Etiquette Hell

General Etiquette => Life...in general => Topic started by: Psychopoesie on June 24, 2013, 09:34:13 PM

Title: Stranger at my table
Post by: Psychopoesie on June 24, 2013, 09:34:13 PM
Hello Ehellions

Long time lurker, first time poster, as the saying goes.

This happened to me several weeks back and I have wondered if there was a better way to handle it.

I was sitting at a table in a cafe enjoying a nice pot of tea, probably reading Ehell on my iPad, and waiting for my food to come out. It was lunchtime and the cafe was full.

Next thing I knew a woman had pulled out one of the vacant chairs at my table and sat down. She had shifted the chair so the back was at a 90 degree angle to the table, so she wasn't facing me. When I looked up surprised, she avoided eye contact. She said nothing to me before she sat down.

I sat there stunned, wondering what to say.

After a long stretch of uncomfortable silence, she asked me if the coffee was good here. I said it was fine. I asked if she was waiting to pick up a take away coffee. She said yes.

Around here, it's not usual for people to sit uninvited at someone else's table, even if there are vacant seats. People waiting for their coffees usually wait at the end of the counter to pick them up. The cafe is in a mall with plenty of other coffee/cafe options if she really wanted to have a sit down coffee.

I would have left it at that, figuring she'd be gone soon.

However, i ended up shifting to another table when it came free - not because i was offended, just some other things seemed weird. Her hands were shaking. When she opened her handbag, she took a bottle of iced coffee out of her purse to drink. So I wasn't sure if what she'd told me about buying a coffee was true or if something else was going on. At the time, I was worried she might be about to steal my handbag or ask for money. While those concerns were probably unfounded, moving away felt right. (And I realise she may just have been unwell or had a stressful experience that day).

I didn't see her pick up a coffee (I was focussing on other things, including my meal). However, the stranger was gone within 10 minutes of me shifting tables.

In the unlikely event this happens again, what could I say or do differently if a stranger decides to sit at my table without asking first? (leaving aside the concerns I had at the time about stealing/begging).

Looking forward to hearing your replies.

Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Surianne on June 24, 2013, 09:38:08 PM
It doesn't sound to me like she did anything wrong or rude here.  If it makes you uncomfortable to share a table at a crowded, casual coffee place, I think you should get up yourself and move -- as you did when a free table became available.  So you handled it just fine. 
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: WillyNilly on June 24, 2013, 09:42:58 PM
I don't think either of you was rude or wrong in the situation.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Momiitz on June 24, 2013, 10:10:04 PM
I would always listen to my instincts in these situations, even if they are unfounded. You were polite and it was not rude to switch tables. You were fine.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: LifeOnPluto on June 24, 2013, 10:16:07 PM
How crowded was the cafe? Were there other empty tables she could have chosen to sit at? If so, her behaviour does seem strange, and you were not rude for moving away.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: *inviteseller on June 24, 2013, 10:35:56 PM
It would be one thing if she had asked "is this seat taken?" before she sat, but just sitting down?  Then acting a bit squirrely?  I would have shifted tables too just because I wouldn't want to be drawn into a conversation.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Miss Understood on June 24, 2013, 11:17:37 PM
It sounds to me that she was experiencing a dizzy spell (the sudden need to sit at a stranger's table, the embarrassment about doing so, the shaky hands, and having a sugary drink on hand to help).  I think you were fine to move away if she was making you uncomfortable, but I do not think she was any threat to you.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Bijou on June 24, 2013, 11:30:49 PM
It sounds to me that she was experiencing a dizzy spell (the sudden need to sit at a stranger's table, the embarrassment about doing so, the shaky hands, and having a sugary drink on hand to help).  I think you were fine to move away if she was making you uncomfortable, but I do not think she was any threat to you.
It very much sounds like this could have been the case.   She could have said she felt faint and needed to sit down, but maybe she was too confused to do so.  I remember getting that feeling at a deli counter and oddly enough, I was embarrassed at having to tell the lady there that I felt like I was gong to pass out, and she kindly walked with me to a place to sit down.  I have never forgotten her kindness.  But if there had been a seat nearby I would have gone and sat down myself. 
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Sharnita on June 25, 2013, 06:20:36 AM
I agree that it sounds like she was having a medical moment of some sort, maybe low blood sugar.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: lowspark on June 25, 2013, 09:53:26 AM
It just seems weird to me that she didn't say something when she first sat down.

Do you mind if I sit here? or Is this seat taken? or I'm not feeling well, I need to sit down...
or well, something.

It seems to me that she just sort of assumed the seat wasn't being used since you were sitting alone and occupying yourself with your iPad, and since the cafe was full, maybe this seat was one of the few that were apparently unoccupied.

I don't see anything wrong with you moving if you felt uncomfortable.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Psychopoesie on June 25, 2013, 10:26:18 AM
OP here.

Thanks for the replies - interesting to see different takes on the situation.

Glad I wasn't rude for moving away. Surprised most don't see anything rude about sitting at a stranger's table without asking first.

Admit it still seems odd to me that she didn't say anything at all before helping herself to a seat. I only had tea at that point & she had no way of knowing that I wasn't waiting for a friend to show up.

Even if she was felt suddenly overcome by dizziness and didn't have time to ask, she could have said afterwards "sorry, I'm not feeling well and need to sit for a bit." Medical issues certainly trump etiquette considerations.

Asking to share an unoccupied seat at most cafes, even if there are no free tables, is not something that happens often. Few times I have been asked, I've usually regretted saying yes (stranger wanted to chat and I just wanted some quiet time).

Sitting without asking - very rare (based on a quick poll of people I know  :)), unless in a communal eating situation (like long tables at a noodle house or at a university refectory). Even in very casual eating situations, like a food court in a mall, I'd still ask first and be prepared to accept no as an answer.

Agree the stranger may have had no bad intentions towards me. Since I moved to another table fairly quickly, it's impossible to say for sure.

Was very curious to see if there were other ways to handle this. Thanks again to those who posted.

Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Sharnita on June 25, 2013, 10:31:26 AM
Some people are not comfortable disclosing medical info, even/especially "I feel dizzy"
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: snowdragon on June 25, 2013, 10:35:00 AM
OP, I agree, I would not be pleased about this. Sorry, you don't just intrude on someone. Especially if you are just going ignore them when you do.  I would also have moved - right out the door.  And I would not be in a hurry to return to the shop if that is the culture of the shop - it's not my desire to sit with anyone who wants to. I go to coffee shops either to study or to meet up with friends


Edited for typos
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Winterlight on June 25, 2013, 10:41:38 AM
It just seems weird to me that she didn't say something when she first sat down.

Do you mind if I sit here? or Is this seat taken? or I'm not feeling well, I need to sit down...
or well, something.

It seems to me that she just sort of assumed the seat wasn't being used since you were sitting alone and occupying yourself with your iPad, and since the cafe was full, maybe this seat was one of the few that were apparently unoccupied.

I don't see anything wrong with you moving if you felt uncomfortable.

Agreed. I think it would have been polite for her to say something at some point.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: IceCreamTEA on June 25, 2013, 10:45:38 AM


It would have been polite for her to have said "do you mind if I sit here", but the very fact she was shaking and looking a bit edgy seems to suggest she may have had low blood sugar. I know for sure all the diabetics in my family sometimes look very off when they have low blood sugar, I don't blame you for feeling a bit nervous.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Pen^2 on June 25, 2013, 11:02:31 AM


It would have been polite for her to have said "do you mind if I sit here", but the very fact she was shaking and looking a bit edgy seems to suggest she may have had low blood sugar. I know for sure all the diabetics in my family sometimes look very off when they have low blood sugar, I don't blame you for feeling a bit nervous.

This is exactly what it sounds like to me, as well.

She may have started feeling faint quite suddenly, and sat down in the first place she could see to drink her sugary drink and try to get back in the normal blood sugar zone. It would have been more polite of her to ask "is this seat taken?", but if she was experiencing low blood sugar, that can be easily forgiven. She may have angled the seat so she was facing away to avoid putting the OP off as she regained composure.

Nothing wrong with sitting in an unused seat, and likewise, nothing wrong with moving to another table.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: EllenS on June 25, 2013, 11:18:31 AM
I'm in the "no foul all around" camp.  Her sitting was unusual but not necessarily rude, especially since she didn't do intrusive chatter, and angled her seat to give you some privacy.  I think it also depends if it was a 2-top or a 4-top table, and how close your table/other empty tables were to the pickup counter.  If you were nearest the counter, and she took the diagonal seat at a 4-top, for example, that brings the wierdness quotient way down.

You moving away in response to a vibe that made you uncomfortable - also not rude.  Other people might not have moved, or might not have been uncomfortable, and that is OK too.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: redboothe on June 25, 2013, 01:15:04 PM
Agreeing with everyone else who said no rudeness on either side.

As a diabetic I wanted to agree that it sounds a lot like low blood sugar and though it would be best to provide some sort of explanation to the other person I know there have been situations where I have not been able to do that. When the BS gets really low your body goes into survival mode and sometimes getting some sugar into your system is the only thing you can manage!
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: jaxsue on June 25, 2013, 01:23:55 PM
Agreeing with everyone else who said no rudeness on either side.

As a diabetic I wanted to agree that it sounds a lot like low blood sugar and though it would be best to provide some sort of explanation to the other person I know there have been situations where I have not been able to do that. When the BS gets really low your body goes into survival mode and sometimes getting some sugar into your system is the only thing you can manage!

ITA.

I am hypo-glycemic, so the opposite of diabetic (IIRC). If I am too hungry I am shaky, sweaty, and dizzy. I do my best to keep it under control (eating every few hours), but occasionally it creeps up on me. However, I'd have no problem telling the person, very briefly, what the problem is. I don't want to set off anyone's hinky meter.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Sharnita on June 25, 2013, 01:31:40 PM
Jaxsue, while it is great that you are comfortable disclosing that, not everyone is. I  don't believe there is an obligation to do so. Conversely, if OP wants to move she doesn't need to explain why.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: citadelle on June 25, 2013, 02:53:17 PM
If I am waiting for a drink to go at Starbucks or similar, I have on occasion pulled a chair out to sit on at an angle from a table that may have an occupant, especially if the wait is long or the place is crowded. I am not really sitting *at* the table, but rather *on* the chair, kwim? If the person sitting there is occupied, on the computer, phone, reading, etc - or talking to someone - I may not say anything. In my mind, it is just a quick place to rest while I wait.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Surianne on June 25, 2013, 06:47:10 PM
If I am waiting for a drink to go at Starbucks or similar, I have on occasion pulled a chair out to sit on at an angle from a table that may have an occupant, especially if the wait is long or the place is crowded. I am not really sitting *at* the table, but rather *on* the chair, kwim? If the person sitting there is occupied, on the computer, phone, reading, etc - or talking to someone - I may not say anything. In my mind, it is just a quick place to rest while I wait.

Yes, I've done this too.  I also notice that the OP (I think? another poster, at least) has referred to the sitting as "an intrusion."  If merely sitting is seen as an intrusion (I don't consider it that), wouldn't interrupting the OP to explain the situation or ask permission to sit have been even more of an intrusion?   Perhaps the woman was trying to *not* inconvenience the OP by not speaking directly to her.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: sunnygirl on June 25, 2013, 06:51:36 PM
She may not have known it was not the custom there to share tables - in some places it is, and any spare seat is considered 'up for grabs.' The fact she moved the chair to turn it away so she wasn't facing the OP imo shows she wanted/needed the spare seat.

She could have asked if anyone was using the seat first, but I see nothing rude or unusual in briefly sitting down in an empty seat in a public place while waiting for a takeout order, especially as it sounds like she was ill. It doesn't sound like she had any other option - the cafe was full, and she couldn't really go somewhere else until her order was ready.

I've been in the position of having to sit down suddenly and it really wouldn't occur to me to announce my private medical circumstances (and I would be offended at being expected to) just because there might be a person who would get upset at me sitting down - partly because it just wouldn't occur to me that anyone would get upset over something that to me seems ordinary and innocuous. Actually I think a stranger sitting down and immediately starting to talk about their medical problems could potentially set off a hinky meter, too.

I do think the OP handled it very well and graciously and certainly there's nothing rude in moving to another table.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Allyson on June 25, 2013, 07:42:49 PM
If someone sat at my table in a crowded coffee shop while I was reading or playing my gameboy, I would have a brief moment of concern till it became clear they just needed a place to sit, and weren't about to solicit me or even try to start a conversation. I also have a weird tic about people reading over my shoulder so if that happened, I'd be uncomfortable. But, once it was made obvious they weren't going to intrude on my reading, I'd be totally fine with it. So, I don't think anyone was rude here! I think it might've been *more* polite if the woman had said 'oh, I'm just going to sit here till a table opens up' or something, but wouldn't think it too odd she didn't.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Rohanna on June 25, 2013, 09:38:54 PM
Some people are not comfortable disclosing medical info, even/especially "I feel dizzy"

Some people aren't comfortable with strangers invading what is, in most places in NA, their "personal space"- so a quick "sorry, I needed to sit down for a minute there" with a smile would diffuse any tension while not disclosing anything particularly personal. Ones personal discomfort with 'disclosing" anything shouldn't cause confusion or unease in innocent strangers who you have interrupted, however mildly. If anything, if you really are that private, it would make the person *less* likely to draw attention to you by complaining or moving away from you to another seat.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Isometric on June 25, 2013, 10:01:09 PM
Assuming no medical issues (in which case she is of course doing no wrong) I would at least be a little annoyed. I don't like sharing seating with strangers - even at the long bench type places- and think it's a little presumptuous. Of course, if she has asked, no problem. And you're fine to move to an empty table.

Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: delabela on June 26, 2013, 12:18:49 AM
I agree with the majority - in a casual cafe type place, an assumption of shared seating is not unreasonable or rude (I can think of several in my area where it is the norm), and moving away if you prefer not to share is not rude either.  I would say it's rude if she sat down and expected you to engage in a long conversation with her. 
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: JoyinVirginia on June 26, 2013, 12:21:10 AM
You could always say that you were expecting someone in a few minutes, could she sit elsewhere
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: greencat on June 26, 2013, 12:26:06 AM
I have to say that when I have similar medical issues (I tend to feel faint/pass out abruptly due to inexplicable drops in my blood pressure) I become confused and surly often to the point of becoming combative when I'm coming out of it.  I tend to maybe manage "I'm going to pass out" on the way down to the floor.  Ten minutes after a near-miss would probably not be enough time for me to resume observing social norms like realizing that I was acting a bit strange and making an apology for my behavior.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: jaxsue on June 26, 2013, 06:15:33 PM
Jaxsue, while it is great that you are comfortable disclosing that, not everyone is. I  don't believe there is an obligation to do so. Conversely, if OP wants to move she doesn't need to explain why.

I realize that, but I'd rather they know than be worried or scared by my shakiness, etc. YMMV.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: LadyL on June 27, 2013, 01:46:45 PM
I agree that it's plausible that the woman was diabetic and suffering from low blood sugar, but I'm not sure that would be my first thought in the moment. I don't know where the OP lives but I work in a city where there are a lot of homeless people who are addicted to drugs. They often move and act erratically. I don't have time to decide why I think they're acting that way - medical reasons or drugs - I just need to protect myself. Someone who unceremoniously sat at my table without asking "is this seat taken" at some point (or "sorry, I needed to sit" after composing themselves) would set off my hinky meter for sure, especially if there were other tables free.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: peach2play on June 28, 2013, 08:38:23 AM
FYI, when I get to the point of hands shaking from low blood sugar, it can take me almost 20 min to come back to the land of the normal where I can put together coherent enough thoughts to let people know what's going on.  She may not have been able to tell you what was wrong and she may not even be aware she asked you about the coffee.  I've been told I have mostly normal conversations but I don't have any memory of them.  Thankfully this has only happened twice ever but I can also understand your discomfort.  If it was a medical emergency, then no rudeness on either side.  If there was none, it's a little strange on her part and she should have at least asked to share, but you were not rude for moving.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Cami on June 28, 2013, 12:24:00 PM


It would have been polite for her to have said "do you mind if I sit here", but the very fact she was shaking and looking a bit edgy seems to suggest she may have had low blood sugar. I know for sure all the diabetics in my family sometimes look very off when they have low blood sugar, I don't blame you for feeling a bit nervous.
  I have problems with low blood sugar and when I get to the point where I am shaky, 100% of my energy is concentrated on staying alert/upright and not ripping food out of someone else's hand. I am not exaggerating. I have spoken with many other people with the same problem and they report identical issues. So it may well be that if she was having a blood sugar problem, just ordering and finding a seat may have put her at maximum overload. She may have been unable to do anything else.

I also avoid telling people of my low blood sugar problems as I did so once and a "bad guy" overheard and tried to steal my purse, figuring I wouldn't be able to chase after him. So color me shaky AND paranoid, but in those situations, I do what I have to do to protect my health and my possessions.
Title: Re: Stranger at my table
Post by: Sharnita on June 28, 2013, 03:41:29 PM
Cami, I know a couple of diabetics who have found that they actually run into judgement from some people regarding their medical condition and so they have reached the point of closely guarding that information.