People standing too close

In the lunch buffet room, I'm putting the food from the container on my plate, then scootch a step to the side, put some potatoes or whatever, then scootch again, etc. Right behind me, there's a person who stands rather close to me and moves immediately after my move. I'd describe it as pushing air in my ass, if you get the sense. Of course they're not physically pushing me, although the our elbows will on occasion bump into each other, and I need to think twice about how to turn around when lifting my tray (once I accidentally hit their hand and the food went all over the floor and on the person as well).

I've tried to handle it by asking the person if they could back off a bit so I could have the space. Probably a bad idea. Their hurry, enforced by my stress, is likely to perceive such a request as impolite and assaulting.

I've tried to move out of the way and ask the person to go ahead of me, (possibly pointing out that I recognize their hurry). Not well functioning either. Apparently, it risks to be taken as a sarcastic poke and the response is an agitated "what?! what?!" followed by an angry look and even more stressful waving me in to hurry up.

Embarking and disembarking the elevator

A similar issue at that office is people who lean into the elevator before others can disembark. Sometimes, I carry a cup of coffee. My knee has been operated and I have rather poor balance, so in this circumstance, I try to wait a few seconds for the person to back out of the doorway and let me off the elevator so I won't have go sideways. When that doesn't work, I back into the elevator and let the person/people (aka the wave) come in to the elevator. Then I go up and down like an idiot until I have a chance of getting out.

Sadly, that approach has also been aggravating to the wave and last week someone reprimanded me on the fact that I shouldn't have stayed in the elevator (the person realized that they kind of forced me to back in, and probably felt a bit stupid about it). The way I felt was that if I don't push my way back (causing annoyance) I will still fail by simply being modest (causing irritation).

What would be a good approach to improve some of the approaches mentioned above? Or, even better, what would be a alternative ways of handling them?

Note that I'm a large guy who's easily perceived as a threat or at least a physically substantial person (187cm, 115kg= 6'2", 250lbs).


3 Answers 3


From reading your question I think there may be a couple of elements in play:

You are physically taller than most, and presumably with long limbs, so the amount of space you need around you for comfort and manoeuvrability is proportionately larger than it is for shorter people, particularly in situations where you need elbow room, are carrying things or need space to turn. That’s just the plain logic of you being a little ‘scaled up’, your space needs to scale up too, so it’s a real and logical need that you might have to explain sometimes, but should not have to apologise for.

The second element has also been referred to by others, that it seems from your question that you try to be very self-effacing and that this might be leading to body language signals from posture and movements that subconsciously signal to others that you don’t think you have a right to occupy space.

I don’t think it is helpful for me to tell you to miraculously become more assertive or to change all your body language, but I will suggest a couple of things which might help you to claim, and stand, your ground in your specific examples.

For both of your example situations I’d suggest combining a physical stategy with back-up words: In the Cafeteria line:

  • Assuming that you are not actually taking significantly longer than other people in the line when you feel them trying to hurry you (and if you are, speed up man!) you can try an adaptation of Step 1 in this solution and let your tray trail behind you rather than pushing it in front or standing next to it. This way you limit how close they can push their tray to where you are standing, and it is likely that they will subconsciously keep their own position relative to their tray.
  • You can also try facing the counter, rather than the direction you are moving, and adopting a wide-legged stance so that your foot physically impedes people moving closer to you. I do this in queues in supermarkets when people are too close and breathing down my neck, it also has the advantage of allowing you to quickly turn your head and look them in the eye when they try and advance, which generally holds people off a little.
  • If someone still stands too close to you in this scenario, they will then be standing closer to your tray than their own and almost on your foot, which should make it easier to point out to them that they are being a bit weird, while keeping it light-hearted.

‘Hey Man, if you like my choices that much they have more of the fricasseed sealion (or whatever) back there, but you’ll have to go to Shoe Locker for a pair of the brogues.’

Which has the benefit of making it about them being very close to your stuff, rather than too close to you.

Regarding the lift, I again think there is a combination of things you can do:

  • You know when the lift is about to get to your floor, be ready. When that door opens anyone on the outside of it should get a glorious view of Konrad Viltersten in his splendour, feet planted in that aforementioned wide-legged stance, smiling brightly at them all before he strides through the crowd.
  • Before they get chance to lean in, you lean out. Keep smiling, don’t apologise, keep moving, be your own internal cheerleader, keep that momentum up and have a few appropriate quips at the ready for if they don’t step aside for you to exit.
  • Appropriate lines will depend on your setting, culture and personality but really all you need to achieve is making their behaviour rather than yours the focus and to help carry you through the momentum of exiting the lift without being pushed back by ‘the wave’. You have to be your own tide. Depending what you can be comfortable enough with (You don’t need to be entirely comfortable, you are clearly going to have to push your comfort-zone a little to change how this works for you) you could try some lines which, like the cafeteria queue, draw attention to their weird behaviour:

Steady there, you can’t walk through me you know!


I know I’m easy to miss, but I’m exiting the lift here!


Age before beauty! (That might be culturally specific to the UK, I’m not sure, but it isn’t meant to be taken particularly seriously and is often used ironically)


Steady on, you can’t fit a quart in a pint pot!

But whatever you say, say it with apparent confidence and humour, not irritation or apologeticness.

  • Accepted and +1'ed. I'm almost looking forward to try some of those out. What complicates the situation is that I live in Sweden where we have an incestuous predisposition to follow the culture of consensus into absurdity. I've witness situations when two people went for the single available sit on a subway and upon realizing it, both backed off asking the other to sit down. That transpired for the rest of the ride (about 15 minutes) and both refused to take the seat. Sweden is amusing but confusing. Let's see how it goes tomorrow! Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 20:52
  • I hope it goes well. :)
    – user9837
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 23:31
  • @KonradViltersten It sounds kinda paradoxical that the Swedes from the subway you mentioned would crowd or hurry you in a queue or get offended if you offer them to go ahead. Really, if someone gets offended at that it's their own problem, not yours. Commented Feb 13, 2018 at 10:09
  • @AllTheKingsHorses "...it's their own problem, not yours". Well, yes. But it becomes my problem in a way. I have the moral high ground but I still am bothered. I think that they get offended because me offering them to go ahead reveals and accentuates the fact that they've been pushy. There's an immediate sign of the difference in my (dignified and considering) way and their (rude'ish and selfish) approach. And they might even take it as a passive-aggressive remark on their shortcoming. I guess we're a weird bunch here in Sweden. :) Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 18:43
  • @KonradViltersten "... but I still am bothered" Well... don't be? ;-) If your life goal is to create a mental bubble around the a-holes in your surroundings so that they never ever realise what a-holes they are: good luck, you've really got your work cut out for you. Maybe it'll work in Sweden since the population density in the Nordic countries is lower than in the rest of Europe and you have fewer a-holes per squarekm to deal with ;-) Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 12:22

This probably isn't a direct answer to what you asked but there are a few things you can try. I can't say which one would work best (or at all) for the situation.

  • Try looking the person in the eyes. Keep the eye contact polite and friendly.

  • Talk to the person: Introduce yourself. Ask them how their day is going and if there is anything that is bothering them. Then a polite note about if they would mind backing off a bit. That would help them remember you in the future.

  • Try a strong public posture. Sometimes all it requires for people to respect your personal space is that. The posture doesn't have to be threatening or ill-mannered, just observant and attentive.

The rationale: A large crowd of any kind provides a feeling of anonymity. Such is seen during concerts, sports events and so on.

This anonymity or the feeling of such can cause a lack of respect of personal space.

A one to one interaction, or recognition of individuality (asking personal questions, looking in the eye etc) can significantly diminish the feeling of that anonymity and bring back the respect.

Hope it helps.

  • For someone who clearly states they are worried about already scaring people because of his size, these will not help. They will simply intimidate the masses. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 2:02
  • 1
    Good advice & about the most you can do short of verbal admonishments. Occupy your personal space positively with confident body language. OP should leverage his size here. A little non-verbal intimidation to positive effect. Rude and somewhat clueless ppl may not notice an unassuming, meeker person in line. But if you are moving back and forth with some purpose, your normal arm movements and stance command more attention and many will remain a step or two further back than they otherwise would to accommodate a person more obviously actively utilizing their personal space nearby.
    – user11886
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 3:01
  • 1
    @YetAnotherRandomUser I suspect that this is part of the reason here. That way we perceive ourselves is not always in sync with how people perceive us and body language play a bigger role than the physical size.
    – Adnan Y
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 3:08
  • The issue is in public space but there's a generally accepted (if implicit) protocol - e.g. a queue is a line where first-in-first-out is observed. The person behind me tried (possibly without being aware of it) to make me hurry up so that they would get the food faster (my assessment, of course). Looking at them is quite confrontative and led to "what?!"-situation. Basically, the person sees no fault in crowding up the queue and trying to hurry me.I'll try that posture hint but I fear that it's going to be taken as provoking. Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 5:23
  • 1
    @KonradViltersten More socially astute people won't be crowding you as much to start with. We're really talking about the clueless here who are not paying attention to their surroundings & in some cases ppl who have no tendency towards altruism or courtesy whatever. I would not counsel aggression per se but drawing some attention to your presence will be helpful. Confident body language will have some impact. You could tread the middle ground by making eye contact or a simple greeting in a low, gruff voice so that they are compelled to realize you are there. Or engage them in small talk.
    – user11886
    Commented Feb 12, 2018 at 5:40

I lived in Denmark for a couple of years and I appreciate that the pressure to conform can be subtle and intense -- one of the most challenging things I personally have ever had to deal with. (Which is not to say that there weren't things I appreciated greatly about life there.)

Note, my suggested phrasing may need some tweaking when you translate it to Swedish.


The moment someone starts to tailgate you, pick up your plate/tray and take a step back, out of the line, saying, "Please go ahead." If he refuses, continue to serve yourself, but more slowly. If he continues to nudge your bubble, pick up your plate/tray and move out of his way without speaking. If you find yourself in a stalemate, stand your ground and wait. I think he will run out of patience before you do.

Alternate approach, in case that doesn't work: when the persistent waltz has started, put your plate/tray down, stand up straight, turn toward the nudger and ask, "Is there a problem?" He will say no, and you will get back to your serving without saying anything else. You'll have conveyed your "Back off, buddy" message already and no debate or explanation is needed. Your mental model could be a crowded New York City subway car. (Not that I have had much experience with those -- but I find it a helpful mental image.)


As you and others are boarding the elevator, make sure to position yourself at the front. "May I step to the front, please? I'm getting off on 4. Thank you."

Carry a cane (even if you don't need one).

When you get to your floor and the doors open:

"Excuse me! Coming out, please! Thank you!"

While the lift is in motion you can use full sentences and a normal tone, but when the doors open you'll need to be more succinct and louder. Also, you'll need more volume when the doors open. The people boarding the lift need to hear you the instant the doors open. Judging from your description, two words won't be enough, you'll need to keep the words flowing until the boarders step aside. As you walk past them keep the thanking going with that same train conductor voice.

General approach

I found that the pressure to conform was brought to bear through a projection of disapproval, conveyed sometimes in extremely subtle ways, such as an almost microscopic lift of one eyebrow or a stare at the forehead without real eye contact. What you will have to do will be analogous to judo. You'll have to flip that subtlely conveyed disapproval right back to them. Gear yourself up with some mental indignation about insensitivity to people with a disability, but maintain politeness and distance. Prepare your emotional armor.

In this vein, I do not recommend attempting to be cute or funny or initiate small talk.

Do not look to these strangers for validation of your humanity or theirs. Find other places to do that.

  • I'm insanely PO'ed by your answer. It's in fact very much correct and I do agree with the "disapproval judo". I believe that around here that's actually the correct way to go. My PO'ness is with the fact that I so much prefer the other answers (which are applicable in most of the other regions I've visited) as they're based on politeness and dignified conduct rather than this mental pushing. I realize that I live in a terrible place for a person like me. (Although, there are a lot of other benefits, so I'll stay relatively happy here, anyway.) Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 18:36
  • @KonradViltersten - Knowledge is power. I'm sorry to hear about your frustrations. Believe it or not, I actually found visiting Sweden to be a walk in the park compared to living in Denmark. On the other hand, I've had other types of frustrations in other places I've lived, and like you say, there were a lot of other benefits to living in Scandinavia. // Please do post an update to let us know how it's going in the lift and the cafeteria. Commented Feb 14, 2018 at 19:15
  • Well, a month has passed. I've found out two things. Firstly - taking a posture, exclaiming scusemeh walking straight into people finishing off by a disengaged, unpersonal thanks gives powerful results. On occasion, a person will bump into me and, given my size and being prepared, they are "bounced off". But once the initial shock settles, I'm already a couple meters away and the only thing they get is the distancing oopsy, sorry. Once, someone followed up and started to whine. I simply shot them down by sorry, didn't see ya, hope it went okay and going about my business. Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 22:08
  • Basically, the strategy is to give rodent's rectum if I happen to bounce someone off, then vigorously inquire how I can help them with their problem. The second revelation - I hate being that person. I went back to defensively back off and let them have it. But it's good to know that I do have a strategy, should the day come when I decide not to keep my polite attitude. Commented Mar 12, 2018 at 22:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.