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There's a coffee-dispensing machine (similar in concept to a Keurig) in my apartment lobby for use by the tenants. As coffee is a popular morning beverage, occasionally I have to wait behind one or two people. The past couple days, I have had to briefly wait to use it (very minimally, less than a minute), and the person in front of me has turned around when finished and said something like "It's all yours" or "I'm done."

Of course, these statements could be unnecessary; they can just grab their beverage and walk away. After all, you don't yell "I'm done" to the car waiting behind you at the gas pump when you finish filling your tank! But I am not sure how to respond to this. I've been just muttering a "Thank you," but that is also unnecessary (thanks for what? Being done? Or "allowing" me to use the machine?) and I'm afraid that can come across as sarcastic.

How does one "pick up the baton" in the least socially disruptive way?

closed as off-topic by user58, gparyani, Ælis, Hakaishin, avazula Oct 17 '18 at 10:33

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Asking "What should I do?" is off topic. - Questions should ask for help achieving a specific goal. Your question is asking for personal advice on "what to do" without defining a goal; this is too subjective. Edit your question to explain what you hope to achieve and how you would like to interact with the others involved." – user58, gparyani, Ælis, Hakaishin, avazula
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 2
    Comments deleted. Comments are not for answers; please write answers as answers. Thanks. – HDE 226868 Nov 2 '17 at 19:59
  • I have edited the question to give it a purpose: causing the least social disruption, and vote to reopen it in its current form. – Tom Au Jul 14 at 5:42

12 Answers 12

110

I think that this falls squarely in the realm of common courtesy.

You seem like a practical person, as am I. I tend to agree with you that many of these types of interactions are totally unnecessary, and often reduce efficiency.

That being said, we are a part of a society. That society has certain norms and customs. There are also many different types of people. Some people (perhaps often sanguine temperament) will make conversation out of nothing and about nothing. They almost literally cannot encounter a person without saying something.

So I would boil this down to a few considerations:

  • "Don't shoot the skinny rabbits." There are definitely times to push back against typical societal behaviors, but this one is quite simple. You can just say "Thanks" with a smile.

  • You are helping them out. Some people might say this because they feel bad about using the machine and making you wait for it (seriously). Or they think it's an awkward situation. (Or they just need to talk because they're people persons.) Your kind response will handle these various scenarios.

I struggled with this kind of thing for many years until I decided that I wanted to build bridges with other people as much as possible. Believe it or not, this sort of thing is really important to many people and can communicate good things.

So, to answer your question, I think that a smile and a "thanks!" is perfectly adequate.

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    I think you might improve this excellent answer by mentioning that this sort of phrase is also an indication that they have all the coffee they need. Sometimes you're not just getting your own cup of joe but also getting it for coworkers or clients. The phrase voices the end of their turn unambiguously. – Cronax Nov 6 '17 at 12:42
60

I do not think that the statement is superfluous, as they are making clear that they are finished (in some situations, there may be more to do after you got the coffee, like getting sugar/milk or picking up something you had put on a table to handle the coffee (machine), i. e. anything making them stay around the machine longer than expected).

I would say

Thanks

or just

(nod and) smile

This way, I acknowledge what they said and the "Thanks" can be interpreted as thanking them for taking the time to tell me, that they have no longer anything to do at/around the coffee machine and that I don't have to wait any longer.

It's also sufficiently short to not be annoying to either of you.

  • I've been doing the thank you but am not sure how it comes across. The milk and sugar are located across the room where you would need to walk away after receiving the coffee, so lingering at the machine isn't really something that would be done in this instance. – dth02134 Nov 1 '17 at 10:17
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    @dth02134 Are there no other instances where you may have to wait for longer, e. g. the person in front of you may want to get more than one coffee? I personally wouldn't overthink this. And I would understand a short "Thanks" as an acknowledgment that my message got noticed, but that's my opinion and I can't speak for others. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Nov 1 '17 at 10:21
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    Yes, getting more than one is a possibility, but them walking away implicitly indicates they aren't doing that (which is why I referred to it as superfluous). I do like the nod and smile as a non-verbal acknowledgement so I think I'll switch to that. I suppose this could also be somewhat of a cultural difference as I recently moved to the southern US (where people seemingly often say things like this) from NYC (where people never say things like this). – dth02134 Nov 1 '17 at 10:35
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    @dth02134 Another possibility: Some people may often be in situations, where it makes more sense to communicate that they are finished, and do it in such a situation as yours out of habit. – Anne Daunted GoFundMonica Nov 1 '17 at 10:39
33

As Heinlein said:

“Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untravelled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as "empty," "meaningless," or "dishonest," and scorn to use them. No matter how "pure" their motives, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.”

This is not a superfluous comment. It's them adding a little lubrication into the social machinery. You had to wait while they did their thing, they're acknowledging that you waited and signalling that they aren't taking it for granted. A simple "thanks" in response is all you need to do, you aren't thanking them for moving on. You're thanking them for acknowledging your existence and person-hood, and in the process adding a bit of oil of your own to the cogs.

10

To elaborate on @wildbagel's answer:

As a person who "almost literally cannot encounter a person without saying something" myself (a "silence-filler", as some friends have put it), I wouldn't necessarily expect a response at all. If you said anything, it wouldn't serve any purpose other than to engage in social intercourse and make your personality a part of my morning. Some people just value friendliness with strangers.

If you don't feel comfortable with "thanks", there are plenty of ways to express acknowledgment without gratitude:

  • "Great"
  • "Lovely"
  • "Alright"
  • "Cool"
  • "Sweet" (reminiscent of skater/surf culture)
  • "Brilliant" (U.K., but maybe you can pull it off, who knows)

There's also the option of responding with a joke. For instance, "It's about time" can work as deadpan humor, if followed by a smile.

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    I'm thinking you mean social discourse here, as social intercourse in such a situation would be interesting to say the least! – A.fm. Nov 2 '17 at 10:31
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    haha both can be used to mean communication/interaction: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/intercourse#Noun – Ryan Lue Nov 2 '17 at 10:38
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Of course, these statements are unnecessary; they can just grab their beverage and walk away.

You are perhaps confused about the purpose of their utterance. They are not letting you know they're done (you can see that yourself). They are letting you know they acknowledge your presence, your wish to take your turn, and perhaps that they're (slightly) sorry to keep you waiting.

Most people perceive it as pleasant to be acknowledged, in particular if they are (even slightly) inconvenienced by the other person. But this is somewhat culture-specific. The US and the UK are rather "chatty" cultures and people tend to feel awkward when ignored. By contrast, Fins and Russians prefer to be left alone in chance encounters with strangers.

I am not sure how to respond to this. I've been just muttering a "Thank you," but that is also unnecessary (thanks for what? Being done? Or "allowing" me to use the machine?)

A quick "thanks, (have a nice day)" or even just a smile is enough. The "thank you" is for them being nice to you, not for them "allowing" you to use the machine or for pointing out that they are, in fact, done.

I'm afraid that can come across as sarcastic.

Dont' worry. It won't come across as sarcastic but as polite.

7

There are times when courtesy would imply that someone who finishes with a machine while someone else is waiting should let the other person know. There are many other times when it isn't necessary. Since the inconvenience someone might cause by failing to let someone else know that some kind of machine is ready could outweigh any "inconvenience" caused by informing them, many people prefer to inform the waiting person as a matter of habit, rather than trying to determine whether such action is necessary in any particular situation.

Saying "thanks" is an appropriate response, not so much as an expression of gratitude, but as an acknowledgment that one is no longer waiting for the other person to use the machine. If e.g. the waiting person was looking away from the machine and had a bored expression, the person who finished the machine might worry that the person might continue waiting because they didn't realize the machine had become available. Acknowledging that the machine is available would alleviate such concern.

7

Australians use the term "No worries" in reponse to statements like these. It's a good response that doesnt really mean anything but has a positive connotation and we use it a lot to counter other meaningless but positive statements.

5

The other person is trying to be polite. I would take the comment in that spirit. And then reply in kind by saying "Thank you." Other people have given useful "short" responses.

I've been considered a "no nonsense" person all my life, and when I was younger, I didn't see the need for that kind of courtesy. Now I do.

3

I do that sometimes. I'll say, "All yours" or, "Have at it!" when I'm finished with something, or sometimes when I'm holding the door for a friend I'll stand up real tall, bow my head some, and give a very extravagant curled arm twisted wrist gesture to them, signifying that they are most welcome to pass through.

I'm not a people person at all, and I tend to not like anything culture-related. The reason I do this is just to make things more interesting. Life can be really boring sometimes, so I like to poke fun at things in a harmless (and what could be considered polite or friendly) manner, in spite of myself.

Thus, my advice would just be to smile and nod, play along with it, enjoy yourself, etc. Don't take things personally and don't make them personal, as that's not my intent whatsoever.

3

Like most other answers here, I recommend:

Thanks

It's what I use in these situations, and its what I've heard from every person I've witnessed in this situation. It's simply the way that social contract works. No since reinventing the wheel.

You indicate that you feel it is superfluous because you feel the implicit signalling (walking away) is enough. Consider that the "It's all yours" isn't just a response intended for you. It's intended for anyone who happens to be behind them. They're generating a signal that anybody can interpret correctly.

They're also using a signal that works in all cases. In a comment, you mention that they wouldn't need the coffee machine after going for milk and sugar or some other distraction, but consider this signal is also used in many situations where it would be much less clear. Consider being at a gym, where someone is using a machine you want to use. A clear definitive method of saying "it's all yours" is helpful for distinguishing the difference between being done with the machine and merely standing up for a moment or getting some water.

It's far easier to have one cultural interaction ("It's all yours." / "Thanks") which works for all people in all situations than it is to try to custom tailor that interaction based on how perceptive you believe the other person is, or how difficult you believe it is to distinguish whether you are done or not. "It's all yours" / "Thanks" takes a small enough amount of energy that custom tailoring it to each situation just isn't worth it for the vast majority of people.

The universal answer to this is "thanks." I highly recommend just using it, unless you have a reason not to. I do know of people who won't thank anyone unless they really mean it; in such a case you may need to come up with another small gesture. But if you don't mind saying "thanks," that's the right way to go.

1

I've been just muttering a "Thank you," but that is also unnecessary (thanks for what? Being done? Or "allowing" me to use the machine?) and I'm afraid that can come across as sarcastic.

How should this superfluous courtesy be handled?

They are recognizing your desires, and acknowledging them. Furthermore, if you somehow got distracted, they are bringing your attention to the availability.

One option is to thank them, preferably non-awkwardly. Essentially, you are thanking them for taking the time to be abundantly clear that they are completely done. You can also be thanking them for making the effort to speak (pleasantly) to you.

That's a perfectly good option.

Another option is to provide some short, equally meaningless, friendly chit-chat right back to them.

"It's all yours."

"Excellent. This drink is going to fuel my ability to stay awake for at least seven more minutes."


"It's all yours."

"Alright! Just forty-five more seconds until the next chemically-induced improvement to my happiness meter!"


"It's all yours."

"Yippee! Oh. I got overly excited again, didn't I? Thank you. Have a good afternoon."

0

Americans use OK very often and this is a situation where it is perfectly suitable as it implies acknowledgement and it acts as a filler word to move conversations along.

'k' or 'ok' would be perfect (in the US).

It is a terrible conversation starter though. It doesn't allow for a follow up sentence. Use "great" or something similar for that.

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