Imagine you are in a crowded place and a stranger is blocking your way.

Is it rude to tap them on the shoulder to get their attention?

Would it be different for men than women?

  • What do you want to know about ladies? Oct 21 '17 at 17:36
  • If it is different to tap ladies on the shoulder than men.
    – Didami
    Oct 21 '17 at 17:37
  • 3
    This is very dependent on the culture and who you are dealing with. Here in Indonesia we are more tolerant toward tapping in shoulder. Please provide your location, and preferably who you are dealing with.
    – Vylix
    Oct 21 '17 at 18:22
  • Closed because there's not enough detail. This varies largely by culture.
    – Catija
    Oct 22 '17 at 2:53
  • @Catija The OP has now edited to specify their region. (Unfortunately, a lot of the existing answers probably aren't relevant/useful for this culture ... :-/ ) Oct 22 '17 at 9:31

In general touching people should be a last resort. Try the usual things like saying:

Excuse me.

Do you mind if I pass?

Hey, can I get through?

Touching strangers is something that should only be done in cases where a verbal interaction isn't possible, like a crowded concert or club where the music is too loud to be heard without shouting directly into someone's ear.

Even at concerts, I try to avoid touching people unless I really have to. Often I can just wave and point in the direction I'm trying to go. If I'm approaching from behind sometimes the only option is to gently touch someone's shoulder to get their attention and pass, but like I said it's a last resort, not the first choice. Sometimes it's just easier to wait for the end of the song or set before moving through the crowd.

  • 4
    Don't forget that tapping in shoulder is polite to call a Deaf person.
    – Vylix
    Oct 21 '17 at 18:24

It depends on cultural background of the one touched, and it depends on how you touch.

In my home country for example, it would be okay to touch with an open palm, but a little rude to do it with a finger.

If you are a woman and you touch a Buddhist monk, he will be very disappointed. Same goes with touching an orthodox Muslim woman if you are a man outside her family.

So, generally don't touch if you're not sure.


Please note that politeness standards vary across generations, locales, and subcultures. So even in one town if you ask around you'll get different answers. That said, I'll give you the answer which I was raised with, in a conservative American family...

  • One typically does not tap strangers on the shoulder. There are lots of other ways to gain attention ("Excuse me", "Ahem" are perennial favorites). Shoulder-tapping is a last resort.

  • It is different for men and women. For some reason, it's less weird or threatening for women to break the "touch barrier", and being a fella I'd be more reluctant to shoulder-tap a lady than a guy.

  • Some people are just plain twitchy, and don't like to be touched.

So, per above, I'd recommend not doing this. In a nod to our fractious cultural scene however, I'll say that intent counts for a lot. People are fairly good at divining when someone is trying to be rude vs trying to be polite.

Last word: Ahem. Ahem!


Before doing so, you should know the proper regional or cultural behavior rules at the place you are. For example, if you do this in Switzerland (where I live), it's ok for men and women if it's very noisy and there's no quick visual or audible way to get attention or to show your intention. This may be different elsewhere, including the consideration of possible gender differentiation.


This is very much culturally dependent. You will get many varying responses from the person depending on their background, personal history and attitudes/phobias.

I would put an actual touch towards the bottom of the list, as a last resort. Some things you can try first:

  • Say something "Ahem", "Excuse me", "Sir/ma'am" or similar to get their attention.

  • Touch or tap something in their field of vision - make it a distinctive, but not threatening motion.

    If you absolutely need to touch someone, do not do it from out of their field of vision. Many people react oddly when startled. Step into their sight lines, repeat "Pardon me sir/ma'am" and reach out gently. If they react at all, simply step back and drop your hands.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.