From Our ReadersHow Being Too Polite Got Me Touched Inappropriately On A PlaneFrom Our Readers

I have always had an issue with being too polite. It sounds ridiculous, and how exactly could this be a bad thing? Well, to be honest, I am that overly polite that it is almost annoying. My politeness, believe it or not, has actually gotten me into some really bad situations.

For example, I apologize to the point that I actually aggravate people. I have been totally wronged by others, but for the fear of someone being upset by my actions, I will profusely apologize for the wrongdoing. “Oh, you yelled at me for no reason? I am so sorry that I did something that would have caused your relentless anger. Please forgive me.”

In middle school, my friend tried to prove the point of how stupid this particular trait of mine was. During a particularly boring Spanish class, my friend decided to shove all of my books off my desk and onto the floor. She was trying to see what my reaction would be. Without missing a beat, I knelt down to pick all of my books up. I then apologized to all of the students around me for the disruption. I even apologized to the friend who shoved my books for… I don’t even know what, being inconvenienced? Not sure what the thought process was there.

I am also a chronic door holder. You know that one. The person who gets stuck standing there for twenty minutes. I say “bless you” even if it sounds more like a cough, because you never know. Some people have sneezes that sound like coughs. I have one of those sneezes and it really pisses me off when people don’t say “bless you” just because they don’t know. Rude!

I say please, thank you and you’re welcome in excess. I just can’t not say these things. They are ingrained in me, Pavlov dogs-style.

This problem brings me to the most recent sticky situation that my politeness has gotten me into. I was flying across country after spending Christmas home in New Jersey (a place where, after spending several months away, I realized is very hostile). I was flying Southwest on an airline that I commend for their sunny, happy and polite demeanor. As someone who has a fear of flying, it is nice to fly where the stewardesses are so friendly. My fear of flying is not a huge ordeal. I suck it up and get on the plane; all the while I am having an inner Bridesmaids panic attack whenever we hit any turbulence. Whatever. I went through that awkward Southwest experience of picking your own seat. I found a seat in between a college-aged guy and an older lumberjack construction worker-type. The latter helped me get my carry on back into the overhead. I thanked him profusely, of course.

The flight was pleasant. I read Judd Apatow’s issue of Vanity Fair and felt like an intellectual. Then, the lumberjack man got a Coke. Like every decent twenty something millennial I had my iPod in and was not paying attention – until I felt a cold substance on the outside of my right thigh. Lumberjack had spilled some of his Coke on me. Immediately he took his napkin to clean it up…all over my thigh. The exchange went something like this:

Me: Oh…uhm…thanks.
Lumberjack: So sorry about that.

All the while he was still drying up the already dry parts of my life. His Southwest napkin then moved inside my leg…no Coke had spilled here at all.

Me: Oh…that…

In my head I knew I should say “Uh, didn’t go there buddy. You literally just sprinkled some Coke on me. Remove your hand.” But I could not get the words out. For all I knew he was trying to be the last of the gentlemen; cleaning up after a poor helpless woman. Sure, he did not need to linger, but he did and all I could muster out was, “Yup. Thanks, you got it. Thank you so much.” The ‘so much’ definitely did not need to be added, but I went there.

I tried my hardest to shift as far to the left of as possible, but was physically trapped. The fear of flying issue caused me to be unable to take off my seatbelt under any circumstance while in the air.

Ten minutes later Lumberjack was asleep and fell onto my shoulder. I had to gently tap his head, “Excuse me…uhm…sir. Excuse me?” He eventually shifted over without a word and back to sleep.

I put my magazine away and felt physically uncomfortable. Did I really thank him for going to the inside of the thigh? Yup. That happened. Great. I had flashes of my North Jersey, no-holds-barred mother who makes scenes when people cut her off in lines for anything, getting ill at my polite composure while I got sexually assaulted. What a disappointment I have become.

I suppose this is what kind of struggle plagues the people of the Mid-West. I hope that at least they draw the line at some point. Maybe there is some sort of support group to join.

I am sorry that sounds so trivial. Thanks for reading, though. Sorry it was a little long. I really appreciate it, though. Thank you.

You can read more from Catherine Migel on her blog.

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  1. Being polite can also be a way to avoyd violance. Especially when others are watching.
    A common behavior amongst us is to count on others to tell if we are wrong about something. Just going on with trying to be sensible and not give much more thaught about it.
    There are those who will do their best not be caught in the act, who also will be extreemly rude if they are found out.
    There are also people who, out of extreeme lonlyness, will do anything to anyone just to have their skin touched or to be spoken to in any way what so ever.
    Being kind and mildmannered, as you try to be, is quite effective most of the time. There will be a pause, bewilderment, as this, sometimes new situation, is pondered on.
    But, there are times when you simply have to yell at people.

  2. Not your fault AT ALL. But I do think you should work on being more assertive. If you every got in a situation where someone was obviously following you whilst you were walking or something similar you need to be able to turn around and very loudly tell them to stop following, that you are calling the police and to f%*@ off. In those kinds of situations you have to be assertive, you have to be hostile. Work on it. Find a group or join a martial arts class. And if what that man did to you ever happens again, report him/her to the people in charge.

  3. hahaha this is so true and relevent!

  4. I recently said, “No, thank you,” to a creep who followed me to my car, asking me if he could take my picture. He was snapping pictures of me from behind the whole walk to my car, by the way. He was just upset that he couldn’t get a shot of my face. He then sped up quickly, got up in my face, snapped again, and said, “Gotcha.” I have no idea how close he actually got to my car because I refused to look behind me again until I was safe inside with doors locked. But seriously, you guys. I said, “No, thank you.”

  5. As someone who is also sometimes too polite, anti-confrontational and very shy around strangers, I find that if the scolding words of my dreams don’t come to me in the moment (“Excuse you? NO. Don’t touch me you F——-.”), which they usually don’t, I almost always have the option of physically removing myself or the thing that I am not liking. For instance, in college I was standing in a hallway with my friend and a few guys who I didn’t know. One of them all of a sudden grabbed me around my waist like we were going to go back to his place later, if you know what I mean. I didn’t say anything, I just firmly grabbed his hand, removed it from my waist, and took a step away from him. I didn’t say a word, I didn’t even look at him, and the conversation we were all having continued on. Did he talk or even look at me for the next 5 minutes before my friend and I left? Nope. But I didn’t care because while in the grand scheme of things that might not be the worst physical intrusion in the world, it was for me. While I’ve yet to have the guts to verbally berate someone, I feel my actions can speak just as loud if not louder than any unfortunate jumble of words that might spew out of my mouth (But that doesn’t stop me from imagining/practicing in my head what I might say next time someone invades my personal space – which I hope is NEVER).
    …And though I’m not condoning violence… I maaaaaaay or may not have punched a kid in the face in 7th grade when he “jokingly” poked my butt. Needless to say I didn’t take it as a joke, and he got the message. ;-P

  6. I had a similar problem! I’ve been trying to smile more when I’m out in the world, and one time it ended in a guy following me back to my dorm building. I hate that human impulses to be friendly and polite like ours, sometimes have to end in uncomfortable and often dangerous situations. :/

  7. Everything that these commenters are saying is so true; your politeness isn’t what got you inappropriately touched, it was that rude man’s assertion that he could touch you without your permission. Yes, you may be a person who apologizes for everything, but you don’t have to take the blame on yourself. I know what it’s like to be a chronic-apologizer, it comes from a deep seated emotional need to be accepted and liked, but there are lines that I have learned shouldn’t be crossed; that it isn’t wrong to stand up for myself and say something. It’s really scary, but if you just accept whatever people are going to do to you is your fault, then you’re setting yourself up for a lot of emotional repercussions, because I think deep-down, you know that what he did was wrong and that you don’t know what you did to deserve being treated like that… and the truth is, you did nothing because it isn’t your fault. It never was, and will never ever be your fault when someone else does something invasive like that to you. I hope that you can start changing your words from sounding like disapproval, to ones of disapproval. Because your saying to him “Yup. Thanks, you got it. Thank you so much.” was you telling him to stop, and I’m sure that you conveyed it in your tone and body language. Please don’t blame yourself for this.

  8. but why is it your fault? it sounds like you’re apologizing again for something you didn’t do! it was completely his fault! but yeah. could have punched him right in the throat. just kidding (kind of)

  9. I feel like the language of this article and the title both have implicit victim-blame. You are not at fault for what happened. You didn’t do anything wrong. You can’t look at a situation like that and say “I should have been more vocal about it.” This guy clearly knew he was being inappropriate and he did it.

    There is no right or wrong way to behave when your space is being invaded. Its logic like that which causes rapists to get off scotch free because “She must have wanted it if she didn’t physically fight.”

    I’m sorry this happened to you. You certainly should not take an INCH of guilt about it. He’s a creep, you did nothing wrong.

  10. It wasn’t your politeness that led to you being inappropriately touched, it was that guy that decided it was totally fine to touch your leg. Don’t apologise or feel guilty for being polite – it’s the guy that’s in the wrong, not you.

  11. this reminds me of “wild swans” by alice munro. disturbing short story with a similar situation. and btw, that guy’s clearly a creep.