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While training juggling in a park, from behind me I heard a female's voice say, "You are really good with your balls."

The vocal inflection was that of a compliment, but she didn't reference juggling so my initial reaction was that she had made a lame ball joke. I turned slightly to avoid eye contact and continued juggling, completely ignoring her.

I try to gracefully receive compliments, and I am worried that I may have hurt her feelings by giving her the cold shoulder. How should I respond to statements that could be compliments or could be someone teasing or trolling?

I am a 34 y.o. male from the Pacific Northwest, USA. The female's voice was between 15 and 30.

Edit:

I train technical juggling (patterns), and 7 ball endurance juggling. I train for personal reasons, and do not preform.

My preference is to juggle outdoors, and this has been a great way to share my knowledge about juggling. If other park visitors are interested in learning how to juggle, the conversation often starts with a compliment.

In my juggling experiences, non-jugglers largely fall into three categories; (1) people that are interested in juggling, (2) people that are indifferent to juggling, and (3) people that want to distract the juggler.

My goal is to determine the intentions of the other person.

If it was a genuine compliment, I would say, "Thanks, do you want to learn how to juggle?"

If the statement was teasing or trolling, I'd prefer to avoid this distracting interaction, and continue training. A reply like, "Thanks, wink wink..." may engage the troll and further derail my training.

As pointed out in the answers and comments, she may have been attempting to simultaneous give a genuine compliment and make a joke about by balls. Or, she may be been showing romantic interest. I consider both of these to be edge cases, and had not considered them when writing the original post. A simple, "thanks" and a wave would probably be the best in either of these circumstances.

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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – user58 Jun 27 '18 at 14:31
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Here are the steps to dealing with pretty much every interaction you're going to have while juggling:

  1. Don't take yourself too seriously

    Most people are familiar with juggling as a performance. Penn Jillette, world-famous juggler and magician, affectionately refers to himself and others like him as "carny trash". Jugglers are the kind of folks who go to clown school, but don't get offered a job and -- if they're lucky -- work their way up from being street performers. Depending on who you ask, jugglers are either one rung up or one rung down from magicians, both at the bottom of the performer pecking order (I'm an even lower form of life: I don't practice either regularly, I'm just a magic geek!). Penn's best friend Michael Goudeau, also a famous juggler, appears to support him in this notion; he says it pretty regularly on their podcast, and I've never heard a juggler or magician argue the point.

  2. Have a good sense of humor

    If you're going to be a performer -- or just do something in public that most people view as a performance art -- it's a good idea to develop a sense of humor. I'm not exactly saying "have a thick skin", but that wouldn't hurt, either. Whether someone is aiming for some good-natured ribbing or is heckling you, the best defense is to be in on the joke. Take ownership of those laughs; they're your laughs, so enjoy them! If you can have some zingers ready to throw back in these situations, that's great. Even better, use this as an opportunity to work on your improvisation skills. Be prepared to make fun of yourself -- it's hard to pick on somebody who'll say something worse about himself than the next guy.

    Having a good sense of humor and being able to improvise will serve you well not only in performing or disarming hecklers in any situation, it will help you in almost all communication. Being able to break the ice in a job interview or business meeting with an appropriate joke reduces the tension of these situations and builds instant rapport. And in my personal experience, there's no better way to flirt than to be able to joke around on-the-fly. In a flirting situation, I often find that (polite) teasing and being self-effacing (to a limit) are more effective than just being "the funny guy" who can tell a joke. These are skills that have to be practiced, and jokers in the park are a low-risk opportunity to practice them.

  3. Just assume it's a joke

    So now that we've established the right attitude, let's get to the meat of your question: anyone who mentions balls (in a non-technical way) while you're juggling is ALWAYS making a joke. It's so often true, that you may as well just assume that it's always true. Aside from the fact that it's an easy joke to make, most juggling acts are comedy acts. In the very rare case that they didn't mean to make a joke, they'll still enjoy it when you make it into one. The kind of person who would get offended by you turning their comment into a double-entendre isn't talking to jugglers in the park.

    Get in on the joke (see step #2) and engage with them. If you're not up for engaging today, acknowledge them with a polite chuckle and then act really focused on what you're doing. That's your best shot at getting rid of them without friction. If I thought they might be interested in learning, I'd probably fire back with a joke like, "Thanks! Would you like to play with my balls?" But if that seems a little too forward or rude to you, go back to the chuckle, followed by, "Thanks! I practice a lot for competitions/fun/whatever. Would you like me to teach you some tricks?"

In the end, remember that you're in the park, which always opens you up for other people interrupting your practice. As you pointed out yourself, it's a good place to engage others and share your knowledge. If someone is making a joke in your direction, they're definitely interested in you in some way. That may just be their way of breaking the ice with you. If you're looking to engage people about juggling (or in general), they're giving you an opening, so take it!

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    Thanks! This is some great advice. I did some research on 'disarming hecklers' and that will be useful as well. – Stephen Meschke Jun 29 '18 at 17:36
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There isn't really a fool proof way to tell a joke from a compliment, unless it's immediately apparent from the tone of voice or context. Are they pointing and laughing? Do they sound snide or sarcastic? Etc. Even if the delivery sounds completely innocent, it may just be a joke delivered in a deadpan fashion (my personal favorite).

So, given that there isn't a fool proof way to tell if they're joking or complimenting...

Why not take it as both?

Say "thanks" with a knowing wink and smile and continue on with your practice. Seems like a perfectly reasonable reaction to me. A comment like that is probably deliberately playing with the double entendre, it's intended to be fun and funny, so why not take it that way?

My older brother juggles, he's really very good actually, but I've been known to crack jokes about his... Talents with handleing so many balls... It's both a compliment and a joke. Fortunately/unfortunately I devil stick so there's plenty of return fire about how well/often I handle my stick. It's all in good fun as long as you're willing/able to take it that way.

For added fun, prepare a few one liners to throw back at them. Crowd work adds something to any performance, and hecklers are going to heckle, so it's a skill worth developing. I'd add some examples here, but my sense of humor will probably attract flags...

Or... You could switch props. Rings, clubs, scarves, most anything else would leave less room for innuendo ;)

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You did OK. Communication is never perfect.

It's not always easy to guess someone's intentions. It's not (only) your fault for not getting it; it takes two to communicate clearly. Maybe some non-verbal clues would have helped (was she smiling?). But it's hard to notice them when your full attention is devoted to that 5-ball Mill's Mess you're running. These things happen all the time; it's not a big deal.

How to answer when you're not sure of her intentions?

Several options. For instance:

  1. Just "Thanks".
  2. Polite smile / snicker.
  3. A generic non-committal answer such as "Thanks. I train a lot for this".

It also depends if you want to continue the conversation or not. It seems like you want to make small talk only if she's genuinely interested in your juggling. It's hard to tell from a single sentence, though.

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