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Response to "She won't say hi!"

Posted by Robin Abrahams  April 6, 2012 02:41 PM

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Monday's question, from an LW disturbed that a neighbor did not say hello to him, got remarkable consistency of response until Markus showed up around comment 50 or so, announced that we were all wrong, and implied that we might be evil as well. Amusingly, Markus also wound up giving the best advice to the LW: 

I would suspect that being retired is a major reason why he finds her so annoying. When you retire, your world shrinks. You see fewer people you know, and fewer strangers, too. Staying at home, a loud crow that nests outside your window goes from a thing you'd barely notice to a constant distraction. I'd guess he just doesn't have enough daily stimuli that would drown out her rudeness. If I had to make any other recommendation to him, I'd tell him to fill his day more. Go volunteer, or take a part time job. He can even try walking the neighborhood more and developing friendly acquaintanceships with sales clerks and shop owners that he sees every day on the way to Starbucks. The bigger he makes his world, the smaller will be her part in it. 

This is excellent, and one of the few comments that addressed the LW's self-described problem, which was to alleviate his own stress, rather than to change his unfriendly neighbor's behavior. Regarding said unfriendly neighbor, who knows what the issue may be. I got a kick out of McBostonrob's comment: 

As Bostonians, it is our birthright to ignore our fellow man. We don't want your civility! 

Hear, hear! Seriously, one of the things that makes city life tolerable is that people have different desired levels of interaction. It would be dreadful to have to make small talk with everyone you encounter, and equally odd if public interaction were all averted eyes and silence, as though we were all movie extras who dared not utter a word for fear of breaking union regulations. I'm not particularly concerned with labeling the neighbor as rude or not; I'm concerned with the LW's mental health, and the comfort level of his neighbor. Fortunately, both concerns can be addressed if the LW takes some positive action in other areas of his life and leaves this woman alone. As Dandibear wrote: 

So what you are saying is that your right to a greeting is more important than her desire to keep to herself? She has reportedly said hello to other residents, and therefore owes you a greeting as well? No. That is selfish, controlling logic, which when taken to further extremes is the same justification used by rapists and abusers. She has made it abundantly clear that she's not interested in being friendly. The only "pleasantly casual" response is to honor her wishes and stop trying to befriend her. If you continue to struggle with this then you need to seek counseling. You cannot control other people, only how you respond to them. Continuing to feel this way will jeopardize your mental health and the safety of those around you. 

Amen to that. And I wanted to share katemc's story: 

And as a woman, it is never pleasant to feel that a strange man is attempting to force me into some kind of behavior or interaction. This happened to me a number of years ago. My route to work took me by someone who insisted on exchanging hello with me (and not, notably, the men walking ahead of me). When he made me uncomfortable with his insistence on the hello, I tried to send him that message, politely at first, by downgrading the hello to a polite nod, but when he refused to respond to that basic social cue, and in fact seemed to immediately react to it with fixated insistence on a hello, my daily walk became torture, hoping that he wouldn't notice me, wearing a cap pulled down over my face, and having to just ignore him. Now, it is well within anyone's right to not talk to whomever they choose, but *particularly* so a lone woman choosing not to speak to a strange man. My choosing not to engage apparently enraged him, but I refused to be forced into an interaction with him. This made him more and more intrusive and insistent. One morning he screamed to himself about me, and on another morning he challenged me directly. That forced me to speak to him, and what I said was that the next step would be me calling the police. This unremitting and enraged escalation on his part assured me that my initial instinct about him was 100% correct. 

I would bet a lot of money that his side of the story would sound like "I just wanted to say hello to her, she was so stuck up, what's her problem?" But let me tell you--creepy, controlling, fixated, inappropriate, unwanted, rejected, repeated, angry behavior is a big problem. 

I take the LW at face value, and think he is probably a harmless, well-meaning person. But he needs to understand the world that women live in, which he obviously doesn't. blondmaggie mentioned the outstanding "Schrodinger's Rapist," which is highly relevant here. Read and learn: 

Because a man who ignores a woman's NO in a non-sexual setting is more likely to ignore NO in a sexual setting, as well. 

So if you speak to a woman who is otherwise occupied, you're sending a subtle message. It is that your desire to interact trumps her right to be left alone. If you pursue a conversation when she's tried to cut it off, you send a message. It is that your desire to speak trumps her right to be left alone. And each of those messages indicates that you believe your desires are a legitimate reason to override her rights.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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