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Today I was busing coding/programming in a bar/pub, had my headphones in (as I always do), trying to concentrate on my work. Around 2 PM an obviously-drunk man walks in and orders a beer, then starts playing darts. Unfortunately for me, I'm sitting right next to the darts station.

The guy starts asking me about me laptop - "oh cool laptop, is that Windows 7, 8, 10?", to which I politely respond, "actually none of those, it's a Macbook, an Apple product so it doesn't use Windows." I was hoping the conversation would stop there. Alas, the guy asks me what Apple is, then starts a conversation about phones and asking me if I know a way to get free (by this he means permanent, and illegal) wifi on his phone.

Needless to say, I didn't want to have this conversation, but I politely diffused by saying "oh I'm so sorry but I'm not from around here and I don't know how phones and connections work here." At this point I should mention that I'm American and living in northern France, where random drunken people trying to start a conversation with me (read: a total stranger) is far more common than any other part of the world I've been in.

Long story short, how can I - without offending the person who is drunk - diffuse the conversation into something like ""I'm sorry, but I'm busy (and not interested in talking to you right now)"?

Primarily I'm asking how to diffuse drunk French people, but this has also happened a lot to me in the U.S. so I'd like a general solution, not culture-specific.

PS - obviously I know I could choose a more suitable work environment, but I'm sorry, I like the atmosphere of bars and the ability to get some of my favorite beers on tap. I just want to avoid drunk people trying to strike up a conversation with me; it should be noted that as I mentioned, headphones don't seem to a deterrent.

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    As alcohol alters judgement and personality to some extent, it might be hard to give a solid, general-case answer to this question. Have you tried the "I'm sorry, but I'm busy" line, and if so, what responses did you get? – Upper_Case Jan 8 at 17:44
  • @Upper_Case I have, "je suis désolé mais je suis occupé", which was met with "cool what are you working on?". That one time the guy may have just been really drunk but I don't think the busy line will be super effective if what you are actually working on might look strange/bizarre/interesting to the casual observer (which a mostly-black screen with a bunch of brightly colored text [programming environment] might look like)... sadly, I've tried the classics, even ignoring people outright (which feels very rude). In that case they tap on my shoulder until I react and speak to them. – Chris Cirefice Jan 8 at 17:46
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In France, depending on the atmosphere of the bar (only tables everywhere / a bar with some large places to interact / dancing bars) you can be submitted to unwanted discussions. But as you mentionned it, being in a place where people are gathering, doesn't necessarily mean you want/have to interact with them.

I have my fair share of experiences in many of those bars, and got to be in both situations (not wanting to communicate, or have a quick discussion with someone that don't want to talk).

First, as you might know the place and you are probably sober: You can try to spot a cozy and quiet place, with not much space around or with no group close by. I would personally advise being around couples, as they usually mind their own business and will gladly have someone quiet and occupied at the closest spot around them.

If such situation happens anyway, you can:

  • Express a need, your absolute necessity of doing something. Drunk people, are still able to understand the urgency and tend to be less over thinking about the fact you're giving them.

Your purpose here is to make them fly away to something/someone else. My common habit is basically closing all discussion by saying I am in a hurry. Doing/Finishing your work is a good and truthful excuse for asking someone to leave you be.

  • As you didn't mention it, I don't know if you speak French or not, but I can definitely say most people in France are not comfortable with English. Maybe you can actually tell it by reading at me!

Even more when they are drunk, it might be really difficult for them so don't underestimate that fact. Having a discussion in English can be discouraging for them.

I'm sorry I reallyyy need to finish this in time, maybe we can talk later on

whether or not you want to meet them, insist/repeat on the fact that you are in a hurry.

if they are still here asking you reasons, why you are working in a bar, or launch a discussion, always come back to the point that you are really sorry and in a hurry.

At this point only a few people would still be here talking to you. The last chance to avoid the discussion would be to postpone it :

Listen, we can talk about this later on with a beer, how about that?

Please specify you will be the one coming.

And if they come find you, or when you leave the place:

I am exhausted // I have to go find X // we might meet again, don't worry have a great and safe night!

Some are not comfortable with lies, which I understand. If you do, basically stick with : Express your hurry, don't engage or stimulate discussion, be polite, people will get disinterested soon enough.

I wouldn't advice rudeness, as drunk people (and people in general!) will mostly react badly to it (they may stick with you even more or might be rude too)

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    I get the feeling that the poster does not want to converse with this person at all.. so saying they want to talk later is only going to encourage more disruptive behavior. – swbarnes2 Jan 9 at 18:06
  • Well it can be a way of making the person go away. In any case I have specified that OP can stick on the "I really need to hurry, I am sorry I can't talk" if he doesn't want to go on that direction – ThZ Jan 10 at 10:41
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I'll cut to the core problem you face, in the question itself:

How do I get a drunk person to understand...?

You don't. So, simply respond in kind and "don't be understandable".

Method 1: Pretend to talk in another language. I have actually seen this work when I was in college, harassing people with street evangelism... Yep, that was me! Some guy dropped some syllables that sounded Dutch or German while shyly shaking his head at the ground. By the time I realized he was faking it, he was long gone. Genius!

You can even speak English at the beginning, then go to "other language" later and it should still work. He's drunk, after all, so normal rules of logic won't apply quite the same, just enough not so for you to get away. If you need inspiration, watch the Muppets' "Swedish Chef" or "Yip Man" without subtitles.

Method 2: Pretend to answer your vibrating phone. ;-) Asians do this amazingly well. It even shuts me up! Everyone knows its rude to interrupt someone on a phone, even a drunk. That's how I moved out with my landlord watching once, but that's another story.

If you need to keep working on your computer code (or whatever else), put on your laptop headphones and argue with your work like I do. Arguments with a computer screen can be much more lively than arguments with mom, as any coder knows. It should be convincing enough to keep the drunk at bay. If he keeps interrupting anyway, pretend to catch half of what he says and misunderstand half of that just enough to be annoyingly "not worth it".

That brings me to...

Method 3: Pretend to misunderstand him half as much as he misunderstands your desire for him to leave, and he will.

When my grandmother wanted any of us to get off the phone, she would call someone by a name not in the family and answer a question no one asked. Everyone else thought she was just senile; mom and I knew better. I'd take the hint and give the "love you, bye"; your drunken encounter might also. Grandma was twice married to a drunk, so I think she knew how to handle your kind of situation.

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    "Pretend to answer your vibrating phone" - to help with this, an iPhone will vibrate if you turn the ringtone off with the switch on the side, so you can make it vibrate at will. And a drunk will not notice what you are doing. – gnasher729 Jan 12 at 14:25
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Inebriated people are difficult to interact with since they oftentimes don't entirely think situations through. In the complex world of interpersonal interactions where something as small as an eye-twitch could completely change the meaning of a sentence, not thinking about the consequences of your own actions or even other people's in an interaction can cause a lack of understanding.

As such, I'd opt for a gesture that they can't ignore or misinterpret: Get up and walk to another table.

You could preempt this with "Sorry, but I'm kind of busy and don't want to talk right now." so that you're not just rudely leaving them. But even with the apology, this option is still a little rude, so I'd use it as a last resort.

  • Ah, but getting up and walking to another table takes at least a few minutes to pack up my laptop and all my other stuff I have laying about, so this would be incredibly awkward I think! Definitely a last resort... – Chris Cirefice Jan 10 at 7:15
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There are some people who will work hard to read cues in your conversation to determine if they are imposing on you. And then there are those who don't care. I suspect your dart guy was the second kind. He wanted conversation, and your words, meant to indicate that you did not want to talk more, were in fact giving him what he wanted. So next time, don't give the guy what he wants. Say as little as possible, or nothing at all, and hope the staff will help keep bothersome people away.

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