When my daughter was young, she used to get terribly upset; unfortunately, people are cruel and nosy. A wheelchair bound friend of mine who has MS comes up with all sorts of horrendous diagnoses that she shares with people who ask what’s wrong with her. I don’t dare go out in public with her because I can’t keep a straight face when she starts in on how she contracted shistosomiasis in India and the horrendous and disgusting symptoms she’s going to start manifesting any day now. She calls it payback for rude questions.

  • SV August 24, 2011, 4:27 pm

    OP, you handled that as best you could. When someone is rude and invasive I don’t think they deserve your explaination, and frankly you were more polite than I may have been under the circumstances.
    I am a woman with deep, somewhat gravelly voice that is caused by polyps on my voicebox. It does not match my appearance. My voice has always been this way, even as a child, and an enormous number of people feel free to comment on it. Generally people assume I have a bad cold, and if they remark upon it politely I smile and let the comment pass, as I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable by pointing out their mistake. However, on many occasions I have had people who comment in a very rude and intrusive manner, as though if I DID have a cold that would be a crime. When this happens I look them directly in the eye and state simply, “No. This is my voice. ” Although I never set out to embarass anyone, that always ends the conversation. How do you come back from essentially implying to someone that their voice is terrible?
    It constantly amazes me what perfect strangers will think is their business.

  • icekat August 24, 2011, 4:38 pm

    A lot of the comments seem to be about witty and/or snarky comebacks people would be tempted to use. I, too, would be sorely tempted to respond with something like “none of your business, Nosy,” or “I’m a serial killer who preys on rude people with scooters. Bwa-ha-ha!”

    But, this being an etiquette site and all, I think the question is: what is the *polite* way to respond to such rudeness? And I think OP and E-hell Dame have the right answer: “Excuse me?” (or “I beg your pardon?” as Haruspex suggested). Or just giving The Look, as a few others have suggested.

    Tempting as it is, we shouldn’t answer rudeness with rudeness.

  • Kry August 24, 2011, 5:22 pm

    I can empathise. Most people seem to think it is their buisness no matter what. Good on you for just saying ‘Excuse me?’ as you did.
    Last christmas I had broken my knee. I had my whole leg in a brace and was on crutches when I needed to take my kids shopping. I asked for a scooter at the shopping mall (it was aprox 1 km side to side) to help me get around and the man behind the counter asked what my disability was (it as pritty obvious) and then told me that the scooters were for people with ‘serious’ problems, not because I was lazy!

  • lkb August 24, 2011, 5:54 pm

    I like “I beg your pardon.” I might also suggest, “How does it concern you?”

  • Tribaldancer August 24, 2011, 5:54 pm

    I’ll have to admit I don’t quite understand scooter-woman’s attitude. We’ve gone from rudely confronting other people about their perceived misuse of public amenities like handicapped parking spaces and said scooters to sneering at someone for their use of a cane?!? How odd!

  • Ginger 630 August 24, 2011, 5:55 pm

    I probably would have done what an above poster stated above – said back to her “And what’s wrong with YOU?!” Why is it everyone’s business what is wrong with someone? Who gave this woman the right to inquire about a stranger’s health? Would she like it if someone asked her? I highly doubt it.

    People think that they can just butt into people’s lives. I know this is the age of social media sites where everyone writes about their daily lives, but it still doesn’t give a perfect stranger the right to ask someone what is wrong with them.

    • admin August 24, 2011, 10:32 pm

      The people advocating retaliatory rudeness seem to miss the point. If it’s rude for the stranger to ask for an explanation, why would you even remotely think it would be appropriate to make snide counter demands?

  • boxy August 24, 2011, 7:29 pm

    Both my doctor and the State I live in consider my disability significant enough to have authorized a placard for me. I use it on bad days but I’m scared to death that someday someone will look at me and make a comment like what happened to the OP.

    I appreciate the answers given here – most specifically the ones saying you don’t need to give an answer at all.

  • Marna August 24, 2011, 11:10 pm

    I recall an old Ann Landers column about how to respond when people ask terribly invasive questions, the answers of which were none of the questioner’s business. Ann’s suggested response: “Now why on earth would you be asking me THAT?” Love it–and have used it a time or two. Shuts ’em up every time.

  • MellowedOne August 25, 2011, 7:53 am

    icekat, admin, well said. I couldn’t agree more.

    It’s funny how people love to complain how someone was rude to them, but see nothing wrong with making snide remarks back at the offender, which is just as rude.

    It’s easy to display good manners to those whom are also polite. Our having good manners also requires we display them when people are unkind.

  • Maitri August 25, 2011, 9:18 am

    What confuses me is the women’s need to ask at all. There wasn’t anything involving a handicapped parking spot in the OP’s story; she was merely sitting on a bench, and when she stood up, she did so unsteadily. Why was Scooter-Woman so offended by that? It’s very odd. The only thing that I can think of is that S-W thought that OP was overacting or embellishing her disability in order to mutely chastise S-W’s taking the last scooter? In that case, she probably didn’t need it, and was overcompensating to cover her feeling of guilt for taking it when there was an obviously disabled person there.

  • AS August 25, 2011, 11:05 am

    Admin, you have a very valid point there. Thanks for the comment.

  • badkitty August 25, 2011, 11:16 am

    I’m in favor of the simple trick where you mentally replace what the person actually said with what they should have said and responding appropriately. In this case, a cheery wave and a quick “fine, thanks! And you?” will set that horrid little woman firmly in her place without resorting to rudeness of your own or risk of engaging in further conversation.

  • Riri August 25, 2011, 11:18 am

    Erm, EXCUSE me?? None of her business at all! You owe her neither an explanation or even any acknowledgment of her presence! I find it totally rude to even start friendly but unnecessary “small talk” conversations with strangers in public, busy, non-meeting places such as buses, malls, parking lots, etc, never mind criticize them! Why do people these days have no sense of polite ignoring of strangers?

  • Invalidcharactr August 25, 2011, 11:18 am

    I don’t care for “Excuse me?” or “I beg your pardon” as responses, mainly because despite the spirit in which it is commonly used, it is still implying that the speaker needs to be pardoned or excused.

    I also don’t much care for anything that is phrased as a question, such as “Why is that your concern?” since it precipitates a response and invites the invasive stranger to say, “Well, I was just asking because…” Stop. I don’t care why you’re asking.

    Obviously, if such a person were capable of picking up on the subtleties and implications of such questions, she would have enough social capability to realize that she shouldn’t flump her opinions about via thinly-veiled and aggressive questions. (Yes, I made up the word “flump.” It seemed appropriate.)

    I prefer to respond with a statement, such as “That question is inappropriate” or “It’s really none of your concern” or even, “Refrain from asking me rude questions.”

  • Enna August 25, 2011, 2:05 pm

    I think it is up to OP, if she is polite in her answer to inform an ignorant idiot that’s fine. Ignoring the comment is fine. OP’s choice. OP says she was “shakey” and nearly dropped her cane, it is clear she’s a bit unsteady on her feet. Maybe scooter lady didn’t mean to sound cruel – I know a lady who comes across as being very grumpy and difficult, maybe this lady’s bark is worse then her bite?

  • Jennifer M. August 25, 2011, 3:23 pm

    Like Marna, I remember hearing long ago that the best response to a nosy question is to turn it around on the questioner and ask with all sincerity, “Why do you want to know?” Most people do not enjoy having the spotlight turned on them, and so would mumble and walk away, red-faced. As a caveat, I would not be at all surprised if the woman who questioned OP told her exactly why she wanted to know. Some people just don’t know when to quit!

  • babs August 25, 2011, 4:26 pm

    I think you answered perfectly by saying “Excuse me…?” Draw it out a little for emphasis! That puts it right back on the rude person’s court without playing their game. I was actually thinking of what Marna said that was taken from an Ann Landers column, “Now why on earth would you be asking me THAT?”

    I think your answer was perfect!

  • Amanda Kate August 27, 2011, 12:24 am

    “Tragically, I was born with manners. You can’t imagine what it’s like!”


  • Insomniac August 28, 2011, 8:31 pm

    I have rheumatoid arthritis, thalasemia, and degenerative disk disease and have had a handicapped parking permit for several years – since I fell and broke my back. I, too, am one of those who don’t “look” disabled (thank goodness – I used to be wheelchair-bound). You would not believe some of the rudeness I’ve endured.

    My most common response to rude questions is a beautific smile and a, “No thank you.” Because the syntax doesn’t always fit the question asked, I most often just get a puzzled or sheepish smile in response.

    It’s pretty sad that I do this, but if I am out and about on my own, I tend to wear shorts or a skirt to reveal the big, impossible-to-miss scars from my knee replacements.

  • Michelle August 28, 2011, 11:39 pm

    Riri, I have no objections to people making friendly though unnecessary small talk at bus stops, queues etc, as long as it’s friendly. I’ve actually made some nice friends that way. If you prefer to be politely ignored, then all you have to say is “no thank you” and most people will understand your meaning.

  • SeaSprite September 4, 2011, 7:42 pm

    ugh so dislike that! I still get odd looks and rude comments even with a cane and oxygen tank
    There is a site that I frequent. I don’t know what the rules are about posting another site so you can
    PM me. It is strictly for those of us that aren’t obvious (and some there are visible but mainly illness not
    seen) I recently printed off a book about disability etiquette. I am seriously thinking of asking permission of the site I got it from for permission to print up business cards with that website and handing them out when people get rude and nasty. I know that is not e-hell approved. Sometimes though folks like you and me and I am sure a lot here as well just get to where we reach a point
    that it is just the last nerve…

  • Joanna July 11, 2012, 12:37 pm

    I too am a young woman who utilizes handicapped parking, so unfortunately I’m all too familiar with this. My response in this situation is also quite simple — I ask the person, very politely, “Are you a doctor?” 99.9% will say no, to which you add, “Then I guess you can’t diagnose me, can you?” And walk away.

  • H February 18, 2013, 10:06 pm

    Most people haven’t heard of my particular auto-immune disease so they’re usually confused but either satisfied or very curious as to the details when I answer “CFIDS.” [“M.E.” in the UK.] If I’m having a low energy, high pain day, however, and am put in that situation, it’s not uncommon for me to answer “AIDS.” Of course it’s terrible that AIDS carries such a heavy stigma, but it is useful in making the color drain from the faces of the intrusive-turned-uncomfortable.
    Oh, and though I do tend to answer the question myself, I often explain to people (usually retail managers when I have my service dog) that it’s actually very rude and in many cases illegal to ask what a person’s disability is. Most people, though the woman in the story was an obvious exception, are surprised that the question would be considered rude.