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Background:

I'm from India. In our railways, we have multiple ways of booking tickets, one of them being the regular way (stand in the queue) and the other, a card which lets you get your ticket printed on a separate machine. You can recharge a fixed amount on the card as required.

Situation:

I use the said card and frequently get requests from people (strangers) to book their tickets (of course they'll pay me) so that they can avoid the usually long queue. I personally want to politely decline due to:

  1. This said card is very easy to get
  2. I wouldn't ask someone myself if I were in their position. I would wait in the queue.
  3. Due to this problem, there are even railway employees who sit at these machines, offering to print tickets. This is another alternative and while there's still a queue, they can go there.

I do make exceptions: if the person looks like they're especially in a hurry/seem desperate/disabled/senior citizen whatever... I do book it.

So far, I've taken the easy way out by saying "I'm in a hurry.", a white lie: which may be an etiquette issue? Besides that, have also felt I need to justify my, perhaps unexplained and possibly rude, refusal.

So I thought of something along the lines of explaining point 1. Adding how unfair it would be to the others standing in the line if I "favoured" this person by booking (Point 3). But I'm afraid that might lead to the person becoming more defensive.

Question:

Is it good etiquette to state my rationale while declining such requests? Either case, how to refuse in such scenarios in as polite a way as possible?

I don't mind if someone ignores cultural context here since general etiquette will help all, including me. But please mention it if you do so!

  • How is this supposed to work? You buy the ticket and they give you cash? – gnasher729 May 2 at 16:16
  • Hi joeljpa! Do you preface or follow up on the 'Im in a hurry' with some kind of apologetic expression? Either verbal or nonverbal? Also, sorry you had to see all that chatter just now, it's not our common way of welcoming a new user! – Tinkeringbell May 2 at 16:26
  • Are these people you know or total strangers? I think the answer would be different depending on who it is. – bluegreen May 2 at 17:12
  • @Tinkeringbell Thanks and also for your helpful reformating edit! That's a good idea, haven't considered that but I've updated the question clarifying another issue I have with this approach anyway. – joeljpa May 4 at 6:25
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Is it good etiquette to state my rationale while declining such requests?

I'm going to say that it isn't, not in this case and not for the rationale you're thinking of giving. There isn't much written on declining a request from a random stranger, and there doesn't seem to be any codified form of etiquette involving giving or not giving a rationale when doing so. So you'll have to with the core rules of etiquette and basic politeness here: the core of etiquette boils down to being considerate of others feelings and being considerate of what's customary in a society, in all situations where people interact with each other.1

There are two questions you'll have to answer for yourself:

  • Is asking you to buy a ticket for a stranger customary in your society?
  • Is declining to buy a ticket for a stranger going to be seen as a breach of custom, and thus rude?

If the answer to the first question is 'yes', please think carefully about the way you go about declining. As long as declining such a request won't be seen as a breach of custom, you can relatively safely decline. If the very act of declining would be seen as going against custom though, you're going to have to put a lot of effort into declining as gracefully as possible, and you might still be seen as rude.

If the answer to the first question is 'no', it's unlikely that the very act of declining will ever be seen as rude, though the way you go about declining still might be seen as rude, so do try to avoid that.

Either case, how to refuse in such scenarios in as polite a way as possible?

Based on the above and some personal experience, don't state your rationale when declining, not if your rationale is 'it is unfair to others'. Adding the rationale you have will sound like you're accusing the asker of trying to jump in line or being too lazy to get their own card. You're right that telling a stranger something like this might very well make them defensive, or they might think less of you.

I remember once some stranger asking me if I would pretend to the train personnel that they were my friend and that we were travelling together, so they could travel with a discount (because I had card allowing me to take two others with such a discount). I quietly and politely told them that I didn't do that, that I don't lie and that it was unfair towards all other people that did pay full price for their tickets. The faces of the stranger and of others nearby on the train clearly told me that that wasn't the expected and polite reaction and that stating my reason, in this case, wasn't seen as polite.

If you don't want to add the white lie of 'being in a hurry', I propose some kind of apologetic, generic remark. Say something like "I'm sorry I can't help" or "No, I'm sorry".

I would personally advise adding the white lie of being in a hurry, as it doesn't hurt here: it might help prevent further questions that might force you to be rude, and is perfectly believable: many people on train stations are in a hurry to catch their train. Do combine it with an apologetic remark though, it's likely to be seen as less rude as the plain 'I'm in a hurry' you say you're using now.

1. loosely translated from the Dutch Wikipedia page on etiquette

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