The other day, I was in the subway when I saw a bag with a very funny joke on it. The joke made me smile, so I wanted to compliment the person wearing it (my thought was that they brightened my day with their bag, so I could brighten theirs with a compliment about the bag/joke in return).


This person wasn't looking at me and wasn't even facing me (they weren't turning their back either, they just were "on the side"). If this person was, indeed, facing me I would have tried to make eye contact, then smiled, then given my compliment.

I know there is some "implicit rule" that one doesn't talk to a stranger in public transportation (because it's intrusive and annoying). So, how could I have made my compliment to this stranger without being intrusive?

2 Answers 2


One of the problems with talking to people on public transportation is that they may feel social pressure to continue to interact with you. This can be extremely awkward, especially in the context of public transportation, where many of us have been cornered by weirdos. You can negate this by doing it as one of you are exiting. Since you or they are leaving, there is no pressure on them to do more than say "thanks".

Positioning and chance may not work out for you, but try to catch their eye in the bustle. Give a small head nod to indicate you are going to say something, and just quickly say it.

Nice bag!

  • 2
    This is the method I use. It still doesn't always go well, but when it goes poorly, the fact that one of the two of us has just stepped off the train is that much more helpful.
    – Ed Grimm
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 4:19

It may not be possible. A convenient opportunity is OK, even if you engineer it a bit. But the more effort is required on your part, the less appropriate it is.

It might be nice to offer a compliment in the situation described in the question, but I think it's valuable to bear in mind that it's not very important.

If, on the bus, I saw someone drop their wallet I would be very proactive and intrusive about getting their attention so that I could return it. A dropped wallet, containing money, IDs, etc., is important enough that it's worth breaching the convention to keep to yourself. There is a specific goal, a reason that it matters, and the interaction naturally terminates soon after describing why you demanded their attention (if not immediately).

Simply admiring a slogan or image on a shirt or accessory almost never rises to this level. Accordingly, making the compliment should only happen if you can do so in a convenient, casual way. If you happen to make eye contact, as mentioned in the question, by all means mention that you like the bag. If you want to position yourself such that eye contact is more likely to happen, that's fine too. But since the generic value of delivering a compliment like this is pretty low, it doesn't take much effort to be "too much".

The social conventions in effect on public transportation simply don't prioritize this kind of interpersonal contact as highly as other things (like keeping to yourself). That's not to say that you can't do those things (I've had conversations with strangers on the bus and train), but it'll be immediately noted as out-of-norm.


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