When strangers approach you in public- specifically, when you are a female travelling by herself and the stranger in question is a man a lot bigger than you are- how polite do you feel compelled to be, and how long before you can reasonably tell them to bog off? Travelling to a friend's gig the other night, I boarded the tube at Totteridge&Whetstone, as did a guy, probably in his mid-to-late 30's, rather broad and hefty looking. There was no one else in the carridge apart from us, so I thought it a bit odd when out of all the availible seats, he chose the one opposite me, but I just assumed that he had a sheep mentality (I had chosen my set and sat down first), and busied myself with plugging in my ipod headphones and staring out the window. After a couple of minutes of staring at me, he asked me if I was listning to 'fm radio'. English clearly wasn't his first language, and he spoke with such a thick accent that I had to lean a bit closer and ask him to repeat himself before I understood. I was a bit surprised, but answered that, no, I was listnening to music on my ipod instead. I wasn't in the mood to chat, so I took out my phone and started texting someone, mainly to add to my "please do not disturb-am busy" vibe, since the headphones alone clearly weren't doing a good enough job. He then asks me what my hobbies were. I'm even more surprised- but, not wanting to offend him (I'm English- God forbid anyone should see me as impolite)- I say something vague about likeing live music and going to gigs. Am on my way to one right now, as it happens- I'll be going with my boyfreind (NB: Yes, I know Aug and I are not a couple. But this guy didn't have to know that). I added the boyfriend bit on the end rather pointedly, so as to make clear, again without causing offence- that I'm not on the market for anyone potentially chatting me up. He asks me if my boyfriend and I are "engaged, or just friends". At this point I give up on my phone and ipod and politely put them away, and reply that we're just dating at the moment. He goes on to tell me, in his culture, arranged marriages are common, especially when the girl is 15 or 16. Again, I make a vague, non-committal, hopefully inoffensive remark about, y'know, horses for courses, if it works for them, that's swell, but it's not for me, etc. He asks me what area I'm from, tells me he's from Ilford. I ask him what it's like. he says very multicultural. Oh, that;s good, I say. He asks if he can sit next to me. I politley ask him not to. He politely accepts my refusal. He tells me my hair looks nice. I say thank you. All this time, I'm trying to work out if he's hitting on me, or just making a very clumsy attempt at making friends, or even just killing time before he reaches his stop. He doesn't seem overly
lechy, and I tried to make it as clear as I could that I'm already spoken for, but I can't help but distrust strange men who talk to me when I'm alone. On the other hand, if his intentions are completely innocent, and I brush him off, what if that knocks his confidence? What if he feels unnesacarily bad? I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Also, whenever I find myself talking to a stranger who is obviously from a different country, I often develop this very odd compulsion to be on my best behaviour, to be extra polite and helpful (though I try to be that to most strangers anyway), to give them a nice impression of British people. When the tube reaches East Finchley, some more people get on, and he stops trying to make conversation. I finally get to listen to my ipod again, though I notice he carries on staring at me. And staring. And staring, for the remainder 20 minutes of the journey. When I finally alight at Old Street, I panic for a moment that he may get off and follow me, but he doesn't. I breathe a sigh of relief, and wonder if I was being needlessly, unfairly paranoid all along. That I am too distrustful- that he may have been completely innocent all along, and he may be used to something else, and unnacustomed to our frosty British ways. Irritating (surely it's accepted fact that people listening with headphones and playing on mobile phones do not want to be disturbed?), but otherwise innocuous. Then I recall the 'Schrodinger's rapist'
, and wonder if I am totally within my rights to feel afraid, and maybe even tell him (politely) to bog off and leave me alone.
So, what do we think? Was he coming on to me? Should I have told him to stop talking to me? How polite does one have to be to a stranger?