A while ago, my parents/brothers and I went to visit a theatre performance (in The Netherlands, where we live). We booked really nice first class tickets with empty seats in front of us. We booked them very last-minute, hoping we would be lucky, and we were. A few of the seats in front of us were still empty during the performance. After the break, what looked like a mother and her daughter (in her early teens) entered the row in front of us, and stopped at the seats in front of me and my dad.

I clearly overheard their talk, and the girl was telling her mother that these were not their seats, that their seats were about 5 rows further back. Her mother tried to keep up the act that these were their seats though. In the end, she noticed they now had our attention, and asked us 'Are these seats taken?'.

Mom and dad were hesitating, so I just cut in:

No, these seats aren't taken. And no, they will not be taken either. We booked our seats this way, so maybe no one would be in front of us. I clearly overheard your daughter telling you that you booked seats about five rows further back, so please go to the seats assigned to you on your ticket, or I will go and fetch an attendant to remind you where they are.

Might be of interest that we booked 1st class tickets, and that about 2 rows further back, 2nd class started. So they were basically trying to get a free upgrade. Also note that taking seats that aren't assigned to you is breaking the theatre's house rules.

Despite my answer, the mother sat down, and pulled the girl into a chair as well, the girl already looked majorly uncomfortable and embarassed at this point. So, I got up, didn't engage the mother further, fetched the nearest attendant like I had promised, and they came with me to remove them to their own seats.

The girl's mother started insulting my mom, telling her she had done a poor job raising me, that the only thing she did right was feeding me (I am overweight, ouch). At this point, only the attendant's presence probably prevented this from escalating into a proper, physical fight. This ladies remarks managed to take away some of the good spirits we were in that evening, despite us all having had a really good time up to that moment, and us trying to dismiss/joke it off afterwards. We were all a bit less cheery for the rest of the evening.

While the attendant escorted mom and her daughter to their proper seats, I started feeling bad for the girl, she was looking so embarrassed with the way her mom was behaving, we were feeling less cheery but she was close to tears.

I get the impression something in my response/actions triggered all of this, but I can't really put a finger on what it was. So, next time someone takes seating not assigned to them, how can I handle the situation in a way that won't make the other person feel a need to be nasty and ruin our cheerfulness, while at the same time prevent possible children of being embarassed by their parent's behavior?

There have been a lot of comments saying it's not 'my job to enforce the rules' or that these people were perfectly entitled to take those seats, so to clarify a bit further to avoid this confusion:

In the Netherlands, it's perfectly acceptable (and even expected) to point out to people that they're breaking a rule and inconveniencing you, before getting any authorities involved. People talking in a silence carriage, people smoking outside of smoking areas, people taking seats that aren't theirs to take, neighbors causing stench by having 30 dogs: It's expected you point out that there's rule they're breaking, that they're inconveniencing you, and only after go fetch an authority.

So yeah, while it's technically not my job to 'enforce' the rules by physically moving these strangers to their proper seats, it's my 'job' (duty?) to tell them, when seeing people trying to take seats that aren't theirs, and being asked whether these seats are free, that these seats may be free but not theirs to take according to the rules of the theater, and to let them know breaking it will get them into trouble.

If they hadn't asked, and I had seen them commit the offense, I could've silently flagged an attendant or pointed out their mistake to them in a more gentle way, like 'Hey, we didn't see you here before the break, did you miss the beginning?'. But by asking whether the seats are free (which, as LordFarquaad pointed out in their answer is equal to confessing you're trying to commit an offense), the burden was up to us to tell them that they were trying to break the rules being fully aware of them (which is slightly worse than unknowingly breaking a rule).

A lot of people might be thinking that I'm only taking offense to the seat being occupied, but the combination of them deliberately breaking the rules in combination with them not paying for the seats and limiting a view, all while engaging us in the process, is what makes it worthwhile enough to be assertive.

  • 8
    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.
    – Mithical
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 15:13

17 Answers 17


I have been the kid in a situation like this. My father can behave a lot like this girl's mother. It is extremely embarrassing when your parents break social norms.

Let's analyse their behaviour. One or more of them wanted better seats. One of them, most likely the mother decided to take the empty seats in front of you, which were an upgrade. The houserules of the theater and social etiquette don't allow that, but they did so anyway. It seems like the girl was more aware of the rules and/or social etiquette than the mother (or cared more for them). Being her parent, the mother is in a position of power over the girl. The mother forced the girl to do something embarrassing: breaking social norms.

At that point they realised you caught them in the act of doing something embarrasing. What is even more embarrassing than doing something embarrassing? Being seen doing something embarrassing. At this point the mother asked "are these seats taken?". She was looking for confirmation from you that it was okay to sit there.

Here's where an opportunity to stop them feeling embarrassed appeared. You could have said "no" and left it at that. You'd have confirmed that their actions are within social norms for you. That does not get you to your desired outcome, though.

You could have said yes or some not-definite no, but that would be a white lie. You may not feel so good about lying, and they would know you lied when no one turned up in the end, but you would have saved them some embarrassment.

You said

I clearly overheard your daughter telling you that you booked seats about five rows further back

At this point, you confirmed you caught them red-handed. This must have increased the embarrassment even further. But the mother continued the socially unacceptable behaviour and sat down.

Here, you could have used something less... accusatory. The part about getting an attendant can also be considered threatening (as pointed out by Imus). This gets their defences up. Perhaps

Those seats were supposed to be empty. We bought these more expensive seats for exactly that reason. Are you sure those seats are yours?

The question allows them to back off graciously, instead of even more embarrassed. The way you've described this mother, it may not work, though it should have achieved overall lower embarrassment levels. The high embarrassment levels are probably what fueled the mother's anger. Her intrapersonal issues are not your fault.

Should they not go back to their seats at that point, you can escalate (peacefully). This does bring more embarrassment to them, but that is entirely on the mother.

You got caught in a catch-22, set up by the mother. Suffer or embarrass. The only thing you can do is damage control.


I used to work in a cinema where this is a problem.

You did the correct thing by getting the attendant and letting them deal with it, that is what they are trained to do.

The only thing I would potentially do in the future differently is not even engage them to begin with, generally if someone knows they are doing something wrong in a public setting like a theatre, they are much more likely to ignore you than accept defeat.

When I noticed them sit in seats which they obviously were not supposed to be in, I would quietly grab a steward and they will do the rest. That will avoid a direct confrontation with yourself and will have the desired outcome of them being moved.

  • 36
    Not engaging is certainly an option, had they not asked 'Are these seats taken?'... Asking us that question put us in a spot where we had to engage...
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Aug 23, 2018 at 13:14

In any theater with assigned seating, it is not your job to remove people from seats they haven't paid for. That is the job of the ushers and other staff, who are paid to check tickets and are (perhaps minimally) trained to resolve disputes.

If you know the seats are not taken, but you don't want to tell the person asking, instead defer:

They may or may not be, why don't we ask the attendant?

If you are determined to thwart their intention to take the seats, add,

Here, let me get the attendant for you.

and watch them quickly sidle away, knowing their tickets will be checked and they will be exposed.

Still, how hard would it have been to just let them have the seats, since no one was sitting there? You could even become co-conspirators by telling them that you know the seats are available, and help to set the daughter's mind at ease. Yes, they're taking seats they didn't pay for, but they're not your seats and it's unlikely that they would have seriously impeded your view.

This way, you all get to enjoy a better view of the performance, and walk away happy, instead of creating an entirely avoidable public squabble that left you all feeling upset. I just don't see the upside.


You spoiled your own enjoyment and the enjoyment of the other family by creating conflict. The only sure way to keep everyone happy is to simply not engage. That gives you essentially 2 options:

  1. Go straight to an attendant who can handle the situation for you. Don't tell the family you disapprove, and don't let them see that it was you who got the attendant. Just be nice to them, get up and find an attendant, and get a drink of water while they chat with the interlopers. Return to your seat when it is resolved. They might feel a little embarrassed, but you wont be involved and it won't be as bad for them since they are less likely to fight about it with someone in a position of authority.

  2. Just let it go. You still have good seats and you went to the theater knowing full well that someone else could have legitimately purchased the seats in front of you. It isn't your job to enforce the rules. Be happy for them for getting nicer seats than they paid for. Maybe be a bit envious. Then move on and enjoy the show.

I volunteered at a local summer theater throughout high school, both as a bouncer and an usher. I can tell you that I would much rather take care of a problem like this myself than have the guests make a scene. It makes things bad for more than those involved, souring the mood for everyone around them. Also, we have seen many people take a free upgrade on their seats after intermission, and we would only ask people to move back if we could see the people around them looked annoyed. It happens, it's not the end of the world.

And what do I do if these people make quietly flagging the attendant without engaging impossible by asking whether the seats are free?

You shrug. You can still walk away from this situation without engaging. This is my go-to method of diffusing combative people - it essentially says "I'm not willing to be part on this discussion. You may be right or wrong, but I'm not going to talk about it."

In the Netherlands, it's perfectly acceptable (and even expected) to point out to people that they're breaking a rule and inconveniencing you, before getting any authorities involved.

After some Googling, I see that it is common practice in some parts of the Netherlands to participate in public, vocal social policing. I want to point out that social policing clearly did not have a happy ending in this particular situation (not to comment on its practice at large). I suspect this has to do with the nature of the activity you were participating in. You were there to relax and have a good time, so getting involved in an argument of any kind is going to spoil things a bit. Where I come from, we have a saying to describe this, though it is a little crass: Peeing in the pool. It means you fouled the atmosphere you are supposed to be enjoying.

As for getting an authority to take care of it for you, even in the Netherlands, sometimes the authorities will react before a "civilian" will. My reason for telling you to get a drink while the attendant was talking to the rule-breakers was to remove you from suspicion of tattling. That will prevent people from giving you stink-eye or even creating more conflict.


I think your approach should focus on 2 things:

  1. Point out what they should be doing without accusing them of wrongdoing.
  2. Focus on the rule, not on how it affects you.

At a venue with assigned seating, there's really no reason someone should be asking if a seat is taken. The only seats you know are taken are your own; if you have to ask, they're not your seats. So really, even if you hadn't overheard that their seats were actually 5 rows back, you already know they're trying to get a free upgrade.

However, calling people out for wrongdoing makes them really unhappy. You've told the mother "I know you're trying to do something you're not supposed to do" and people don't like that. A more interpersonal approach is to effectively say "I know this thing is wrong, not that you're trying to do it or anything." But that's really hard to do by focusing on the bad behavior. It's just too easy for them to assume you're calling them out, which is what we're trying to avoid.

A far easier approach is to reassert good behavior and assume that's what they're trying to do. For example, when they ask if those seats are taken, look at them with a big smile and say:

Oh, well the seating here is actually assigned, it should be on your ticket. Do you know which seats you have? I can probably help you find them.

Don't say this with any condescension or accusation; you want to appear genuinely enthusiastic to help. As far as they can tell, it's never even crossed your mind they might be trying to do something wrong.

From here, then, you've given them two options. The first is for the mother to quietly concede and go to her assigned seats. That's the best case. At no point do you have to expose that she tried to do something wrong, she doesn't have (too much) ill will towards you, and the seats in front of you remain open.

A more likely outcome is for her to say something like, "Well, our seats are actually a little farther back but we can't see very well and if these seats are open ......." The thing is, she knows she isn't supposed to be sitting there, but the fact that she's trying to anyway means she's already justified it. That she got mad at you confirms this; she saw your intervention as an injustice against her.

What's important though, is that she's confessed to you that she's trying to break a rule. You didn't squeeze it out of her and you didn't accuse her, she just told you. You've gotten through the first half of this conversation without putting her on the defensive.

Now, I still think you shouldn't bring up how them sitting there affects you. Like I said, she's justified being in that seat. If you then said "well I cant see with you there," then she has to decide if your justification is better than hers, and the odds of that aren't exactly overwhelming.

Instead, I'd focus on the object reasons why the rule is important. Something like:

They actually don't want you to do that. Sometimes people show up late and it's really disruptive if someone's in their seats already.

This helps avoid a "you vs. me" mentality. She doesn't really get to push against you on this, because it's not your rule; you're just telling her about it. At that point, if she decides to go ahead and sit their anyway, just quietly get the attendant. You've told her that she shouldn't be sitting there and why, which is all that can be expected of you.


So there's multiple things going on here:

  1. The family is taking vacant seats that don't belong to them. This on its own is not the end of the world, as long as those seats are actually empty. How big of a deal this actually is depends on the theater and their policies. The family might shrug this off as "well they're the same seats and they're vacant, so who cares?"
  2. The family is taking better seats. This is the real kicker. They are getting themselves a free upgrade. The theater will most likely take issue with this. The family could at this point offer to upgrade their tickets, but given their attitude this is unlikely.
  3. The family is taking seats in front of you. This on its own is a non-issue. It's not their problem, it's not the theater's problem. You booked the seats you paid for. Just because they were vacant at the time of booking, that doesn't mean they will stay vacant. Now of course the family didn't pay for them, but that doesn't make this grievance valid from their point of view. The family will just brush this away. "They're seats, they can be sat on, you didn't pay for them to be empty, so who cares?"

It's relevant how these individual issues are seen by them, because it will influence the reaction. If you point out issue number 2, it's a lot harder to turn that into an ad hominem fight than number 3. Number 3 really is an issue that's just an issue for you (or your mother), the rest of the world isn't inclined to care about that in isolation. So bringing that up weakens the entire message.

No, these seats aren't taken. And no, they will not be taken either. We booked our seats this way, so no one would be in front of us. I clearly overheard your daughter telling you that you booked seats about five rows further back, so please go to the seats assigned to you on your ticket, or I will go and fetch an attendant to remind you where they are.

There are two things here: Too much about 3, too little about 2. Number 2 is the thing that actually sticks. They didn't pay for those seats, their other ticket doesn't count because the prices are different. If they were seats from the same rank, they could just brush it away saying "I got a ticket right?"

Keep in mind that they might not have been aware that those seats actually were a different rank. You did not point that out, for it's entirely possible they were hearing issues number 1 and 3, weak and irrelevant respectively, while you could have focused on number 2.

Point out that those seats are more expensive and use that to direct them to their own seats. Leave your own expectations out of it.

or I will go and fetch an attendant to remind you where they are.

This is extremely condescending. They know where their seats are. They sat on them before the break. Just say or I will go and fetch an attendant. and leave the hostilities out of it.

One final note, if you want to ensure the seats before you are vacant, buy them.


The problem with the way you phrased what you were saying, was that it sounded like it was from you to them. As in, you were saying "I say you are not allowed to sit there", which of course encourages them to object. A better way to put it, is to phrase it so that you are on the same team. Something like this:

"I'm terribly sorry, but I'm afraid this theatre actually has rules about people changing seats. While I'd be happy to let you sit there if it was up to me, I wouldn't want you to get in trouble when the attendant comes through to check the seats."

This way you make it clear that you are on their side, but remind them that it's against the rules. So if they get angry at anyone, it will be at the theatre, and not you. If they still insist on sitting there, then really on their own head be it. You have warned them it's against the rules, but it is not your place to enforce these rules.

If you really want to press the issue, you can say something like

"I'd really appreciate it if you didn't sit there, as I don't want to be interrupted when the attendant asks you to leave".

Here you are still trying to phrase it non-confrontationally, but as it is a bit more selfish (I don't want my viewing to be interrupted), there is a chance it could be taken badly. At least you are making it clear that your problem is not with them per se so much as the fact that they would be breaking the rules, and you highlight again the fact that sitting there is explicitly breaking the rules.

If they are not causing you any problems, and your only issue with them is that they are breaking the rules, then going to the attendant to ask them to be moved will be taken badly. It is a general rule of human society that when person A breaks a rule and person B reports them to an authority figure, person A will be angry with person B. For reference, see the phrase "snitches get stitches". Unfortunately there really isn't any way to get around this, and if you decide it is important that a rulebreaker be reported, you just have to accept that you will make an enemy of them.

  • All very well, but the OP didn't decide they couldn't sit there. Merely pointed out the fact that it's not allowed.
    – Tim
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 8:29
  • 4
    While I'd be happy to let you sit there if it was up to me. This is clearly not true according to OP which means you are encouraging him to lie to them to deflect their anger towards the theater.
    – JeffC
    Commented Aug 24, 2018 at 13:33
  • 5
    This may also be cultural, but "while I'd be happy to let you sit there if it was up to me, I wouldn't want you to get in trouble when the attendant comes through to check the seats" is objectively passive aggressive. In the US this kind of phrasing sounds like a mobster threat (a la "it would be a shame if your caught fire"). But in many contexts passive aggressive addresses are considered cowardly and no less insulting than openly aggressive addresses. But I fully realize that in some place it maybe a norm, so your mileage may vary.
    – grovkin
    Commented Aug 25, 2018 at 21:06
  • @JeffC Yes. It may be country or culture specific, but in the UK at least this kind of white lie is very common. Other examples you may encounter include: "Those pants don't make you look fat", "I'd love to meet but I'm busy that evening", "it was a pleasure to meet you", "I think your latest artwork looks great", etc.
    – Benubird
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 10:28
  • @grovkin That's really interesting, thanks - I'd never considered that it might sound passive aggressive. Do you have any advice on how to make it sounds less threatening?
    – Benubird
    Commented Aug 28, 2018 at 10:29

This is the less upfront but "safer" strategy:

When they ask you if the seat are free, tell them you don't know (someone might have bought the ticket without you knowing) and then say that you do not advise sitting here because the theater is very picky about the rule of "not changing seat".

If they seat down anyway, wait a little (so that they forget you) and go fetch the attendant. Make sure to not be seen with him so they won't know that you are responsible for them being forced to there previous seat. Since you warn them about the theater rule, they will probably expect this and the drama will be avoid.

The more upfront and "dangerous" strategy:

My mother is more or less like this girl mother so, I might be able to give you insight into this mother brain. And since I have a long experience dealing with my mum, I might be able to help you dealing with this kind of people in the futur.

In a similar situation my mother whould also have take those better and available seat and wouldn't have seen the harm in it. After all, she wasn't taking anyone place, right? But you obviously disagree with that fact so you need to make her understand why you think they cannot take those seats (she doesn't have to agree, just to understand so that she will resent you less). Maybe try something like:

I'm sorry, we buy these tickets because we knew those seet will be free. They doesn't belong to you so do you mind moving somewhere else?

If they move somewhere that is still in 1st class but isn't in front of you anymore, then they are no longer your problem (but you can still go to the attendant if you like to).

I belive you also have a problem with the fact that this mum is breaking the in-house law. You need to understand that she probably consider this law as stupid and thus, she has no problem breaking it. And you probably have no chance in changing her mind.

If they didn't move after you ask them (maybe there aren't any other good seat available), wait a little (five minutes maybe). Then, say something like that:

I'm sorry but you really block my view and since the rule of the theater specify that people are not allow to change seat, do you mind regaining yours?

The fact that you waited saw that you did try to be nice but your question will inevitably be perceived as selfish (you are putting your confort before them) and the mum will probably refused to move.

At this point, you already made two attempt at "moving them" without success. You show that you are polite (with a lot of "sorry") and patient. They will still think you are selfish but at least you have other quality so the mother will probably be less violent against you for what's coming next.

So, here come the last attempt:

I'm sorry, I didn't want to fetch an attendant but you are breaking the rule which make me really unconfortable.

Then get up and go fetch the attendant. The mother will probably still be angry at you but hopefully less violent. And for the child to not be embarassed, well, that probably a lost cause (but you can still try to apologize to her with your eyes/face).


It appears from what you said and the way that lady behaved that you seem to be gone a little far (from that lady's perspective) by telling them to call the attendant. Of course, her behaviour wasn't any good and they were looking for a free upgrade (which is a very common thing). Though I cannot read what was going on the mind of that lady, but she must have thought that I'd sit here since it's empty and see what happens once you told them to call the attendant. Pulling her daughter in her seat confirms it. I've seen the similar cases where people do exactly what they aren't told to.

So, the next time when someone is not taking their assigned seats, just tell them where their seats are, given that you know that these aren't their seats. Something like,

Excuse me! Are you looking for {seat no}? It is there after five rows in the back.

Don't tell them to call the attendant and don't do it at all since they clearly want to sit there. If they sit in the wrong seats and you want to call the attendant, just do it without explicitly saying so and attendant will take care of it. Also try not to come along with the attendant if you want to avoid the fight. You can also save their children from embarrassment a little by avoiding arguments, but not completely because their parent just did the wrong thing by seating into the seats not assigned to them.

If they ask whether these seats are taken or not, just tell them

We don't know. Maybe someone is running late.


This pretty much sounds like a clear case of: You can't control how others will feel

In my eyes you took the proper course of action to receive your goal and you can't change how others would perceive that course.

The mother is the one who brought the child into that situation, not you. If the child/other person feels uncomfortable, it is there job to get out of it. They can always tell the mother/person that breaks the rules to stop and behave correctly. Mostly these kind of people are more likely to listen to someone they know.

Also I think that you can't stop someone from becoming nasty if they really want to. In this case the mother wanted that free upgrade, no matter what. You weren't even able to stop her with the threat to fetch an attendant (which indicates that she is a nasty person to begin with).

I am sorry to tell you, but I think you handled it pretty much perfect as you wanted to keep the seats in front of you empty.

The two possible ways to not have the mother becoming nasty and having the daughter being embarrassed is by accepting the fact that the mother wants to sit there and actually let them sit there. Or by going to the attendant without saying anything to these persons at all. The second solution might not be 100% failsafe as they might be suspecting you to be the one who called the attendant. And from there we would be back to becoming nasty towards you.


If the seats were taken it would've been easy. You could've just answered that and they would most likely go to their own seats.

The problem here is that the seats were actually empty. So they're not actually "stealing" the seats from anyone (except maybe the theater, but I'm assuming you don't really have an issue with the free upgrade part, rather with the limiting our view part).

Taken from their perspective you don't really have much right to complain. Someone else could've actually payed for those seats so you would've had the same inconvenience anyway. While they get a major difference from 4 lines of people in front of them to perfect view (especially so for a smaller kid). So their only concern would be taking someone elses seat which they ask you if that would be the case.

Instead of getting confirmation that those seats were in fact free, you responded quite boldly that even though the seats are free they're not allowed to sit there, and you'd even go so far as to get the attendant to make them go away again. Ofcourse she wouldn't be happy with this response.

You could try with a friendlier wording instead of immediatly threatening to get the attendant:

Excuse me miss, but these are not your seats. We would greatly appreciate it if you didn't limit our vision by taking them instead of going back to your own seats. Thanks.

That way you show them that you have an issue with it and give them the chance to back out ... which she most likely will ignore.

After that you can decide if your minor inconvenience is really worth the trouble of forcing them to go away. If you decide it is you can with a clear concience request more strongly for them to leave and if needed get help from the attendant:

Look, I tried asking you nicely to go to your own seat, do I really need to get the attendant or are you going to follow your smart daughter's idea to actually go back to your own seats?

Added bonus for confirming the kid she was right all along, which might aleviate some of the embaressment later on when the kid tells the story to her friends.

It's impossible to prevent the kid from feeling embaressed. This is entirely on her mother. Try not to let it get to you too much ... or if it does, choose to take the slight inconvenience of limited view the next time?


In this specific situation, the path of least resistance came in the form of them asking if the seats were taken. Unless you are opposed to lying, it would have been easiest to just tell them that the seats were in fact already taken. The mother was apparently willing to break social norms, but by asking, revealed that she probably wasn't willing to enter into a conflict with someone who did have a proper claim to the seat.

In a more general situation, where they didn't attempt to engage you at all, just quietly go find an attendant, and point out that someone is sitting in a seat they are not assigned. If avoiding conflict is especially important to you, take that moment to continue on past the attendant for a restroom break or something. The attendant will have already corrected the issue before you return, without any obvious cause and effect involving you (unless they actually witness you talking to the attendant).

Your secondary goal of saving the child from embarrassment is almost always going to conflict with your desire to enforce social norms on their parent.


You could possibly have avoid a conflict while keeping your wishes know by rephrasing how you spoke to the family. There is no way to completely get what you want without coming off as entitled and demanding, but your phrasing could have been improved, and you could have looked for compromise over making demands.

You said:

No, these seats aren't taken. And no, they will not be taken either. We booked our seats this way, so maybe no one would be in front of us. I clearly overheard your daughter telling you that you booked seats about five rows further back, so please go to the seats assigned to you on your ticket, or I will go and fetch an attendant to remind you where they are.

This is demanding, authoritative, and entitled. People don't like any of those three things. You immediately put them on the defensive by implying they were doing something wrong, putting your needs above theirs, and then threatening to get them in trouble.

You could instead have hit the same main ideas without being confrontational, which would have almost certainly caused them to be more willing to compromise and work with you. You could perhaps have replied with something like:

No, they're not taken, but we booked our tickets just an hour ago, knowing those seats were empty. We paid the extra for first class tickets and took the risk of booking last minute, so that we'd get seats without anyone in front of them. You see, a lot of the time we come here and get our experience ruined by someone blocking our view or talking all show long, or being on their phones. If you guys are going to sit there we don't mind, and we know you two will be respectful of our enjoyment.

This establishes your expectations and desires, and outlines why you deserve the special treatment of essentially trying to reserve six seats for the price of three. You're putting the problem on you, and not preemptively accusing them of anything. Most people will hear your concerns and keep them in mind for the duration of the show - trying to not block your view or distract you. You won't create a conflict that will ruin the mood of the evening, and you'll still get the key parts of your expectations. The family might even go elsewhere if other good seats are available. You don't even need to mention that you'll fetch an attendant if they're causing you problems - they know it's an option and so do you.


I would like to challenge a notion of the answer you gave to these ladies. They said "Is the seat taken?", the answer ought to be:

I don't know

In reality unless you checked 4 secs ago on the website, you have no way of knowing if the seat is taken. Even more, you have no actual way of knowing at all, because maybe the theater had saved those seats for someone, for some obscure reason.

You could have added something like someone else suggested

However, I wouldn't advice on taking them because the theater is strict about the matter.

In a situation like this, your personal motivations shouldn't be part of what you say. Also I totally get you, people that break rules these ways really make me mad. But you shouldn't let that show.

The way you phrased your answer was like "I have been keeping a close watch of you two, and I know you want to break the rules, and I won't let you because it would bother and cause me discomfort if you did". So what did they do? Exactly that, Cause you discomfort.

Also try to remember, but you said they noticed you noticing them, maybe you guys were too obvious? Because otherwise they wouldn't have asked, and you could have gone straight to the theater staff without grief given to you.

To the people saying is not your job, and you shouldn't care, etc, about helping to enforce the rules. And also saying that there is no harm done. I would like to challenge that notion, I think, despite the flaws in the actual implementation, what you did was great. Cheers to you!

What if the seats were actually taken? And the people that had them were late? If @Tinkeringbell let them sit there, the actual owner would have to deal with the situation, which seems only fair, but you know what? Some people find those situations extremely uncomfortable. And they might just take other seats, just not to challenge these ladies. I know I might if I was arriving really late.

As matter of personal opinion, in general, I think, a lot of what is wrong with this world is people saying "it is not my business", and not helping to enforce the rules, because no harm "to them" was done. Rules are there for something. At least now, this lady, MAYBE will learn, or might be a bit more cautious the next time, maybe she won't, but maybe she will. And others that watched what happend may say "maybe is better not to sit in the wrong seat in this place, that could happen". Humans are animals of habit, if people gets in the habit of breaking the rules without consequence, it only gets worse and worse with time, not better.


So, next time someone takes seating not assigned to them, how can I handle the situation in a way that won't make the other person feel a need to be nasty and ruin our cheerfulness, while at the same time prevent possible children of being embarassed by their parent's behavior?

By allowing the person to save face.

Your reaction gave the mother two options: (1) Accept the public scolding by a younger person and go back to her assigned seat or (2) hope that you are bluffing and stay. Apparently, she thought that choosing option 1 would make her look weak in the eyes of her daughter, so she chose option 2.

The solution is to give her an option that is consistent with her self-image, for example, by pretending that she is doing you a favor:

No, they are not taken, but we booked our seats this way on purpose, so maybe no one would be in front of us. Would you mind taking the other seats over there? [Pointing to other "free upgrade" seats which are not in your way.]

The thing is: You know that she isn't really doing you a favor, your parents know it, the girl knows it, and she (probably) knows it as well. But that doesn't matter. What matters is that she can present herself as someone who not only (a) got a free upgrade but also (b) was kind to you by moving a little bit to the side.


To answer the question in the title: you mind your own business.

To answer the question in the post: you can’t. When you are nasty to others, they tend to want to be nasty back, and unless you take joy in their misery, everyone ends up having a miserable time.

And if I had been the people in front of you, and understood the entire situation I would have worked extra to ruin your day! Why? Because you were basically doing the same thing as they were. You were using the seats in front of you without paying for them. You were using them to get a better view. A view you did not pay for and were not entitled to. And then when someone came along and foiled your nefarious plan, you had the gall to call in the attendants to have them hauled away!

To compare the two — Goal: better seats (upgrade) without paying for it.

  • Expenses: you (first class), them (second class)
  • Premeditated: you (yes), them (possible but not probable)
  • Inconsiderate of others: you (yes), them (not until after you brought the attendant)
  • Successful: you (yes), them (no).

You planned more and spent more and were successful.

Having read your story, I feel sorry for the people trying to sit there, and hope they had a better day afterwards.

Addition because of comment:

Consider a similar scenario: two people are on a plane trip, and purchase two tickets, and pick an aisle seat and a window seat, with a seat in between. The plane is not fully booked and the middle seat is indeed empty. Then someone sits down in the middle seat. They no longer have as much elbow room, and explain that their plan to game the seating system for extra elbow room is being ruined and the person needs to depart immediately so they can resume their enjoyment of successful gaming of the system. And then are shocked and upset that the person doesn’t depart immediately and the person expresses their unhappiness when the flight attendant is summoned to eject the person ruining their plan.

The OP purchased seating intending on taking advantage of the timing to get use out of not only the seats he paid for, but seats he didn’t. He is not honestly upset that someone is gaining an unpaid for advantage, he is upset that HIS unpaid for advantage was taken away and wants it returned. And he wants it returned in such away as not to ruin his mood.

If the OP wanted those seats to be empty he had every opportunity to ensure that they were by simply purchasing the seats and then not sitting in them. He didn’t want to PAY for the seats to be empty, but feels entitled to be upset that someone else who didn’t pay for them is benefiting from him NOT paying for them.

  • 2
    Hi jmoreno, perhaps you missed the section about Dutch culture explaining that "it's perfectly acceptable (and even expected) to point out to people that they're breaking a rule and inconveniencing you, before getting any authorities involved". Can you explain how your answer accounts for this?
    – Em C
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 18:52
  • @EmC: he didn’t report them because they were breaking the rules, he reported them because they were keeping him from benefiting from his scam to have a better view without paying for it. He could have paid for the seats and then had every right to tell them to take a hike. Instead, when they asked if the seats were taken, he explained that he very carefully planned to cheat the theater out of the price of those seats, and told them to leave so he could resume enjoying his ill gotten gains. When they didn’t he went and got an attendant. So, I account for it by saying it doesn’ apply.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Sep 4, 2018 at 22:33
  • Please read through our expectations for answers; we require answers to explain their reasoning, including personal experience or references. Currently your answer only contains your opinion on OP's actions, but no explanation as to why your opinion is the correct one. You're going to need a very strong argument as to why requesting people don't take seats they didn't pay for is a "scam" and "cheating the theater".
    – Em C
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 0:40
  • @EmC: Requesting people to not take seats they didn’t pay for is not a scam or cheating the theater, on the other hand requesting people to not take seats they didn’t pay for can be done WHILE performing a scam and cheating the theater. And while performing a scam and cheating the theater, you can be self righteous about your right to do so, but you can’t make others like it..
    – jmoreno
    Commented Sep 5, 2018 at 4:10
  • @jmoreno - this is the right answer. Not every "how do I ...." deserves support, but rather, a "You don't". OP has no right to the view of empty seats in front of him. The theater manger might not even want to be bothered, once the lights dim.
    – user2134
    Commented Sep 10, 2018 at 22:31

As other answers have pointed out, you embarrassed them by pointing out that they were breaking the rules, and that's probably why the mother became hostile.

One strategy to avoid this would have been to show the mother/daughter that you were on their side, before stating your case. I'm sure you've been in a similar situation before, where you saw that something was going free and decided to get yourself a sneaky upgrade. Most of us have done that, and it's usually no problem, as long as it doesn't inconvenience others.

By making it clear that you're not judgmental of their breaking the rules, but just interested in whether your view is blocked, you might have avoided embarrassing them.

So, you could have said something like:

I think they're free, but we booked these seats because there wasn't anyone in front so we'd get a good view. I don't blame you for trying to upgrade though! I'd do the same thing.

Done in the right sympathetic/friendly/jokey tone, it might have kept them on your side. If they like you, they're more likely to want to avoid inconveniencing you.

Were there other free seats they could have moved to that were equally good but that weren't directly in front of you? If so, you could have said that to them:

I don't blame you for trying to get a sneaky upgrade, but would it be ok if you sat in those seats instead so we can still get a good view?

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