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Singing Does Not Soothe The Savage Beast

After a year of unsuccessfully searching for a part-time job I could hold while attending my university, I finally managed to find a position at a phone-service company (detailed information omitted for anonymity’s sake) about five miles from my apartment and the campus. I don’t own a car (and parking is such a pain that this is not an unusual situation for a student) so I take the bus, about a half-hour each way. I’m fully aware that I will occasionally encounter annoying behavior on this journey, but this one takes the cake.

I was on my way home from a stressful evening at work, and I had put on my iPod and headphones to help myself relax. As I’m wont to do, I started lip-synching along to the music I was listening to. The bus wasn’t crowded, and in any case I was careful not to actually make any sound. All was well until a particular passenger boarded the bus. He was a man who looked to be about my age (I had not seen him before and have not seen him since, and that’s fine with me). Anyway, he decides he has a pressing need to know exactly what song I’m “singing” (again, I was not actually making any noise). He wasn’t even polite about it, just got in my face and basically demanded to know what I was singing.

I was annoyed, but decided answering was the best way to get him to leave me alone. I didn’t expect him to know the song (my musical tastes are rather obscure), so I replied, “You wouldn’t know it.” I should add here that I have a neurological disorder that makes it hard for me to speak sometimes, so I’m not positive whether I spoke aloud or just mouthed it. In any case, he wasn’t satisfied, so I started ignoring him. Rather than take the hint, he kept bugging me. He grabbed at my bag, I grabbed it back without looking in his direction.

Then he decided the best way to get my attention was to grab my arm. I wasn’t going to ignore that; I turned around and told him, loudly, to leave me alone.

“But I just want to know what you’re singing!”

By this point, the driver had become aware of the situation and ordered the other passenger to the front of the bus. (The incident took place near the back.) He finally complied, but not without protesting to the entire bus that, “She’s singing, it’s so weird!”, as if any level of oddity gave him the right to harass me. The driver, as politely as possible, basically told him to shut up.

I filed a service compliment with the bus department asking them to thank the driver for helping me out. I’ve yet to see the other passenger again, and that’s fine by me.   0121-13

{ 128 comments… add one }
  • gweby January 24, 2013, 2:32 pm


    How is it rude to be lip synching on the bus? Of all of the preposterous claims that I’ve read on this website, this one takes the cake. And since when is enjoying yourself an invitation for a stranger to solicit a conversation? I ride the bus every day. People use headphones precisely so they DON’T have to engage in random conversations and so they can have a few moments of peace before going on about their life. It is in no way rude to have your headphones on and enjoy your music. It’s not rude to lip synch. It’s rude to sing loudly and out-of-tune, but I am not going to say the OP was rude for listening and enjoying her music.

    Other than that, I agree with your other thoughts.

  • A January 24, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I always thought that wearing headphones sent the silent signal that you didn’t want to be engaged in a conversation. (I’ll note that I have been proven wrong on this by some people at the gym…but, generally I think it’s understood.) That given, unless the OP was not actually lip syncing quietly and was being disruptive, it’s a bit strange to try to start a conversation with her.

  • ciotog January 24, 2013, 2:47 pm

    I wonder if all the people who loudly sing to the music they’re listening to on earphones think they’re silently lip-syncing too. I would find it very odd to see someone mouthing along to a song only they can hear–but I’d be giving that person a wide berth, not harassing them, which this man certainly did.

  • Cat January 24, 2013, 3:06 pm

    Learn to ask, “What?” in an obscure language and then look puzzled as if you don’t know what he is asking. Say, “It’s a hymn of praise to my father, Satan! The animal sacrifice will have to wait until I get home.” There’s also, “I am singing happy birthday to Jesus. I am a procrastinator and missed Christmas.” Or cross your eyes and start to drool.
    Actually, you did fine. I just have a weird sense of humor.

  • RobM January 24, 2013, 3:24 pm

    I have to say that I’m disappointed with the responses to this

    1) The idea that the ‘villian’ of the piece here needs defending somehow. Sorry but he was being rude. Why doesn’t really matter. What if he had some kind of illness that made him want to physically hurt other people at random? Would that be ok?

    2) The idea that the OP was rude somehow for sitting there minding her own business and mouthing the words to a song. Sorry, Lerah, but I think that’s just absurd. The idea that the OP was baiting or encouraging what happened just doesn’t stand up to examination.

    3) The idea that imposing yourself on others is “a male problem”. I was standing outside a bank the other day waiting for it to open so I could deposit a large amount of cash when a woman walked up to me and asked me if I knew what time the bank opened. I replied, as that’s a perfectly reasonable request, and she launched into a conversation that I was (politely, I hope) trying hard to avoid getting drawn in to. I didn’t get upset, but I am a quiet, shy and very reserved person who finds interactions like that with total strangers to be quite hard work.

    Some people are just rude. Some others are just very extroverted and don’t take a hint. That’s not the fault of the people who they impose themselves upon.

  • Clair Seulement January 24, 2013, 3:28 pm

    “1) It’s kind of rude to be in a public place be-bopping along and mouthing the words to your song. You aren’t sharing your music with people. You are just making it clear that you are really enjoying yourself in a way that they cannot participate. Just like eating in public is considered rude, making it clear that your headphones are playing something super awesome is also kind of rude. It is attention grabbing and will lead to people interacting with you.”

    I’m sorry but there needs to be a recorded riposte for this lest anyone read the comments on this blog, ever. Looking like you’re enjoying yourself (QUIETLY I might add) is rude? At what point are we still talking about etiquette here and not just sanctimoniously shoving society’s face in our own schadenfreude? I’d rather live in a world where young fools occasionally speak to me without being spoken to than one in which I’m considered a nuisance for enjoying music in an identifiable manner.

  • Rap January 24, 2013, 3:36 pm

    “How is it rude to be lip synching on the bus? Of all of the preposterous claims that I’ve read on this website, this one takes the cake.”

    I don’t know that I would always call it rude, its a matter whether it’s so noticable that you’re becoming a distraction as you be-bop and mouth to music. There are people who do indeed like to have all eyes on them. If I were sitting near someone on the bus and they were so moved by the music that they were mouthing the words, I might be tempted to ask them what they were listening to that they were clearly enjoying so much (evidently this impulse makes me incredibly rude).

    When you are in public, doing something that would draw attention to yourself, like noticably lipsyncing to music only you can hear, you have to be cognizant that you are going to draw attention to yourself. Like I said earlier, I could easily see the other side of this being “I saw this young woman talking to herself on the bus. I asked her what she was listening to, amd she didn’t respond and when I touched her bag, she started yelling, and all I was doing was making conversation.” This guy’s later behavior seems out of line, but there’s inherently impolite about asking someone what they are listening to if they are making a public show of how much they are enjoying it.

  • Rebekah January 24, 2013, 3:47 pm

    Ooh, scary! I think you did the right thing, OP. I don’t think you were baiting him at all. Engaging in any conversation just seems to encourage the person. Sometimes ignoring them is really the only way to get it through to them.

    You may want to try this in the future: I usually put my earphones in, then stare directly out the window and let people think I’m too distracted (or my music is too loud) to answer any questions. Though it won’t help if they grab you, it tends to discourage any communication attempts. But with people like this, sometimes you have to get help from an authourity figure. No matter how you act, some people just cannot read body language and social cues.

    I’m very interested to read about other people’s own experiences on this matter, so I’ll share just one of mine:

    I have extreme social anxiety, and deeply fear and mistrust other people. I dress in baggy jeans and hoodies everywhere I go and wear my hair in my face so as to not attract any attention. It’s not a very flattering look, but I’m honestly so afraid that I’m willing to look awful, if only to avoid conversation.
    Once, I was walking to the bus stop to go home. There were two men in front of me, walking side-by-side. They were walking slower than I was, but because the sidewalk was narrow, I couldn’t get around them. I noticed that up ahead, the sidewalk widened then thinned again, giving me enough time to step around them, so I waited.

    As soon as I walked past, one of the men calls out, “Hey there, cutie!” I ignored him and kept going as these men followed, calling after me. I shook my head frantically and stared at the ground as they came up beside me, desperately trying to show I was NOT interested. I heard the first man say to his friend, “Aw, she’s playing hard-to-get, but she LOVES it deep down. [Being called cute] makes ’em feel good!”

    It was absolutely terrifying. I was alone, only 17 years old, and already nervous around other people. And now two strangers who looked to be about 25-30 years old start following me and trying to get me to talk to them! Then they insist that I “love it deep down” and am “playing hard-to-get”?!

  • Stella January 24, 2013, 3:51 pm

    The comments for this post are truly upsetting.

    “genuinely concerned about a person who appeared to be acting a little strangely and who may have appeared to be unresponsive or mentally ill.”

    Wow, really? Seriously, listening to your headphones and singing silently to yourself makes you seem “mentally ill”? And even if the OP had seemed, say, mentally disabled, how on Earth would that entitle anyone to go up to them and start bothering them? If you suspect someone’s disabled and they’re busy with their headphones, isn’t the assumption that they probably need them to cope with the outside stimulus? Messing with that would be a) sadistic and b) upsetting. Or do you generally find it okay to go up to disabled people and start messing with them, just to satisfy your curiosity about their state? Or do you automatically assume that if a person’s disabled, they can’t possibly take care of themselves, so you’ll go check up on them, even though they in now way seem lost or upset?

    Why does it warrant intervention if someone’s behaving strangely but isn’t upsetting anyone? What exactly is the logic behind, “this person is weird, but I don’t see them giving anyone any trouble. But I shall go and bother them regardless, after all, they are weird”?

    …and yeah, you know, if I’m in a bus and some random man comes up to me and starts chatting me up (“what are you listening to/reading” is a chat-up line, more often than not), I *will* ignore them, and that makes it no more okay for them to keep bothering me.

    Either way. The fact that the man *grabbed* the OP – even if saying “you wouldn’t know it” might be considered rude, depending on the tone, of which have no info here – is a pretty big indication that he was not all there in the head, whether we mean that in the clinical sense or in the “he being was a collossal anus” sense. That’s a damned extreme reaction to have to someone being unfriendly towards you.

    Lerah99: saying that by doing something differently the victim could have avoided what happened is *exactly* what victim blaming is and it’s *exactly* what you’re doing when you say, “try a different technique in the future and things won’t escalate as quickly.”

    The alternative would have been, “that man shouldn’t have harrassed you that way, and this situation could have been avoided!” But I don’t see you writing that, for some strange reason. You talk about control but the man had 100% control over avoiding this scene, and yet he didn’t. The OP had no control over the man’s actions. Insinuating that by behaving differently the OP could have changed the man’s behaviour is pretty much the definition of victim blaming.

    Not to mention – singing silently to yourself is considered rude now because “you’re having fun other people can’t participate in”? That is the most childish thing I have heard all day.

  • The TARDIS January 24, 2013, 3:52 pm

    I would have let it slide until this person touched me. Like the OP I don’t like my personal space invaded and when I feel threatened I do react defensively. The OP could have told the person the song and artist, but they mentioned having trouble speaking in some circumstances. That was not an excuse for this other person to harass or lay a hand on the OP.

  • --Lia January 24, 2013, 4:13 pm

    Lerah99– It’s rude to eat in public? That’s news to me. There might be rules against eating on a bus, but in general, eating on bus benches, in public parks, in restaurants, on sidewalks, none of that’s rude. In some circumstances it might be rude to bring food to a board room or carpool or class or meeting without offering some to everyone, but that’s a private place, and even there the rules are fluid. There are many instances where it’s understood that everyone will bring their own snack if they want one.

    Mostly I think this has to do with carving out a private sphere within a public space. Books and earphones are supposed to do that. They’re supposed to signal “I’m here but don’t wish to be engaged in conversation,” but too often people see the book or the earphones as the perfect conversation opener. When that happens, you need another way to signal that you don’t wish to chat. Unfortunately, saying politely “I don’t want to talk,” or “leave me alone,” or “you wouldn’t know it” doesn’t do the trick. To the person doing the annoying, actual words don’t mean as much as tone and body language. The words say one thing, but the annoyer only knows that he’s been spoken to. From his point of view, he hears “great! she spoke to me! I’ll ask her something else.” For that reason, the LW did the right thing. First, a polite statement, a lack of eye contact, looking away, and returning to what she was doing. After that, a loud, clear, not subject to misinterpretation statement, one that says “leave me alone” in both words and tone and body language.

    Also– Yes to complimenting the bus driver to management, but I’m further going to guess that the driver was implementing policy from above. I’d guess that someone smart in charge has listened to the experience of a lot of drivers and thought about the right thing to recommend in that situation.

  • Twik January 24, 2013, 4:45 pm

    I am unsure of how persisting “Tell me the name of the song you were singing!” is in any way likely to help someone who is “unresponsive” or having mental problems while riding on a bus. If that was his concern, the correct opening comment is, “Excuse me, are you all right? Do you need any help?

  • Schnickelfritz January 24, 2013, 5:37 pm


    Gweby is correct! Your No. 1 point is preposterous! I suppose smiling about a memory in your mind is rude too. “Hey, what are you smiling about?” I like to see people bee-boppin’, enjoying their day, or singing in their cars. I sometimes flip my radio, to see if I can figure out what they are boogying to! It is nice to see happy people, enjoying their commutes, even in public transportation.

    I actually had to read it twice, and then my jaw dropped.

  • Another Alice January 24, 2013, 5:41 pm

    I’d like to offer a perspective for why some may believe the OPs behavior is rude. I personally wouldn’t call it that, but as a veteran of an insane public transportation system, I may have a different perception of what happened.

    First off – of COURSE this man’s reaction was absolutely uncalled for and borderline illegal/threatening. And in this rare case, I would move my seat and alert the driver. What follows is not a “but” or an excuse for him, just again a different perspective.

    . . . Does anyone else wonder if maybe the OP wasn’t being as quiet as s/he thought s/he was being, and perhaps this was the man’s passive-aggressive way of pointing it out? That was actually my first thought. It’s a childish and immature way of handling it, for sure, but I’ve seen this sort of sarcastic passive-aggression frequently on the train, and actually a lot with parents and their children. “Oh, you’re making a fuss about this song? It’s SOOOO important that you feel the need to share it with everyone around you? Well, then let me comment! WHAT SONG ARE YOU LISTENING TO?” Ugh. Talk about making it worse, if that IS what happened.

    To those who are flabbergasted at the thought of lip-syncing being rude, I have to say, drawing attention oneself does not excuse bad behavior from others’ reacting to it, but it does open you up to get a reaction in general. I ride public transportation constantly, and I’m sorry, when someone is lip-syncing a song, it is noticeable. I wouldn’t call that in and of itself rude, but I’ve sat next to people whose “enjoyment” was a complete and total annoyance – including lip syncing (yep, it might not be your voice, but your mouth DOES make noise if someone is sitting directly next to you), bopping one’s head to music, or shuffling around in a huge bag on an insanely crowded train. My point is just that while in and of itself the idea of lip-syncing is harmless, in certain situations anything can be irritating.

    My next point is the situation began when the man asked her what s/he was listening to. Why . . . why is that “none of his business”? I myself am flabbergasted as to why it was rude. It’s asking about a song, not a sexual preference. She’s lip syncing it in public, and therefore her performance is public. Sorry, that’s the way it is, and simply asking that question I do not even remotely believe is rude, in the context of the situation. Had she been simply listening quietly, then it would be rude, but she’s drawing attention it. And I would say the same about the hundreds of times someone has asked me what book I’m reading on the train. 9.9 times out of 10, I answer politely with a smile, and the conversation may last *slightly* longer with, “Oh, I’ve heard of that, is it good?” or, “Ah, I’ve read that author before,” but it tends to be a short, polite exchange. Also 9.9 times out of 10, it’s been a person who has no intentions of “harassing” me or even trying to flirt with me. I think maybe once a man wouldn’t shut up, and I moved. Again, if it ever became a situation of “rudeness,” that rudeness occurred well beyond the initial asking of the question, not the question itself.

    All of that having been said, I sincerely hope that the OP’s bus riding experiences have since been uneventful! Public transportation can certainly be a pain, and situations like these definitely would make a person dread it.

  • Kate January 24, 2013, 5:46 pm

    Honestly, even if the person does have a disorder or mental illness, that doesn’t detract from the fact that OP felt threatened and it was a scary experience for her.
    I was once yelled at by a woman on the tram who demanded to know if I was a “real Australian” because I “looked ethnic”, was “taking Aussie jobs” and was also a “slut and a whore”. I didn’t feel like dignifying her with a response, I’ve been harrassed on public transport multiple times and it usually ends if you don’t react, so I ignored her. She continued to scream right in my face until I finally told her to back off, at which point she spat in my face.
    She undoubtedly had something wrong with her, be it drug or alcohol abuse or mental illness, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was one of the most disgusting experiences of my life and I was terrified to catch the tram for months.

  • Seiryuu January 24, 2013, 5:57 pm

    Responses denoted by R:

    Lerah, I heavily disagree with you on:

    1) It’s kind of rude to be in a public place be-bopping along and mouthing the words to your song. You aren’t sharing your music with people. You are just making it clear that you are really enjoying yourself in a way that they cannot participate.
    R: I think some people would rather NOT hear what music you’re listening to. Seeing as how most people listen to music on headphones in public transit, you really do not want to hear different genres clashing with one another. It’s horrible.

    Just like eating in public is considered rude, making it clear that your headphones are playing something super awesome is also kind of rude.
    R: What. How is eating in a restaurant considered rude?

    It is attention grabbing and will lead to people interacting with you. “Hey, what are you listening too?” is a fair question when someone is making it clear that they are totally digging whatever is being fed through their ear buds.
    R: People make look at you, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to interact with you.

    Let me be clear: I’m not saying having an mp3 player is rude in and of itself. But making a spectical [sic] of yourself (dancing, mouthing the words, singing along, etc…) enjoying the music no one else can hear is rude.
    R: That’s like saying having a partner is fine and dandy, but if you’re enjoying them in a way no one else can that’s rude. Something that’s seen can be avoided by not looking. It’s the one type of stimulus where there’s no excuse to be asking someone to stop (unless it’s obscene, but that’s another story).

    Was he over the line grabbing her bag? Yes.
    R: Not disagreeing with you there.

    Was he WAY over the line grabbing her arm? Yes.
    R: Once again, not disagreeing.

    Are public buses one of the places you are almost guarenteed to run into mentally ill people? Yes.
    R: Yes, you may run into people with issues, but that doesn’t mean your safety should be compromised to make them feel better.

    I’m probably a bad example, but I lip-sync (quietly) on the bus, partly because I actually need to sing something at some distant point in the future. I even have a book with the sheet music in it. No one has had the gall so far to tell me to shut up and be boring.

  • Chicalola January 24, 2013, 6:54 pm

    How in the world is this the OP’s fault or problem? She was keeping to herself…..not being loud our bothering anyone else. Who cares if she was mouthing the words to her music? What if she read books that way too? Does that mean everyone around her should ask her what page she’s on? Wearing headphones on the bus, or anywhere, usually implies the person wants to be left alone.

  • KitKat January 24, 2013, 6:55 pm

    @Lerah99: It’s rude to be eating in public? That means I can’t get my afternoon snack unless I eat in my car (I go to the gym right after work and eat it in the locker room).

    Personally, I think the guy wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box. We’re entitled to safety and a chance to relax in a manner of our own choosing as long as it isn’t disruptive. Also, I don’t think it’s rude to be obviously enjoying what you’re listening to; it means they have a song they like and are comfortable enough not to really care who’s watching.

  • Lita January 24, 2013, 7:10 pm

    @Kay L: “I don’t really understand how you could have a neurological disorder that prevents you from knowing whether or not you spoke to him out loud but then you are sure that you were not making a sound but only mouthing the words of the song.”

    You don’t just have to have a neurological disorder to make this happen – a touchy throat will do it too, to some extent. I can be mouthing things to myself, usually when trying to mentally translate or to study something, and then when I try to speak after this period of lip-moving silence, my voice takes a few minutes to catch back up because it’s locked up. And no, I don’t always realize until someone asks me what I said because they couldn’t hear me. It could easily have been a situation like that with the OP.

    OP, I’m glad you got out of that one okay!

  • Marozia January 24, 2013, 7:16 pm

    You should’ve just told him the name of the song, not say “You won’t know it”, as people don’t want to be thought of as idiots, smiled and turned away. Always works for me, even on the most ‘savage bus beast’.

  • Cashie January 24, 2013, 7:37 pm

    @ lerah, listening to head phones while silently singing along and minding your own business on public transit is rude? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that one. I’m not even sure what you mean by eating in public being rude, people have picnics, eat in parks or other outdoor public places all the time. It’s called taking a lunch or dinner break while on the fly. Most public transit doesn’t allow food to be eaten, so that’s a given.

    The op handled the situation perfectly. it’s safest for a woman to ignore or otherwise avoid engaging in conversation with a man who clearly has no boundaries. I’ve been approached by men on the street who felt it was fine to harass me and call me names for not greeting them when they started talking to me. Things like that can quickly escalate depending on the men involved. I always have an eye out for the quickest escape route.

  • Din January 24, 2013, 7:45 pm

    Kay – What difference does it make? She was singing, she wasn’t singing, she said it out loud, she didn’t say it out loud. Even had this man been polite in his first request, she had a right to ignore him.

    OP: Kudos to the bus driver for taking swift action and kudos to you for going out of your way to appreciate her. As a frequent bus rider myself, I doubly understand your position.

  • Saucy January 24, 2013, 10:21 pm


    Re: your comments on victim blaming

    Like you said, we live in a real world that is flawed. Therefore, unfortunately behaving in a certain ‘right’ way (e.g. not mouthing words to a song) will not actually stop someone harassing you. This is called ‘victim blaming’ because all this does is contribute to a conversation and mentality in which women have to follow a set of ‘rules’ to stay safe in society and when it is shown that they have broken some of these ‘rules’, it is her fault for not controlling someone else’s behaviour. This kind of thinking even happens in court. If the OP had responded to the man, a lot of the posters would be saying “you shouldn’t have responded to him.” It is a myth that she was able to control the situation, so therefore responding “you should have done xyz” says to the OP (and young women reading
    this) that when they are harassed/assaulted/raped there was something they could have done to prevent it, and their failure to do that is their fault.

    You choose to focus on the OP’s behaviour rather than the man’s behaviour which was wayyy more obviously out of line and rude. Yes there should be advice for how people should stay safe in society. However they should not involve the words ‘baiting’ (which implies deliberate intent to invite harassment) and this conversation should never take place directly after someone has been harassed, assaulted or raped.

    * I am assuming in this story that the OP is a woman

  • Em January 24, 2013, 10:25 pm

    He may have invaded her space, but when someone says “you wouldn’t know it.” or “You wouldn’t have heard of it.” it’s not polite. Normally when someone says that it’s to insinuate the person is classless, or not smart enough. It basically says “You aren’t as good as me.” That’s what it’s meant every time I’ve heard it. And even if he shouldn’t have invaded her space, I’d get upset too if someone said that to me.
    She says “my musical tastes are rather obscure.” well, that basically proves it. It’s as if to say you aren’t smart enough or good enough to have the same tastes as me. She shouldn’t assume this person wouldn’t know it. That in itself goes against etiquette.

  • Uly January 25, 2013, 12:05 am

    I’m just wondering if the other side of the story isn’t “creepy guy who thinks all women in public are his playthings who owe him attention” but someone who was genuinely concerned about a person who appeared to be acting a little strangely and who may have appeared to be unresponsive or mentally ill.

    You don’t get to harass people who are acting a little strangely, even if you think they ARE mentally ill. If they are not acting threatening, they are probably no more threat than anybody else on the bus. And if they are acting threatening, let’s be frank here, bugging them is probably not the best idea.

  • Ergala January 25, 2013, 12:09 am

    Marozia she did not have to even respond to him. If some person acted the way he did I would want to give him as little attention as possible in case he saw it as an invitation or justification for harassing me. Some men see a smile or polite response as an open door to flirt and if the woman shuts him down after that she’s viewed as a tease or as “asking for it”. The OP was fine. I’ve said that before to people when I honestly want zero interaction with them but felt just blatantly ignoring them would be rude.

  • Monika January 25, 2013, 3:45 am

    The problem the is not new, just read this article from the Ney York Times, yep, it’s from 1906!
    (I can’t seem to link to the NYT archieve, so I used the link to the blog post were I found it.)

    The OP was quite right to rebuff the creeping intruder. His widdle feeeeelings were hurt? Awwwww, cry me a river. He’s not the victim. A woman needs to be assertive and stand up for her right to be not harrassed.
    Good for the bus driver to notice the problem.

  • Bint January 25, 2013, 4:32 am

    Lex and Marozia: the OP’s reponse of ‘you wouldn’t know it’ is actually irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what she said. She wasn’t interested, she made that clear and he kept going. Grabbing her bag, grabbing HER.

    Don’t you understand? This isn’t a man making a friendly query, as is obvious from his reaction. This is a man demanding some interaction from a total stranger, who is willing to escalate it massively and frighten her until she gives him what he wants. The first man would shrug it off and leave her alone, or if she told him the song, would be fine. The second man wouldn’t. It doesn’t matter what she tells him, because he doesn’t care. He isn’t listening to her anyway. Nothing she can say will stop him – look what he does on a bus! What would he do if they were alone?

    I have unfortunately had a lot of run-ins with this kind of person – possibly because I’m small and travel alone a lot. Nothing gets rid of them. Ignore them? What’s your problem, I’m just trying to be friendly, come on give us a smile you miserable cow, come on come on come on. Speak to them? That’s even worse. Now I’m ‘interested’ or worse, ‘leading them on’. Ask them to leave you alone, or explain they’re making me uncomfortable? See the first reaction. I have got off so many buses early, and moved so many seats in trains, to get away from them. It’s horrible, it’s frightening, and it is NOT something she could have changed.

  • Bea January 25, 2013, 5:06 am

    This is just a minor comment but I thought perhaps helpful. I read a lot in airports, and have been asked a few times what I’m reading. It can be tricky because a response like “you wouldn’t know it” can cause offense, which opens the door to harassment; however, telling them the title of the book/ music etc. can also obviously start a conversation about it (which I usually don’t want, either). So, I’ve found that giving a neutral answer that doesn’t go into specifics about what I’m reading/ listening to, but also doesn’t “insult” them, works well. If asked what I’m reading, I will just smile vaguely, not really look up from the page, and politely say “It’s just something for school.” (Even if it’s not). Then I will usually move away as soon as I can (sometimes pretending I forgot something, or checking a cell phone, or something). If it’s music, a response like “Oh, it’s just a CD my friend made” or something similar would probably work. Implies that the title is of little interest, or maybe even unknown to you, and you can use a tone that is dismissive of the book/ music and thus shuts down further conversation without actually being dismissive of the person talking to you and possibly causing more unwanted interaction.

  • amyasleigh January 25, 2013, 6:50 am

    Concerning Lerah99’s post no 20, which has drawn much feedback: while all commenters — myself included — seem bemused by Lerah’s assertion that eating in public is considered rude; it’s interesting that the suggested rudeness of the OP’s lip-synching along with the the music on her headphones, has with a few posters struck a chord, and prompted some measure of agreement. It strikes a chord with me, largely because of personal issues of my own, involving music.

    I basically dislike music, and am irritated by the way people often use music as an implement in the “put-down-my-neighbour” game. If I had noticed the OP doing her lip-synching on the bus, I fear that I would likely have thought, “annoying twit, showing off to those around her re what a switched-on groover she is”; though I would not have approached her about the matter, and would thenceforth have as far as possible, paid no attention. My “thing” about music is my own rather weird issue, for me to deal with; but include me among those with some empathy for where Lerah is coming from, on this particular point.

    All that said; the fellow acted like an obnoxious idiot, and the bus driver did well to pull him into line.

  • delislice January 25, 2013, 9:01 am

    @ Rap: “If I were sitting near someone on the bus and they were so moved by the music that they were mouthing the words, I might be tempted to ask them what they were listening to that they were clearly enjoying so much (evidently this impulse makes me incredibly rude).”

    No … a smile and a polite, “Hey, what are you listening to?” is harmless.

    Shaking off the dismissal (“You wouldn’t know it”) — admittedly a little brusque, but also clearly a “go away” statement –, grabbing at a person’s belongings, persisting in your demand that she engage you in conversation, announcing miserably to the bus that “She’s so weird”…

    is incredibly rude.

    And there’s a whole spectrum of lip-synching behavior. Given what the OP has said about her own social comfort zone, I seriously doubt that she was bobbing her head, dancing in her seat, and throwing her head back as she “sang.” I’ve been at choral concerts at which, if I know the piece, I might silently mouth the words. The only thing moving would be my lips.

  • Drawberry January 25, 2013, 9:08 am

    Regardless of how you feel about headphones and lip syncing to songs really doesn’t matter with this issues.

    A strange person put his hands on the OP’s property. Then on the OP.

    This stranger put his hands on another persons body because he felt entitled to what he wanted and saw nothing wrong with harassing a stranger to get it.

    To me, this is all that matters. I am glad the OP had the bus driver to help.

  • Katie January 25, 2013, 9:11 am

    I’m baffled by how, in any world, the OP’s behaviour could be classed as ‘rude’/baiting/attention-seeking…

    I’m a uni lecturer who takes public transport to get to work/conferences, etc. Sometimes, if I’m preparing for work, I read through my lecture or paper, mouthing the words as I go through (it helps plan the timings). This makes no sound whatsoever. Oddly enough, nobody has ever asked what I’m doing, suggested that I’m rude, or seems to care in any way. How is the OP’s example any different? I don’t get it.

  • Rap January 25, 2013, 9:35 am

    “Wow, really? Seriously, listening to your headphones and singing silently to yourself makes you seem “mentally ill”? ”

    Yeah, headphones these days tend to be tiny earbuds that are easily concealed. Even older headphones are small and can be difficult to spot with winter clothes. That leaves you with someone apparently talking to themselves on a bus.

    ” If you suspect someone’s disabled and they’re busy with their headphones, isn’t the assumption that they probably need them to cope with the outside stimulus? Messing with that would be a) sadistic and b) upsetting. Or do you generally find it okay to go up to disabled people and start messing with them, just to satisfy your curiosity about their state? Or do you automatically assume that if a person’s disabled, they can’t possibly take care of themselves, so you’ll go check up on them, even though they in now way seem lost or upset?”

    My, what interesting assumptions you’re making! 🙂

    First, as I stated above, I’m wondering if the headphones were visible. If not, then you have a person who is mouthing words but not speaking, and possibly acting a little detached. Yes, I might ask an innocuous question like “what song are you listening to?” if I was concerned that maybe this person was out of it in some way, simply to verify that they were aware of where they were… so that I wasn’t leaving someone who might need help alone on a bus. Your assumption that I would do so simply to sadistically upset someone with a mental disorder intentionally is a little offensive, as is your assumption that showing concern for someone alone, on a bus, who might seem disorientated or out of it is the equivalent of condescending to the disabled. Don’t worry, the next time I see a person seeming a little spaced out, I’ll be sure to do the right, polite thing, and do and say nothing. After all, no one ever takes advantage of people coping with mental illness, right?

    We’re talking a lot about the spectrum of autism here, and non visible disabilities. Are we really required to assume all strangers are a)coping with extreme social anxiety but also b) perfectly capable of functioning so ignore any odd behavior? I’m sorry you find the idea of my being concerned about my fellow human beings to be so offensive. Be assured that in all seriousness, if I was in this situation, once the OP mouthed but possibly didn’t speak in response to my question, my action would be to leave the OP alone for the rest of the ride and quietly tell the bus driver when I got off that the person seemed possibly a little disorientated. Because, my bigger concern with someone acting a little off and unresponsive on a bus isn’t their possible autism but that they might be using drugs.

    But hey, I’m still shocked that the mere act of making conversation on the bus is intensely rude, so what do I know?

  • Schnickelfritz January 25, 2013, 9:41 am

    Off topic here – but I want to relate something that happened when shopping with my little niece (around 6-7 years old.) There were a couple of bad stories / warnings in our local news of nearly abducted school girls in our area, on their way to school, or on the school grounds. The little kids were briefed at school and home, on being very careful, all the tips they give little kids.

    We were at the grocery store. This bagger, probably in his 50s, kept questioning my shy, little niece, though pretty street smart for her age. “Hi Cutie! What grade are you in? What school do you go to? Are those cookies for you?” – my niece first stared at him, her eyes as big as saucers. She averted her eyes, and tugged on my sleeve. It was rather creepy. She never responded to him at all. After we checked out, and out of her earshot, I did ask him, “in lieu of what has gone on in this area these past weeks, please don’t engage little kids in that type of conversation – it is at odds with what parents and teachers are warning them to avoid. Maybe I overreacted, but my little niece was creeped out. She kept looking over her shoulder on the wait out of the store. I could almost read her mind. This is not a new problem, I remember a similar instance, in the 60s, with my best friend, we were about 8 or 9, walking home from the corner drugstore. This car kept going by slowly, around the block, some creep leering at us. We hid in the bushes at the Parsonage! We were pretty street smart too! We spied as he went slowly by a couple of more times, looking for us! We memorized his plate number – and ran like heck home, and our parents handled it from there.

  • flowerpower January 25, 2013, 9:48 am

    It’s not rude to ask a stranger a friendly question. It’s not rude to decide you don’t want to talk to strangers, and either ignore them or give a brush-off, as the OP did. We don’t owe social interaction to every random person sitting near us on a bus. It *is* rude to force a conversation with somebody who has indicated they aren’t interested, and especially using physical contact to oblige them to respond.

  • E January 25, 2013, 10:32 am


    Your description of the anxiety you experience and the lengths to which you go to avoid street harassment is heart-breaking. Obviously I don’t know you and your situation, but I just wanted to give you some friendly encouragement to deal with these issues head-on. Speaking with a counselor could be very therapeutic, and it could give you some positive ways to deal with situations in an active rather than passive way. I also recommend looking up any of the Hollaback websites. They have them for a number of cities, and people post their stories (sometimes photos, video) of street harassment. You might find some good tips for how to handle certain situations, or at least a community of people with similar experiences, and it might be helpful. But no one deserves to walk around feeling constantly frightened in daily life. Nor should you have to disfigure yourself (with hairstyle and clothes that you actually do not like or prefer) in order to avoid male attention. The fallacy is that you have some control over how other people act. You don’t – their behavior is on them, and you have every right to feel safe in public and on the street. Don’t get scared, get angry and get active.

  • Lacey January 25, 2013, 10:58 am

    Lia and Bint nailed it. Headphones mean “please don’t talk to me,” and the man was demanding attention from the OP and got aggressive when he didn’t get what he wanted. To those who think she should have answered him to make him go away, look to the post where the woman talks about getting felt up after engaging such a man on public transit. “You wouldn’t know it” was her way of saying “I don’t want to talk to you, go away.” That is her RIGHT. This man was not entitled to her attention and should have accepted his rejection in a non-violent manner (walked away and left her alone).

    And the “you’re having fun and I can’t participate” comment reminds me of the creepy men’s rights activist websites where they basically say a woman shouldn’t look attractive in public if she isn’t willing to “share” herself with any man who wants her. Gross.

  • Yet Another Laura January 25, 2013, 11:03 am

    The bus passenger was rude. No doubt about it, etched in concrete in mile-high letters. Best of all, the bus driver did the right thing and got a complimentary letter. How awesome is that?

    It’s fine to approach someone and ask about the music/book/weather/the time/something not personal. You get one chance and if the reception is frosty, BACK OFF. This guy didn’t.

    I’m tired of bars set so low that snakes can step over it. How much do you want to bet that the rude guy knows when not to approach his boss to ask for a raise? People who harass others on the bus/in laundromats/at restaurants/anywhere in public for that matter do know how to behave. They choose not to.

  • Tracy January 25, 2013, 11:37 am

    Rap said: “But hey, I’m still shocked that the mere act of making conversation on the bus is intensely rude, so what do I know?”

    Are you saying that what the man did was “the mere act of making conversation?”

  • Mae January 25, 2013, 11:37 am

    I totally agree the man was wrong for touching OP’s person and belongings. However, if I did not see the earbuds, then asked a question and the OP’s lips moved and no sound came out, I would be concerned that they needed medical help. Although, I would have probably moved closer to the front and alerted the driver that someone may need help, rather than try to further engage them. I would also be a little frightened that the person may become violent and/or be disoriented enough to become agressive/violent if they felt threatened by me talking to them.

    As for the lip-synching in public thing, it could be annoying to others, especially if the OP were whispering and did not realize it. OP states “I should add here that I have a neurological disorder that makes it hard for me to speak sometimes, so I’m not positive whether I spoke aloud or just mouthed it.” If this is the case, how can OP be sure she wasn’t making any sound, especially with ear buds in?

    The comment “You wouldn’t know it” does come off as a little snarky and a bit of a put down. See comments by Em# 74.

    All in all, I think this man was going to make a scene whether OP ignored him completely or answered his question, then indicated she wanted to be left alone by either ignoring or rebuffing him. This was a no-win situation and I am glad OP was able to get the bus driver’s attention and let him/her step in to make the man leave her alone. I think OP did the best she could, considering she has a neurological disorder and am glad so was ok.

  • Mae January 25, 2013, 11:41 am

    Also want to add that filing a compliment with the bus co about the driver was great thing to do! Kudo to OP & the driver.

  • Magicdomino January 25, 2013, 11:42 am

    In mild defense of Lerah99’s comment about eating in public being rude, I seem to recall an old rule about not eating on the street. One was supposed to be eating proper meals inside at a table (restaurants are fine); only lower-class people ate street food because they might not have a real kitchen, much less a cook and servants. The rule had pretty much died by the early to mid twentieth century as fewer people had servants or time to run home for lunch. The fact that it was blatantly classist, and that there is some pretty good street food out there, has put the nails in its coffin.

  • David January 25, 2013, 12:15 pm

    OP, you handled the situation well. The only rude person was the guy who would not stop bothering you.

    Re: Victim blaming.

    I was on a different forum one day reading about how someone had had something stolen. And one of the other posters decided to blame the victim. This is what they posted, and yes they were serious:

    ‘If you have a 6 foot fence around your yard with a locked gate and someone jumps over the fence and climbs up on something to look in your window and sees the wallet that you left on your bedside table so they break the window and steal your wallet then you are at fault.
    They would have never stolen it if you hadn’t left it out in plain sight for anyone to see.”

    Victim blaming is wrong. The convolutions your brain must go through to make the victim to blame are evidence of that.

  • Cerys January 25, 2013, 12:48 pm

    I addressed a comment to Lia that should have been addressed to Lerah99. My apologies for this – it seems that somewhere between my brain and my typing fingers something went awry.

  • Sarah January 25, 2013, 12:52 pm

    Really? Is it that hard to grasp that it isn’t the act of saying, “What are you listening to?” that is rude, but the persisting in a conversation with a stranger who has made it clear that he or she doesn’t want to talk to you? Then to TOUCH that person?

    You’re allowed to say friendly things to strangers. You’re allowed to ask about a book or song or ask the person wearing your alma mater hoodie when they went, because you went there too. But that person is not under any obligation to talk to you. They can respond dismissively, and choose to end the conversation.

    It is when you try to continue the conversation, implying that YOUR desire to speak outweighs THAT person’s desire to be left alone, that a problem arises.

    Go ahead, say “hi” to someone on the bus. That’s not rude. Becoming upset or demanding when the person doesn’t respond the way you want (with the name of the song, the name of the book, with where they are going, and so on) IS rude. I see this argument ALL the time in cases of street harassment. “Oh, so we can’t be friendly now?” “Saying hello is RUDE?!” “How am I supposed to meet a woman? What if I am a nice guy who just thinks she’s attractive?” “It’s hard to get the nerve up to talk to a woman I might like, and now I’m going to be yelled at for being rude?” Get over yourself. People aren’t in public to please YOU or talk to YOU. If you want to say hello, go ahead. But that doesn’t mean she or he owes you any further conversation. Getting bent out of shape because someone says they don’t like it when someone harasses them is ridiculous. Don’t harass, and you won’t be rude. If a girl doesn’t respond to you, try again, the next one may like you better. Don’t sit there and try to force her to do what you want.

    Just a hint, if she tries to end the conversation and you try to force it to continue against her wishes, she will wonder what else you’d try to force her to do.

    And, FTR, I’m horrible with song names. Really horrible. I rarely know the song name or artists, so if I was asked the name of the song and I responded, “oh you wouldn’t know it,” I wouldn’t mean it in a derogatory way. I would actually mean, “It’s this song I really like, but I can never remember the name.”

  • Dani313 January 25, 2013, 1:04 pm

    I disagree with those who say the response of “You wouldn’t know it” is rude. Saying it isn’t an assumption that the other person is classless or beneath me. Sometimes it is the truth. I too have an obscure music collection. In addition I also listen to a lot of recordings of myself playing the piano and to a friend’s unreleased music. Or I may be saying it because I don’t want to engage in a conversation. There is nothing rude about asking someone a question. It is rude to continue to try to engage a conversation with someone who has shown no interest.

    Regardless, a woman shouldn’t have to learn to deescalate situations. Men (and I am not saying all men are guilty of these behaviors and that women are innocent) should learn that if someone ignores you or responds in a way that you don’t like that should be a cue that she DOES NOT want to talk to you. It is not a cue to keep trying , assume she is “playing hard to get”, put your hands on her or call her out of her name. It also doesn’t mean I am frigid, a prude or a tease. It means she is not interested. It may be due to your appearance, smell, demeanor or attitude. Either way it goes STOP!

  • Hawkwatcher January 25, 2013, 1:39 pm

    I think that the OP was in a no win situation here. If the OP had told him what music she was listening to, he probably would have taken it as opening. And if he had hit on the OP and she refused him after engaging in a conversation with him, he probably would have accused her of leading him on.

  • EchoGirl January 25, 2013, 1:42 pm

    OP here. Trying to respond to as many comments as I can.

    First of all, I don’t think he was on the autism spectrum. I can usually recognize ASD from just plain rude, because I have a spectrum disorder (the “neurological condition” in question, I just tend to keep it ambiguous because some people would assume I was lying if I say I have a job and an autism spectrum disorder). As for knowing whether I was making sound, the disorder causes me to have trouble “changing gears”. I knew what I was doing in “singing” because I’d very carefully set up to do what I was doing. When I had to “change gears” to actually communicating, it takes me a few seconds to make the transition and in the meantime I’m not fully aware of if I’m speaking or not.

    Yes, I am female. I guess I didn’t realize it made a difference.

    I tried ignoring him. It didn’t work, which is why I finally responded, hoping that would get him out of my face.

  • Library Diva January 25, 2013, 1:51 pm

    I can’t believe that there were comments suggesting the OP somehow brought this on herself. Rebekah’s heartbreaking post (#58) illustrates perfectly why there was nothing OP could have done differently to avoid unwanted attention. Rebekah states that she carefully tunes her appearance and behavior in public to avoid unwanted attention, yet she got some anyway.

    OP was not “unresponsive:” she was listening to her music, answered his question the first time, then ignored him. Rude Bus Guy’s behavior didn’t imply concern at all. If he was worried about her, he would have asked if she was all right. That’s what I’ve done in all situations where I’ve encountered someone in public who’s exhibiting concerning behavior. When they said yes, I backed off. The one time the person’s family said no, I called 911 and it turned out that the man was a diabetic and his blood sugar was crashing.

    I agree with Yet Another Laura: Rude Bus Guy probably knows how to control his behavior just fine when it suits him. Rude Bus Guy probably would not have approached OP if he’d had a female companion with him, for example.

    As a side note, I have always found” Whatcha reading?” to be just about the world’s most annoying question one can be asked in a public place. It’s hard to shut down. For one thing, if all they wanted was to know what your book was, they could look at the cover. You answer with the title, and you’re never done…oh no…”what’s it about” “is it any good” “who wrote it” “is it a new book” are all sure to follow. Then you’re into explaining the plot awkwardly while the random stranger is left to wonder what it says about you that you’re reading a book about cheating husbands or whatever, when all you were trying to do is get a little serenity.

    I’m going to try one of the commentors’ neutral shutdowns next time. It’s bad enough in an airport, a doctor’s waiting room or public transit when many people welcome a little conversation from a stranger, but people like to yell up to me WHEN I’M ON MY PORCH in the summer, asking me what I’m reading. Irritating.

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