Many of us have met them, those people in adjoining seats on a train or plane journey that just "have" to make small talk. It may be because they are afraid of flying, etc. Or it may be that since you are in close proximity in a confined space, that something needs to be said.

The context is of a traveller who you do not know, and will probably only be in contact with for the duration of the journey.

But how without seeming rude or standoffish can you let them know you are not interested in chatting with them? I have tried feigning attempting sleep which sometimes works, but is a lot of hassle. Would it be rude to just say, " I would rather just be quiet now?"

  • <comment removed> @Nahiri If you have an answer, please post it below. Thanks. Aug 7, 2017 at 16:16

2 Answers 2


Would it be rude to just say, " I would rather just be quiet now?"

Not really rude, but if you want, you can even soften that. Don't let them start to talk, draw the line before they even think of bothering you. When travelling, I use those tips:

  • Excuse yourself from the very beginning, explaining that you'll have to rest/work/read... "I have to do [ x ], I'll do my best to not bother you."
  • Put earplugs and/or read/rest.
  • Put earphones on (even if you don't listen to music/news/course...) and do "like if".
  • Put earphones on and watch a movie or play on your phone.
  • If possible, put a small book about buddhism on the tray in front of you, and remain silent: people will think you repeat mantra and will hesitate to talk to you. (A friend of mine spends one hour each day doing this, not moving, or talking, when on his train, going to work).
  • Buy an old device for hearing-impaired person and put it on one ear (*).

1. don't say that you'd rather just be quiet but that you need to be quiet (and show them).

2. make the 1st move, don't give them a chance, and keep yourself "busy" or "kind of".

(*) this one came to my mind because my mom has huge problems with her ears, wears a device, and never gets people talking to her while on a plane, in a supermarket, a waiting-room...

EDIT: @HDE-226868 made me understand I didn't make myself clear, so, for the record, I keep it below, with a big flag : I saw someone doing this, and I neither would do it, nor I support it. I did not put the different tips on a value-scale, I should have...

  • If they talk to you, answer with ASL (need to learn ONE sentence before though). Tricky (but I noticed someone doing this, once), in case someone sees you and asks for help with ASL.
  • Funny idea, the hearing aid! Pretending not to hear well could even work without it, simply keep asking "huh?" again and again. Edit: of course feel free to make it more polite than "huh??" ;-)
    – puck
    Mar 25, 2018 at 9:16

When I'm in this situation, especially on a longer flight where I can afford to "lose" some time, I do the following:

  • Respond with polite conversation, but don't "escalate". I'm trying to be polite by giving short answers, but I'm not going to talk about my exciting vacation plans or how great my hometown is or whatever. Shorter replies that don't provide entries for the other person are best here.

  • While we're talking, start to get my book/e-reader/tablet/pillow/whatever ready. This signals that I have something else I'm planning to do on this flight besides talk to the person next to me.

  • After a polite amount of time (five minutes or so works for me), start the conversational wind-down. Example: "I hope you enjoy your vacation. I'm going to get back to my book now." Note: "get back to" signals that this was something you'd already started, perhaps on the previous leg of the trip, so your conversation was just taking a break, not the start of a six-hour conversation.

  • If the person takes the hint and wraps up, good. If not, treat it the same way you treat ending any other friendly conversation like a phone call or a visit where everybody's already standing at the door. Make sure you then actually do the thing you said you were going to do -- read, sleep, etc. This conveys "I'm busy" rather than "I just don't want to talk to you".

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