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.