My 16-year-old sister (only 5"2') was waiting in line, when a burly, sturdy, tattooed man jumped the line in front of her. No other persons were around them.

She felt too scared by his brawniness to ask him to line up as he ought to have. Instead she just gawked at him. He then spouted:

What's the matter with you, little girl?

She still felt too frightened to reply, and said nothing. But now, she regrets not speaking up and asking him to line up.

  • 141
    Wait, how is there a line with nobody else around?
    – mattdm
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 13:10
  • 14
    Can you provide additional socioeconomic context? In some urbanized areas I could see potential for escalation, but in an upper middle class suburban delicatessen, for instance, I cannot imagine him even threatening violence; I have not, in my entire life, seen physical violence between strangers outside of the city. The appropriate response will depend on what type of area this is occurring in.
    – Nicholas
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 13:37
  • 18
    @Nicholas I'm fairly certain violence occurs in rural as well as urban areas
    – nexus_2006
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 15:51
  • Related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/14863/11811
    – scohe001
    Commented Jul 13, 2018 at 16:17

5 Answers 5


When you try to see the bigger picture behind both people's behavior, you end up with positions of power:

  • The man is of big build, has signs of his personality tatooed all over his his skin, and either doesn't see anything wrong with what he did or doesn't care. He is in a position of great power and broadcasts that power to everyone around him.
  • Your sister is young, of small build, shy and frightened at the situation. She sees herself in a position of low or no power and broadcasts that lack of power by not speaking up and most likely also in her posture and gestures.

If she asked the man to line up in her position of low power, she probably wouldn't have accomplished her goal. The key is to even out the power levels. And the way to do that, especially if you are shy and frightened, is to play-act like an actress does.

Signs of high power are:

  • Upright posture, shoulders held back, head high (but not in a big-headed way)
  • Unwavering eye contact. Don't let your gaze jump all over the other persons face, but focus on one of their eyes and let your focus stay there.
  • Actually speak to the other person. Don't let them do whatever they want without protest.
  • Speak loudly, clearly and with a confident voice. This one is very hard when you are actually nervous or afraid.
  • Make your body stay still. Do not fiddle with your fingers, do not step from foot to foot, do not make hectic gestures. This one is also hard for many people but can be learned by observing how politicians move when holding speeches.
  • Remember that no-one can read your mind. No-one actually knows how nervous you are. If you can play the role well enough, they will think you are calm and confident.

All of these techniques can be learned and trained. I'm sure you will find a situation to train your "power acting skills" at least once a week, be it at school or in your free time. The more you train, the better you will become at acting, and the more you will realize how other people react to this act. This will strengthen your self confidence so with time you will just be confident instead of acting confident. You fake it till you make it.

In my personal experience, these acting skills are extremely valuable in school (think of presenting something in front of the class) and later in job interviews, but also in your everyday life.

  • 13
    I found this answer to be (unintentionally?) humorous, as well. Here's my TLDR: In a loud voice with Shakespearean flare, pronounce: "Know thus far forth. / By accident most strange, bountiful Fortune, / Now my dear lady, hath mine enemies / Brought to this shore; and by my prescience / I find my zenith doth depend upon / A most auspicious star, whose influence / If now I court not but omit, my fortunes / Will ever after droop." ...Then, while they are dazed & confused by the performance, walk past the person to the front of the line, facing boldly forward, ever still, until served.
    – michael
    Commented Jul 14, 2018 at 2:45
  • 2
    If the guy doesn't care, he might just laugh in the girl's face and ignore her. I.e. there are people this won't work on.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jul 15, 2018 at 11:27
  • I don't necessarily agree with this answer. Examining power projection is always useful. I think it's a mistake to compare the posture of the tattooed guy and the girl, because, in the context of physical comparison, the situation is asymmetrical. It turns out, we've been dealing with this situation for millennia, where the less physically powerful females have evolved strategies of dominating physically powerful men without reference to their physical attributes. Shaming, for example, or the stare, or just a plain excuse me, I was waiting in line as another answer points out.
    – rath
    Commented Jan 3, 2020 at 10:11

Honestly, in such a situation, most people may actually not cut the line on purpose. A gentle reminder that he did cut the line would be advised. Using kind words such as:

Excuse me, I'm actually in the queue for [item or shop here].

If the man did not intend to cut he might move behind or apologize, if he did intend to cut the line and rebuts her, then it would be wise to step down and let it slide, confrontation would not be a recommended path in this situation.

  • Hi there! I know it's been a while since you answered that question, but we've adjusted our citations expectations since and would like to know if this is something you tried yourself (which I guess is true, from your first sentence), and in which context. Could you please edit your answer to provide this information?
    – avazula
    Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 6:04

I once had a girlfriend who was 4.95 feet (1.51m) tall. As small as the body was, as inversely proportionate strong (bad?) was the temper. She would not let it go smoothly.

I witnessed some pretty awkward situations like that, and this is what she did:

  • Hi mate! Am I so tiny and skinny that you can't even see me?
  • Excuse me... Sorry... [ squeezing and moving past them again ]. Thanks (what an awkward look from the man then!)
  • Tap his back, saying: you have 3 seconds before I have you hit the ground. Move back in line. NOW.
  • Stand in front of the guy, fist on the hip, staring at him, angry look: really?

Let me tell you how scared I was anytime this happened. I feared that it would escalate to a point of no return. What next? What if the guy hit her?

Luckily, nothing ever happened, as the guy was so stunned, he would not say a single word.

Here, the man knows he jumped the line, as he tries to stop any possible argument before it starts. So, I would strongly recommend saying nothing more than, with no sarcasm in the voice (as it's already in the words) : "I was here first, but, as you leave me with no choice but wait more, I don't mind you jumping line. Please proceed."

He'll hear the protest, and your point of view, but you don't try to get your place back. No argument whatsoever. End of the story, hopefully.

Don't tease the guy, as it can quickly become a much more harder situation for her to handle.

  • 3
    I can't tell if you are advocating your ex-girlfriend's approach or not
    – Kat
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 0:22
  • @Kat : I was scared that a silly guy would escalate more than the few bad words that were sometimes dropped. Happy that she set boundaries and put the idiot back in line? Yes. Recommend? Not really actually. I think that the risk is far greater than the reward in this case, because she was really aggressive. I thought this was more clear in my answer though, I realize it might not :)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Jul 16, 2018 at 4:45

Anything. She needs to say literally anything because right now, this is the beginning. You don't have to start out running. You can warm up first, stretch, and speed up at your own pace.

Your friend's sister, 16, was silent and afraid chances are it's because she froze. That's okay. He wanted her to be afraid. That was what he was going for. To have a fight/flight/freeze fear response; that behavior is normal.

I have no idea if she has any experience with any people of any gender or size disrespecting her in and taking what was she had claimed as hers in public but based on your description I would guess it hasn't happened often. The first shock of realizing that some people really are going to treat you like that, it's pretty awful and it can freeze you up. I know for me the only cure was practice, and I was well into my 20s before I could look a someone in the eye and tell him to get back in line without tripping up and I still choke sometimes and I know a lot of people who do.

If she's freezing up rather than stuck on what to say, she should start, if she wants to find a way through, by saying anything. It doesn't matter what. The people above in this group have given great suggestions of what to say to be heard and what how to present yourself with authority but I want to address something else - what it's like if (or when) a person aren't instantly able to stand up for themselves.

As long as she opens her mouth and get a sound out, even if all that comes out is a squeak or a "hey", it's a win for the situation. It's progress. It's exposure to the stimulus and building experience in confrontation which is incredibly hard and is going to trigger that freeze response, made more difficult if standing up to someone who is trying to intimidate. Since the response is going to be to freeze most often in that particular confrontation which is why the push through to anything is so important.

What people don't talk about enough is that no matter what comes out - even if it's a flawless remark that is composed, confident, and witty - she need to be prepared to be ignored, told no, be insulted or otherwise have a negative outcome. That possibility is very very real and when it happens, she should brace herself for physical reactions like dry mouth, blushing or flushing, stammering, sweating. The emotions it can cause can be really powerful too - usually they're embarrassment, shame, weakness, a sense of being small, and defeat. It's going to happen repeatedly. Probably often.

I don't say all that awful stuff discourage her. On the contrary it's because standing up to people is a skill just like everything else and well prepared is well armed and well informed is well prepared. If you know those symptoms are coming then you know you'll live. Those feelings aren't forever. They fade quickly especially when focusing on the fact that even small practice is forward progress and more than the time before. Faced, it is something that can lose it's fearfulness.

The thing I've noticed in myself and in my friends is that its not what to say that's hard. It is the confrontation itself. You know that you want to say something but since we know how it feels to fail a confrontation but most people don't practice it and inure themselves and inuring the feelings of failed confrontations - when you need to say or do something, the action won't come over the fear of the consequence. It's why that guy's tiny awesome girlfriend in the other answer is able to do what she does. People freeze when faced with confrontation because they don't have the practice, she does. The serving the first volley like Mr. Big did is easy. If you have enough practice under your belt that you can actually come back with the return, you've usually won. It is rare for it to go back to the server.

So, all the things here about acting and presentation and what to say, please, do take them back to her. But also take this if you can. Practice actually confronting small personal injustices with something, anything. The more she does it, the more power she'll have to use when she really needs it no matter what it is that she wants to put it behind.


One story that helped me see this dilemma differently was the time I saw someone play "queue police" and call out ("BOO!!") another man for cutting in a long line, trying to shame him into getting to the back — only to have the man tell him with a soft voice that he was sorry but he was disabled and had needed to step out of the line for a minute to use the bathroom. The self-appointed line sheriff ended up being quite the jerk!

The first thing to consider is the culture that you want to belong to. Broadly speaking there are two different ways to see this situation:

  • Your sister needs to "set things straight", lest she be lose self-respect as a "pushover". Her self-worth is under attack and she must respond. This is an "honor culture" type of world-view.

  • Your sister did nothing wrong. The only two parties at blame here are the man, who is being a jerk, and the business, which has failed to police its store so that it feels safe for all customers. Let's call this the "high road" culture.

One important thing to realize is that the actions your sister routinely takes at this formative age (16) will shape her culture and automatic thoughts later on.

One perfectly acceptable response is to stay quiet and think to yourself: "It is not my job to police the shop. It is the shop's responsibility and if they suck at it, I don't have to come here. My options are either put up with it, or leave. The man's bullying demeanor, the fact that he's stronger than me, etc. — none of that matters to my decision." This is the best response in the "high road" culture, and the best thing that can be said about it is that it brings you inner peace: the nagging feeling that your sister had that she somehow failed to stand up, goes away over time (years) if she trains to consistently respond this way.

The other response that she can have is to indulge the feeling that her self-respect is at stake and speak up. In this case, the smart thing to do is to start out by assuming that the man didn't understand that he cut in line and inform him, calmly and without being accusatory: "Hi, excuse me, I was in line before you." This is probably the best response in the "honor" culture, which over time trains you to expect that no slight must go unanswered. Maybe the man will respond in a soft voice that he's sorry, didn't mean to, and go to the back. Maybe he'll say that he's sorry but he's in a real hurry cause his wife's going into labor and ask if you can let him go first. But also maybe he'll feel his own self being threatened, and escalate into a higher level of confrontation, verbal or physical, to "prove" that he's not going to be pushed around. (There are large international / regional variations in this risk, see for example this analysis, section "Arguments and Regional Differences in Homicide", showing that arguments escalate more often into homicide in the Southern United States than in other areas of the United States.)

If this was my own child (daughter or son), unless it was pretty clear that the person didn't see the line, I would advise the first option. Aside from the potential hazard of physical conflict escalation, practicing confrontation for mundane stuff like queuing up at a shop (in the sense that this isn't a matter of life-or-death for your sister) can reinforce itself over years and encourage an automatic, impulsively aggressive response to similar situations in the future. I've seen people exhausted by their own anger and negative emotions at the smallest incivility that they perceive as committed against them, and I feel it's a poor use of our limited time on Earth than to be upset about people jumping line at shops.

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