Constructive Eavesdropping

by admin on February 21, 2013

Today, in the queue at a pharmacy, I heard a lady asking if the shop sold jelly (Jello) suitable for people with diabetes. Upon being told that it wasn’t possible to buy it in the shop, she asked if the ladies at the counter had any ideas where she could find some. They didn’t know, and I automatically chipped in to suggest that a nearby health food shop might stock the kind of thing that she was after. She thanked me for the suggestion, and everyone seemed happy. After I left the shop, though, it occurred to me that my contribution to the conversation was unsolicited and could be deemed extremely rude. This got me thinking about the number of occasions on which I’ve done similar things – offered helpful suggestions or asked people who looked lost if they needed directions to any particular place. So – how do other readers feel about unsolicited help from unexpected people? 0207-13

The problem with unsolicited advice is that it reveals what everyone knows happens but prefers to not acknowledge, namely that people routinely overhear our conversations.   Even if one cannot avoid overhearing a discussion between two or more strangers, the polite thing to do is to pretend you didn’t.   That said, offering factual answers to a factual request is a kindness that benefits the person seeking information.   I believe things happen for a purpose and maybe you just happened to be in the right place at the right time to offer a “key” that solves another person’s dilemma.

The problem is when the eavesdropper intrudes to offer an opinion as opposed to basic, factual information in the mistaken idea that they are being “helpful” and therefore kind.  No, they are being busybodies intent on expounding on their own worldview.   So if one must intrude on an overheard conversation, stick to the facts, i.e. that item can be found at this store, the directions to that place are this, it’s cheaper at XXX, they are closed on Mondays, etc.

{ 45 comments… read them below or add one }

Marozia February 21, 2013 at 2:41 am

That has happened to me, too. But before I put my 2 cents in, I always say “I couldn’t help overhearing……” or “I don’t wish to intrude but…….” Always works for me, and I’ve never been told to butt out or mind my own business. One time, I was standing in line waiting to be served, with two women behind me carrying on a conversation, and both of them asked my opinion on the matter? I was gobsmacked!!! That was weird!!

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NostalgicGal February 21, 2013 at 3:11 am

Offered politely, in turn, if you can solve the dilemma or offer another place to find X if indeed this place does not have it; is not a blunder.

As admin said, butting in with opinion or unsolicited general advice is another matter! I live in small town and sometimes if one place does not have something, someone might know whether another store does, and it is more for ‘shop at home’ to offer; even the store owner will, where X might be found if they do not carry it or are out of stock.

This is a fine line to toe though, to make it politeness and not rudeness.

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Spuck February 21, 2013 at 7:17 am

I think the only problem about living in your own bubble, and only reacting in the dire situations, is that people don’t have the tendency to act in the grayer areas. I remember one time when I was at the store I was getting muffins from behind some shelves with doors. A man in a wheel chair came up behind me was struggling to open up the those thin, clear plastic bags they have in stores everywhere for food storage. He eventually asked for help after struggling for several seconds, which I did, but we ended up opening the bag awkwardly. I really should have just offered to get some pastries for him after he initially asked for help opening the bag, but I was so worried about offending him that I didn’t.

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psyche February 21, 2013 at 7:31 am

My father is likes to do this, butt into people’s conversations, especially if the conversation has to do with politics, Mexico (one of his interests is the Mexican Revolution), the military (my father served in the Navy during the Vietnam War), coins (another interest), stamps (another interest), or licence plates (yet another interest). I’m always amazed that rarely do people tell him to shut up, especially since his opinions on politics are mostly endless Bush jokes.

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Green123 February 21, 2013 at 7:52 am

I think if I’d been the Jello lady or the shop assistants I’d have been grateful for the help! It’s not like you were commenting on a personal or private issue, but rather providing a helpful snippet of information. These days everyone seems to think the internet knows everything, but sometimes people with local knowledge can be the most helpful!

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Jay February 21, 2013 at 9:11 am

Sugar-free Jello is great, and at least in the U.S. it’s readily available in grocery stores.. Just fyi ;)

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Weaver February 21, 2013 at 9:28 am

I think Admin’s spot on by differentiating between simple information, which is likely to be helpful, and unsolicited opinions on matters which are none of our beeswax. OP, I don’t think you were rude at all in this case.

@ Spuck – I know what you mean. In my (limited) experience, I’ve found that asking “may I help you with that at all?”, as opposed to “can I help you with that?” (um, of course I can) or “let me help you” (presumptious and patronising) usually clarifies things. That way, if the person wants your assistance, you can give it. If not, no harm done.

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Anonymous February 21, 2013 at 9:56 am

Yeah, you were fine. If you hadn’t “constructively eavesdropped,” then that woman would have had to go home without her Jell-O.

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Mary February 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

I read this with great interest and feel a bit relieved at Adm’s advice. I have done this very thing and then worried that I was butting in. No one has ever said anything negative or told me to mind my own bees wax but I have wondered after the fact if I was rude even as I was truly trying to be helpful.
Not too long ago I was checking out a our local Sprawl Mart when I overheard an elderly woman ask a clerk where a certain item was. The clerk told the customer the wrong aisle. It was snack cakes and they are with bread not with other snack foods like cookies. I said, “I’m sorry but that item is in aisle 1 ” Both were appreciative but I realize that could’ve been taken as insulting and rude.

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gramma dishes February 21, 2013 at 11:03 am

If offering appropriate information is rude, then I’m rude because I have done this often. I think the OP was fine here.

As Admin suggests, there is a huge difference between offering information which may hopefully really be helpful in solving a dilemma and offering an opinion which is entirely different and should never be given unless that opinion is specifically requested — and even then maybe not. ;-)

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Cat February 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

I had a situationin a fast food restaurant during Lent. Two young men were discussing why Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent and perform other penances, but don’t follow those practices on Sundays in Lent. One man said he had asked his mother, who was a Catholic, and she did not know.
I could not help over-hearing and wanted to explain that Sundays are a celebration of the resurrection and no fasting/penance is ever done on a Sunday. I didn’t because I felt it was a private conversation. I have always wondered if they would have appreciated knowing the answer or if they would have thought me intrusive.

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Fragglerocker19 February 21, 2013 at 11:38 am

I agree with Admin–it isn’t rude if someone is asking a question and you give a factual answer that nobody who the original speaker was intending to address is able to answer it. This happens to me fairly frequently when I shop in a baby care area at stores (whether baby specific or a department in a larger store), as I’ll often run into people with baby registries who are not, themselves, parents (or haven’t had a baby in years and find the numerous products now available overwhelming) and they will be asking each other questions, such as “Do babies even wear socks?” (Yes–to keep their feet warm.) The recipients of the unsolicited responses are always appreciative–I look the part of the expert: very pregnant and with a two year old in tow.

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Harley Granny February 21, 2013 at 11:53 am

I agree with the majority. As long as it’s helpful information it’s perfectly fine. Opinions are never welcome unless asked for.

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Daisy February 21, 2013 at 11:56 am

I do this frequently in response to people who are looking for information. While standing in line at the service station, for example, someone may ask the clerk for directions to someplace. If the clerk doesn’t know, I chime in with “I believe that’s over across such-and-such”, and smile politely. I’ve never failed to get a thank you and a smile in return. Inserting myself into someone else’s conversation, however, is beyond the pale. I’m more likely to move quietly out of range, lest someone accuse me of evesdropping!

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Betty February 21, 2013 at 12:08 pm

@Mary, as a formal retail employee, I was always really grateful for customers helping other customers to find things in the store. As a cashier, I was stuck at the front end for my whole shift, and while I walked through the store on occasion, I wasn’t familiar with it inside and out. If a customer happened to correct me on where an item was located, I would be grateful because a) the other customer could now find that item; and b) I now knew where that item was too, and I wouldn’t give misinformation the next time!

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cathy February 21, 2013 at 12:14 pm

You weren’t rude, you were helpful. I’ve done that myself, and had people speak up to offer me help that way, and I appreciate it. I think most people would be fine with it, and those that aren’t…oh well.

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MichelleP February 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Agree with admin; there was nothing wrong with what you did. There aren’t enough people anymore who have friendly and informative conversations in my opinion; everyone seems wrapped up in their own world! Love it when I ask a question about directions, products, etc and someone knows and speaks up.

Not to change the thread, but what does one do when on the opposite end of the spectrum? When someone offers unsolicited opinions, information, so one?

I was at a restaurant a while back, and an older lady approached me and asked for directions. Where she was going was a straight shot, simple directions. (I’ve lived in my town for several years and know exactly how to get where she was asking.) As I told her, there was a man at the next table staring and listening while I was talking. In the middle of our conversation, he butted in and started telling her I “was wrong” and going “to get her lost”, smirking and telling her just listen to him. I didn’t know what to say, and the lady was obviously embarassed. I let him tell her completely unnecessary turns and complicated directions, then pulled her aside and finished my spiel. How should that be handled?

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Allie February 21, 2013 at 1:20 pm

This reminds me of an incident when I was in Uni. I was in class waiting for the lecture to begin. A student seated in front of me was having a discussion with the professor that had something to do with Jerusalem being the site of the coming end-times. Thinking it was an academic discussion, I added a comment to the conversation and from the other student’s reaction it became apparent to me he was approaching the topic from a personal and very passionate religious point of view. It also became apparent the professor was very uncomfortable with the discussion and was just nodding noncomitally, not wanting to engage the student in any debate surrounding his personal beliefs. When I realized all this, I immediately but politely removed myself from the conversation. The next day, the student apologized to me for his passion. I said no apology was necessary from him, it was I who should not have butted in on the conversation and my comment was in no way meant as an attack on his personal beliefs, explaining that I did not understand he was discussing his personal beliefs when I made my comment. I suppose I should have stayed out of the discussion in the first place, but a University is supposed to be a place of discussion and debate (although with appropriate respect for the views of others).

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Another Alice February 21, 2013 at 2:00 pm

It is totally a fine line to walk in terms of being helpful and minding one’s own business. I have a bit of a story regarding that line between ‘rude’ and ‘helpful.’ Not quite to do with eavesdropping, but certainly minding your own business vs. being helpful.

A long, long time ago in college, a group of friends and I were walking down the street, late at night, in a big city. At a corner, waiting to cross, was a woman in a wheelchair, and all of us but one paid her no mind. Not to be rude, but just . . . well, in my city minding your own business is considered a strong moral plus! Also, of course you’re brought up not to stare at people anyway, particularly anyone with a disability. However, the one of us who *did* look realized this woman was paralyzed, and had dropped her remote for her automatic wheelchair, rendering her quite helpless as to move on. He noticed, reached down, and gave it to her. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed and how hard-wired the “mind your own business” mantra was in me, and felt badly about it. Lesson learned.

That incident stuck with me for so long, that not long ago, the exact same thing happened to me. I saw a man at a corner in a wheelchair, and this time glanced quickly and as harmlessly as possible – and he had also dropped his remote! He absolutely beamed with gratitude when I gave it to him. I truly believe that the first time observing such an instance was why I looked to help automatically. Now, I’d never stare or offer comment of course, but being aware of our surroundings and, as admin said, offering factual advice can be a godsend in this world. Never stare, never give opinions, but making sure those around you are “okay” is not at all rude, just compassionate.

I’m also reminded of the (embarrassing) time I had a huge fight with a friend in college. I left my dorm, went outside, and cried in the park (I still cringe at the memory of these dramatics). A man walking his dog stopped and asked if I was okay. It really meant a lot to me, and while I wasn’t looking for help, I still remember it – a total stranger just making sure I didn’t need anything, when so many had walked past. (Definitely got up and went back into the dorm, tehe! It served as a reality check that my reaction was outweighing the actual problem, so two lessons learned!)

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AS February 21, 2013 at 2:17 pm

First of all, thanks for asking this question, OP. I have sometimes done that too, and felt the same way as the OP did.

I was once in the small airport in my University town where I was picking up my husband. His luggage didn’t make it, and hence we went to the counter. A lady in front of us, who apparently was young visiting scholar from a foreign country, was talking to the agents and asking them if there was a pay-phone anywhere. There was none in the airport anymore (thanks to the mobile phone era! Sigh!). She needed a cab, and the airport has neither a cab stand, not a booth where they’ll call cabs for you. At one point, she seemed so desperate that I could not hold myself back anymore and offered her to use my cell phone. She seemed very grateful, and thanked me profusely! I am glad I could help because I could totally picture myself landing at a small airport in a foreign country, and having no way to get out of there and go to my hotel.

In another incident, I was at a place where I am not too comfortable with the language. I was at a restaurant and trying to speak the language, but evidently not being too successful. A nice lady standing nearby translated what I wanted to say, and I am grateful that she did it.

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bopper February 21, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I don’t mind people chiming in…but make a statement or two, and then be on your way. It gets uncomfortable if you keep trying to convince me that product X or product Y is better. State your piece about product X but then move along…don’t stare at me seeing which one I pick.

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amyasleigh February 21, 2013 at 3:00 pm

I certainly feel: for factual stuff — where the conversers don’t know the answer, and where one is sure, or anyway 99% sure, that oneself does — absolutely fine to break into the conversation, voicing the “reservation”, “I couldn’t help overhearing, but…”. I can see one’s doing this as causing displeasure, only in extreme circumstances. Namely, if the people supposedly looking for information, are odious curmudgeons who thrive on seeking offence, and on having unpleasant interactions with others; or beyond-fanatical etiquette purists fixated on the strict letter of the law, rather than the spirit; or, heaven forbid, both. Essentially, sane people would be grateful for the interruption and attempt at help.

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Lita February 21, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I’ve done this same thing several times, as well. Most recent was at a local electronics store where I was looking for an e-book reader – a couple of women who were not very technologically inclined were looking down that row as well with horribly panicked looks on their faces, and finally one turned to the other and asked very uncertainly, “Are these ALL e-book readers?” (There were a good many tablets in the rows around so I don’t blame them for getting confused!) I was right next to them at the time and none of the employees wandering by were even giving these obviously lost customers a second glance, so I politely made my preemptive apologies and explained that yes, everything down that row was indeed just e-book readers.

I have never seen someone go from “oh no” to “oh thank god!” so fast in my life, and they proceeded to thank me profusely and continue browsing now that they knew they were in the right place. :)

So no, I don’t think it’s rude to help out either. Definitely in agreement that one should not offer unsolicited opinions, though!

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Cerys February 21, 2013 at 5:35 pm

First of all, many thanks to all the positive responses to this. I’m the OP, and it’s good to know that I’m not the only person who offers unsolicited help – or the only person who then wonders afterwards if I’ve overstepped a line.

I noticed that several posters mention their experiences with wheelchair-users. As a wheelchair-user myself, I often find myself assuring people who apologise for offering assistace that an offer of help is never offensive. It’s only when the helpful person won’t accept ‘no’ for an answer that it becomes annoying – and the only time I’ve ever been offended is when someone told me that I ‘shouldn’t be too proud to accept help’. I was lucky enough to be able to grit my teeth and smile, but I’ve never forgotten. The way I see it, if you offer to help someone and they get offended, the problem is theirs, and not yours. A simple offer of help is never a bad thing. Refusing to accept that a wheelchair user might know what their own limitations are and be able to judge for themselves whether or not they need help *is*.

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Drawberry February 21, 2013 at 6:49 pm

I think the key is that your offering helpful information on a factual basis versus hearing someone state an opinion and chime in with an opposing opinion or an abusive retort.

Hearing someone is looking for help in some way and offering help is polite and kind. Hearing someone with an opposing political opinion at a bar and angrily confronting them is not.

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Kate February 21, 2013 at 7:03 pm

I agree with previous posters – if you are offering factual information, and hedge it with a comment like “I couldn’t help overhearing, but..”, it isn’t rude and will probably be welcomed.
I wouldn’t offer my opinion if two people were having an argument, or someone was discussing whether or not her boyfriend was cheating on her, or something along those lines.

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waitress wonderwoman February 21, 2013 at 9:07 pm

I think the OP did nothing wrong. She gave helpful suggestions and the woman probably went home with her desired item. If fact, I think withholding her knowledge would have been unthoughtful. Now, of course if she had butted it and said something along the lines of “Ugg, Jello is sooo gross” or something as useless as that, yes, that would have been unarguably rude. I had something like that happen to me while a friend and I were at a gas station discussing if we should should eat at a certain restaurant that is currently going through a PR nightmare where someone left an offensive note (and lack of tip) on a cc receipt, the server posted it online and was fired. Apparently there is now a huge on going boycott of said restaurant (on a side note: for anyone familiar with that story, even as a server, I think the company was right in firing her, you just don’t do that). We pulled up the story online, and she was right. Both being servers, we thought about not going there but then decided to anyway and left a huge tip. We figured that with the boycott, people working there were probably hurting. Anyway, we would have left a big tip anyway (we take care of our own) but I did think it was strange that a stranger just kinda busted into our conversation.
During this past election, I saw a lot of this when I would bartend and a guest and I would be civilly discussing who we supported. I had others bar guests, who guest #1 didn’t know from a can of paint, butt in and voice their downright hate of our guy (I live in a small, wealthy Southern town- so you can imagine how that went down!). I don’t consider shouting at the top of your lungs that our current president is a “Muslim and hates white people” as giving us any factual information that we can put to any use. I ALWAYS put a stop to that quick! No arguing about politics or religion at my bar on my watch! Respectful, invited debate if you chose to but if no one asked you for your OPINION, no one wants to hear it. Assuming we want it….well you know how that saying goes.

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waitress wonderwoman February 21, 2013 at 10:12 pm

I’m curious too know what the admin and commenters think about butting into a conversion of strangers where someone is being verbally abusive to someone else, using very offensive language or just being downright offensive? On a recent episode of “What Would You Do?” a young man was being very loudly verbally abusive to his mother while in line at a store. Hidden cameras were capturing peoples reactions. Some people remained silent while a few let the young man have it (some even threatened to call the police). I’m pretty sure I would have given the young man a piece of my mind too. I certainly wouldn’t have been “minding my business” but would this throw me in Ehell? What is the etiquette on these types of situations, or does etiquette go out the window in a case such as this? What if the person simply says something offensive or racist? I think this is a good place to ask this question, because, honestly, even though I’ve never been in this type of situation, how should I behave if I ever am?

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Same here February 21, 2013 at 10:41 pm

In a public place, private conversations aren’t really private. If I’m asking a question to an employee, I assume everyone around can hear. I’ve been offered some great information by eavesdroppers. I don’t see an issue with knowing where to find a product and sharing that knowledge is rude, even if it wasn’t directed at you. Sharing unsolicited opinions on the other hand is very rude.

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Anonymous February 21, 2013 at 10:51 pm

@AS–What airport was that? I’d like to make a point not to go there, because if they’re that unhelpful with something as routine as someone needing a taxi, then I’d hate to see how they deal with things that go wrong, like when someone’s luggage gets lost in transit.

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waitress wonderwoman February 21, 2013 at 10:57 pm

Opps. Sorry. To clear up my first comment, my friend and I had no prior knowledge of that had happened at the restaurant. My friend just asked me simply, “Hey are you in mood for X restaurant?” while we were paying for our items. It was, in fact, the gas station cashier, who was ringing us up, that mentioned the boycott. She said her mother had waited tables for years and that she would never step foot in said restaurant ever again. She had no idea that we too were servers. I’m sure we would have heard about the story eventually. We were in no way offended, and even discussed it a little but we still thought it was kind of odd her just saying that.

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NostalgicGal February 22, 2013 at 12:56 am

@ Cerys, I have been on and off, splints, crutches, casts, walker, motie and wheelchair’ed. Given and receiving help, ask nicely, and take it with grace on what the other person decides.

One late evening in a super(bigboxstore) I had had stitches for a ripped heel crack and traded my crutches for a motie. The store gets much bigger, but I was staying OFF the foot and hopping about with a shopping cart was not what I should do… so. In the middle of one aisle a man in wheelchair sat, some things in his basket, near a towering shelving unit. I pulled up and asked him if he was alright and could I help him after he said he was alright. He said no. And glanced up. Oh. I told him that I had stitches in my heel but could stand up and walk… well he needed something on the top shelf. Okay I got up, shuffle hopped a few steps, did a careful climb the shelves a touch and snagged it. Did he want two? No, one was fine. And got down. He waited until I got back in my seat, to make sure I didn’t do a floorkiss and need scraping up. In this case a few polite words had sorted the situation into a win.

Politeness and graciousness, can win the day. Just as Ehell points out time and time again!

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Mary February 22, 2013 at 9:57 am

And there was the time when I encountered a very frazzled young man in the baby formula aisle. He had 3 containers of formula in his hands and a cart full of formula in front of him. He literally had 1 of every brand, size and kind (powdered, concentrate and ready to eat.) I was worried he was planning to purchase hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars of formula so I approached him and said, “Do you need some help? My 6 month old is switching to this XY kind. The X kind gave her a lot of gas” He looked so relieved and explained that he had a newborn at home and what the hospital gave them wasn’t agreeing with him, etc. We had a nice conversation on pros and cons of the different formulations and how you have to make changes slowly, etc. And when in doubt, call your healthcare provider… In the end he left with 2 bottles of formula, a more sensitive formulation of the original hospital brand, and a smile on his face. I walked away wondering if he would’ve really bought all that formula if no one had come along to “butt in” :)

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Chocobo February 22, 2013 at 11:20 am

It might help the author if she or he prefaces chipping in with “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear…” and then going on to give the piece of needed advice. As for helping someone who looks lost, simply saying “Can I help you with something?” or “Are you looking for something?” will give the lost person a chance to accept or decline help.

It’s certainly not wrong to help people. Goodness, if etiquette prohibited that, what a world it would be!

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Julie February 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I was once at the checkout line behind a Chinese couple who didn’t speak English. They were unsuccessfully conversing with the cashier, who didn’t speak Chinese. I’m fluent in Chinese so I jumped in and helped translate, which ended up making things easier for everyone. True, no one asked for my help, but I think everyone was grateful, not offended. I know that when I’m in a place where I don’t know the language, I’m ever so grateful to have “volunteer translators” to help me out.

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kingsrings February 22, 2013 at 1:24 pm

When you’re in public in a gathering area (like a checkout line, etc.), one should expect that a certain amount of privacy goes out the door. Your conversations aren’t completely private, so you shouldn’t expect complete privacy regarding them. My opinion is that it isn’t wrong for anyone to give their two cents unless they’re being rude. Regarding offering help to strangers, I see nothing wrong with that, either. Even if they don’t really need help, there’s still nothing wrong with the polite and caring gesture of offering help. A friend of mine recently took a big fall in public while at a gas station and suffered some minor injuries. She said that there were so many people around when it happened, yet not one person came over and asked if she was okay. Others said they probably thought she must be embarrassed and wanted to spare her any more embarrassment by pretending to notice that it didn’t happen. Well, what if she had been more seriously hurt? Was she supposed to lie there or something?

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Cerys February 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm

@NostalgicGal – I tend to be gracious to whoever offers assistance. The way I see it, if they get a negative response from me, they may end up not offering help to someone who *does* need it. Mind you, I draw the line at people who wordlessly grab the handles of my chair and start pushing because they think they’re being helpful. I may ask them politely to stop, but if they don’t then I tell them, firmly, to ‘please let go’.

@Chocobo – wise words. If I see someone who looks lost I’ll always ask rather than assuming that they need help. Unfortunately if I say ‘excuse me’ to people they tend to assume I’m trying to get past them and become apologetic, hence my tendency to just get to the point. If it weren’t for the wheelchair factor then I’d almost certainly do what you suggest, although it would probably depend on the situation.

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anon February 22, 2013 at 7:33 pm

Something like that is perfectly fine. Rude would be something to the effect of, “Oh, no, you absolutely shouldn’t be eating that with your condition. You should be eating (x product) instead!”

But as the admin said, offering helpful facts is totally fine, IMO.

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NostalgicGal February 22, 2013 at 7:58 pm

@ Cerys, I totally agree, leave mitts off the handles unless asked to! It’s like putting your arm around someone’s waist and you don’t know them….

Where I live now, maps can be very confusing… we have 5 highways (used to be 6) that meet at our traffic circle at the courthouse… and one turn is actually three miles away out of town and past the elevators but a lot of people think it should be a block or so off the circle. Or they can’t understand why they have to go east to go south, and going west gets you into the middle of nowhere. I have been walking to downtown and stopped by many a pulled over vehicle with out of state plates, glanced in, seen a map and kindly explained how to really get there from where they are right now. And our town gridding vs googlemaps and google earth do not really, um, match up. In that case a friendly ‘looking for somewhere and …?’ usually is greatly appreciated.

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NicoleK February 24, 2013 at 11:09 am

I would have thanked the person for the tip.

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Gloria Shiner February 25, 2013 at 12:12 pm

We had an interesting variation of this occur last night at dinner. For some reason the people at the table next to ours (seated after we ordered but before we were served) felt they had a need to comment on and evaluate what we had ordered for dinner. Although they never addressed us directly, they watched in amazement every item that was brought to our table, pointed, laughed and made loud comments.

I was tempted to ask what exactly was their problem but restrained myself. I settled for a couple of direct stares which, of course, had no impact on these boors.

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Enna February 25, 2013 at 2:17 pm

It depends on the situation I think. If it is a private conversation they shouldn’t be having it in a public place where people can overhear.

I once caught the bus and it was gone 10 in evening. A man said to me “excuse me, is it too late to call my missus?” He wanted my opinion as I was a woman. I said to him that since it was after ten pm maybe send her a text if he thinks she might have gone to bed. That way if she has gone to be bed or was going to sleep she can ignore it or answer it if she wants to.

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Mabel February 28, 2013 at 2:39 pm

I think you’re fine. If you said “Excuse me, but I overheard you and I think I know where you can find it,” or something, that’s not rude. That’s helpful. I really don’t know why anyone would assume you can’t hear what was said if you were standing right there. I would be grateful if you helped me in such a manner. :)

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Nic March 5, 2013 at 12:43 am

I think it depends on the situation in which the information was being asked for. I overheard a lady in my local supermarket who was clearly not a local and didn’t know her way around complaining to her husband that she couldn’t find the cucumbers. I said “Excuse me mam, the cucumbers are over there.” She was grateful for the help in this case. If it’s something small like that, it’s fine I think. If you know the answer and it’s appropriate and helpful, why not offer what you know? :D

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Bill M. March 7, 2013 at 9:31 am

I don’t see anything wrong with helping out if someone is in need and you have the information readily available.

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