9

This is not a question about how to say no to street vendors. I specifically want to know how I can avoid interacting with a particular person who just happens to be a street vendor. He could be any other person I meet on the subway every day, and not necessarily a street vendor. So please don't close this question as a duplicate of an earlier question.


I am a second-generation American of Middle Eastern/ South Asian origin working in a big city in the USA where there is a subway.

Usually someone is selling newspapers in the morning.

For the past year there has been this creepy-looking person (in my opinion) selling newspapers. This person looks like a cunning criminal type. Although I cannot give you 'evidence' of this, it is my 'gut feeling' which we are encouraged to trust while encountering a stranger.

He tends to go up to people, say hello, ask them for a high-five. I even see people stop and talk to him.

Then last year when I was minding my own business, he came up to me and asked for a high-five.

I was really scared of saying "no" because one time when I refused someone who was soliciting money, they got really aggressive and I almost had to call the cops on them. [I and my family do not have good experiences with officials and prefer not to involve any officials in this matter.]

So for a year I reluctantly gave high-fives and acted like I was happy about it.

Then a few months ago I saw a video on computer security and the person presenting it said something interesting, "You are an adult, say no".

So the next day when I was in the subway and this person wanted a high-five I gave a thumbs up and said this is easy for me. Then he thought I am celebrating Ramadan, hence I am not giving high-five (I look Muslim, plus I wear long skirts). He asked if I am fasting for Ramadan and I said yes, just to end the conversation right then and there.

Now it's way past Ramadan, and the person jokingly asks for high-five. I am polite and say, "have a nice day".

Believe it or not, many 2nd generation Americans retain a lot of mindset (for better or worse) from their ancestral country. Plus I keep hearing that acid attacks are now coming to Western countries like France and the UK. My ancestral background is from a culture where such attacks against women are not uncommon. So honestly, I am really scared of random interactions with unknown people. I also want to avoid angering anyone.

I wish I can smile and give a friendly nod and pass by: but not talk or give him a high-five. My concern is, if I interact with him more, my boundaries will be overstepped and I won't know how to de-escalate. It is hard to ignore a person who you have no choice but to pass by each day, if he oversteps my boundaries.

Many members have commented that my fears about this person seem irrational. I don't think they are irrational but that argument doesn't invalidate my question anyway because I have a right to avoid him if I want to, whatever the reason. To get around that controversial point let us simply assume that I am extremely shy and want to avoid interacting with this person for that reason: how do I do it tactfully without antagonizing this person? Please address that aspect rather than my possible motivations.

QUESTION: How to avoid interacting with this person and how can I politely communicate my lack of interest verbally or non-verbally (preferred) without upsetting him, myself, or any surrounding people?

  • 2
    This question is being discussed on meta here and here. – Monica Cellio Sep 24 '17 at 21:04
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Sep 26 '17 at 15:09
  • Could you alter your route to use an alternative entrance to the subway station? – Nick Apr 17 '18 at 22:51
15

It's clear from your question that you are terrified and are nervous about the consequences of asserting yourself. That's understandable given your background of living in a society where women had next to no rights. This combined with fear mongering in the news doesn't help to alleviate your anxieties.

Let's break it down.

This is not an absolute truth, but is the most likely scenario.

It sounds like you're not approachable and over time he has become familiar with you or made eye contact with you and decided it's worth a try to engage you.

  • Logically, this newspaper vendor sells papers and has worked out that by high fiving people and being friendly, he sells more papers. He may also be an outgoing friendly person.

  • By trying to high five you, it's unlikely the motives are anything other than trying to sell a newspaper or trying to engage you, not for sinister reasons. He might think you're nice, he may think you look sad, who knows.

  • He's been selling newspapers over a period of time, which would indicate there's some degree of stability in this situation.

  • He's become a part of the community. This helps him socially and in selling newspapers. he has a reputation to preserve and is unlikely to do anything to damage that.

Solution

As he's persisting in trying to engage you and not taking the hint. As you encounter him daily, you are going to need to say something to him.

Just quietly and politely say, something to the effect:

"Please don't approach me, it makes me uncomfortable and I just want to be left alone."

or

if you feel like engaging him:
"I'd rather we don't touch, let's just smile instead."
There is a risk he may try to escalate it, as he clearly likes to engage people.

See what he does. If he continues to approach you, that is a different issue, he has no boundaries and a further step will need to be taken.

If that fails

If he is going to ignore clear boundaries that you set, you could:

  • cross the street or take some way to avoid him.

  • Carry an unfolded newspaper or something non-threatening (not a handbag or umbrella that could be used as a "weapon" and as you pass him, hold it up between you both. Please don't do this before trying the first solution of talking to him. If you can achieve a resolution with clear communication, it will only help your confidence.

  • 2
    +1 this is honestly a pretty good answer, same general sentiment as mine, but you spelled it out better. – apaul Sep 24 '17 at 4:12
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    Another approach you could add is politely ignoring the person. I've had success with it in the past. I'd simply mind my own business and if the person initiated contact, I would keep my hands in my pockets/close to my body, flash them my most disarming smile, wish them a good morning/afternoon/evening and then keep walking at my usual determined stride while staring off into the direction I'm going with a look on my face as if I'm overthinking a problem. If pressed, remain silent and simply shake your head "no" while again flashing a disarming smile. – Cronax Sep 28 '17 at 12:01
10

I've lived in NYC. I had to take the subway many times. And many times I would see people whose appearance might have made me feel uncomfortable regardless of the reasons and whether rational or irrational, and whether I was stereotyping them. If someone tried to approach me and I didn't feel comfortable I would try to avoid them. There is usually police. If you feel someone, whether that vendor or someone else, is harassing you, talk to an officer. Ask for their advice but be honest with them.

However, I feel that it might be helpful to point out some things.

For the past year there was this creepy-looking person selling newspapers. However he'd go up to people, say hello, ask them for a high-five. I even see people stop and talk to him. Then last year when I was minding my own business, he came up to me and asked for a high-five.

Could he just be overly friendly? Perhaps you felt he was imposing this high-five on you, and he probably was, but if he is that way with everyone and some people don't mind, (they stop to talk to him or don't find him creepy), this might be an indication that he isn't going to harm you. I would worry more if this was just happening with me and nobody else.

I am really scared of saying "no" because one time when I refused someone they got really aggressive and I almost had to call the cops on them.

Who is that someone you refused? Another newspaper vendor? What does "they got really aggressive" mean?

And the cops here would say it is my fault even though I was minding my own business trying to catch the train to go to work.

Where is the here? In the United States? Did they actually say it or is this you worrying they might?

So for a year I reluctantly gave high-fives and acted like I was happy about it. This person looks like a cunning criminal type, I'm surprised people are so stupid to stop and waste their time with this person, but I digress.

So you felt you had to give high fives in order to feel safe and in order to be left alone, though it made you uncomfortable.

Some of these people you called stupid might not feel the same way about this vendor. HOWEVER, this is about how you feel about this vendor. And if you don't feel comfortable don't give high-fives and don't stop to talk to him (and no eye contact). Just say you are in a hurry, avoid passing by him and/or if he follows you around or bothers you, speak with an officer.

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    This is a good answer. The other person who I refused was some kid soliciting money and wouldn't leave me alone. Eventually after 30 minutes he left. As for police, yes I feel they would do that. About 20 yrs ago my Father was assaulted in the same subway and the cop assigned to his case said my Father kept rambling. The cops were acting like doing their job is a big favor and the search was eventually dropped. – user5919 Sep 24 '17 at 17:50
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    By the way, I have no choice but to pass by him. He's always at the entrance of the closest mode of public transportation to take. Your answers are quite helpful though. – user5919 Sep 24 '17 at 17:56
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    @user5919 I'm sorry to hear this happened to your dad. I can only hope this was an isolated incident and a bad decision by that officer, 20 years ago. If you can't avoid him, don't make eye contact and pretend you're in a hurry or talking to someone on the phone. – Tycho's Nose Sep 24 '17 at 18:14
6

Your post seems littered with negative assumptions, how do you know that this person isn't just selling newspapers and trying to be friendly?

If the person is just asking for a high-five they sound pretty harmless and it's pretty common for people in sales to go out of their way to try to engage with potential customers.

If you're not interested in engaging with this person you could just keep walking, I'm sure many, if not most, people do.

Also... Many major US cities enforce street vendor licensing, so chances are pretty good that if he's always in the same place selling papers he has a permit to do so.

  • 1
    Strangely, these salespeople rarely approach me. Never if I'm on my own. I don't know why, it could be I don't like talking to people I don't know, especially professionals and maybe they sense it? I'd much rather talk to homeless people selling stuff, they're more down-to-earth and not half as expecting, presumptuous, fake, I can't think of the right word! I'd add no eye contact onto your answer too. – n00dles Sep 24 '17 at 2:28
6

First, let me tell you that I too face fears that others dismiss as unwarranted or illogical. For example, I almost never park in underground parking unless I am with someone else, because I find walking through underground parking lots unbearably scary on my own. Statistics about how often people are attacked there compared to elsewhere have no effect on me. "Helpful" stuff about how my alternative is actually more dangerous (where the danger level for both choices is in reality vanishingly small) will actually make me angry. So I can guess a little how you are feeling.

The secret to not engaging is not to engage. You remember this person and that you engaged in the past. He may not remember you at all. Even if he does, he will not feel rejected or sad if you stop engaging. He does not need a reason, such as it being Ramadan, for your change in behavior. All you need to do is behave as you truly wish to. If you wish to walk by without a high five, without eye contact, without answering any questions he asks you, you can do that. You really can. Nobody (not even the newspaper seller!) will call you out on that. You can give a little head-shake to indicate "no" as you go by, but you don't have to. Truly, you do not.

I would probably do the following things at first:

  • if the person is always in the same place (eg top of the stairs, on the left) make a small adjustment to be further from them. For example, keep to the right. If there are two stairs you can take and it really makes no difference, take the one he doesn't hang out at.
  • do not look at him as you go by. Not even at his feet or the newspapers. (Look at your feet. Look at the back of the person in front of you. Look past/through him to a lamp-post or other sidewalk item ahead on your path. Turn your head a little away from him to look at anything other than him as you go by.) If he calls out to you, do not turn your head or even your eyes to look at him. (If you have to figure out where he is to know whether to keep left or keep right, do that in advance and then stop looking at him well before you get near.)
  • if he talks to you, do not answer, do not look, restrict yourself to at most a small head shake
  • if he holds out a hand or otherwise tries for a physical interaction, do not talk, and take evasive action such as stepping sharply to one side. If this puts you in someone else's "space" apologize to them - I'm not suggesting you turn into a super rude person who cares about no-one else.
  • if he "goes meta" and talks to you about not talking, do not discuss why you are not talking or not physically interacting. Just continue not to talk or physically interact. Saying "no" to a request for a high five is still giving him the interaction he seeks. Don't do that. Just keep on going as though you did not hear.

The first time you do this you are likely to be nervous and tense, with your shoulders hunched and all your muscles tight. Set yourself a goal to be a little more relaxed each time you do it. Also try to think of him later and later in the commute each time. Eventually avoiding and ignoring him will be your "new normal" and you will do it without thinking, the same way you don't bump into the new garbage can or pass reader in the days after it is installed.

  • 1
    You have addressed the real problem in a way that helps OP & also useful to future readers. I helped in reopening this Q which I feel has valuable generic elements (as in "I had a bad experience with a man and feel women are not safe anywhere: how do I avoid interacting with this unknown man I must meet daily on the way to work?") Best part: "The secret to not engaging is not to engage. (...) All you need to do is behave as you truly wish to. If you wish to walk by without a high five, without eye contact, without answering any questions he asks you, you can do that." I appreciate & upvote! – English Student Sep 26 '17 at 18:42
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    Love the empathy. Addressing the OPs concerns, no judgement and a supportive solution. – user57 Sep 26 '17 at 18:54
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    @kate-gregory The first time you do this you are likely to be nervous and tense, with your shoulders hunched and all your muscles tight This is spot on. For past two days I felt oblidged to look in his direction, but didn't smile or give response. Problem is, he is facing the only entrance of the subway, so it's bit of challenge not to look at him (unless I'm walking backwards). Will work on this. I'm very scared he will get angry and retaliate. Maybe You can give a little head-shake to indicate "no" as you go by, but you don't have to will help if I cannot help but face him. – user5919 Sep 27 '17 at 0:28
3

I find it a bit hard to relate to this situation but it might be similar to the people in Martin Place (Sydney) who try and sign me up for charity donations when I'm walking to work most days. They have all sorts of tactics to try and engage - singing, dancing, "love your outfit", "can you spare a minute" and in all situations, I find that a smile and "no thanks" is sufficient. It's polite, it isn't dismissive, and it does the trick.

Or you might think of this person like the homeless people in Martin Place. One calls out "I just need two dollars"; another stand quietly with her hand outstretched. In both cases, a quick acknowledgement and "sorry, I can't help today" is all that is required.

I understand that you are "really scared of random interactions with unknown people" so keep it on a level that you control. Acknowledge the person (in whatever way suits you - a nod, a smile) and keep walking. You're in control of your day, not this random person in your train station. Keep in mind that he or she probably sees hundreds of people every day, and whether you engage or not is immaterial in the long run.

If all else fails, have a chat to the person and ask him to cut you some slack. Otherwise, find a new train station.

2

I've been on the other side of this, being the weird guy asking strangers for stuff in public places (in my case I was a canvasser asking for signatures to support political causes)

From my perspective, I don't think this guy would be upset or even care if you told him 'not anymore'. If he disliked being rejected by strangers, he would be doing what he does

His general assumption is probably that people who have acknowledged him are OK with his interactions unless they say otherwise. He's not going to just take a subtle hint as a no

You could say something like "I'm trying to establish better boundaries in my life and I don't want to talk to you anymore". Or something more causal like "Nah I don't do that [high fiving people] anymore". Or really anything that clearly states what you want

  • 1
    "I'm trying to establish better boundaries in my life and I don't want to talk to you anymore" could actually come across as extremely accusatory. And "I'm trying to.../attempting to...." would be a very dangerous thing to say IF the other person WAS actually intentionally violating your boundaries - you would admit to them that your SUCCESS in that attempt is dependent on THEIR mercy. – rackandboneman Apr 7 '18 at 22:49
  • I'm not sure where you live, but 'I'm trying to' meaning 'I am' or 'I'm going to' is a not uncommon expression in the US – Shane Apr 10 '18 at 0:06

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