Grumpy Tim

There is an unfortunate side-effect to living in countries with an abundance of people hassling you on the street: you become very spiky and rude to people who come up and try to talk to you, for whatever reason.  In Nigeria it was best to avoid speaking to strangers on the street, but then you don’t wander the streets much there anyway.  Melbourne was a pain as it had more beggars, charity collectors, buskers, hawkers, and people otherwise looking to you for coin than any city I’ve been in recently.  Plus I’d spent 6 months living in Phuket prior to moving to Nigeria, and there you quickly learn to harden up and brush them off.  So nowadays when a stranger comes up to me in the street I tend to bark at them and keep walking, dismissing them outright with a wave of the hand without breaking step.

Unfortunately, sometimes people come up to me genuinely asking for directions.  I encountered a Chinese chap in Melbourne who asked me for help in finding somewhere, and I just stomped past him rudely.  Realising after a few yards that I’ve probably just behaved like an asshole, I went back to help him.

And so this morning I was on my way to work in La Defense, 5km west of Paris, when a middle-aged lady with a piece of paper in her hand which was probably a map said “Excuse moi, m’sieur” and I barged past rudely, saying (in English) that I’m in a hurry.  She was pretty shocked and started apologising but by the time I realised that I’d just been a Grade One Asshole I was around the corner and it was too late.  I felt pretty bad, and so when somebody else came up to me a few hundred yards later to ask me for directions to the Sofitel I was all sweetness and smiles.  Partial redemption perhaps, but I still feel bad for barging past the first lady.  Sorry, whoever you were.

I blame my past expatriations, but it’s something I perhaps need to work on.

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4 Responses to Grumpy Tim

  1. TNA says:


    Two examples from my past;

    1. I brusquely waved off a junkie at London Bridge who I then realised was actually a disabled person asking for directions. Apologies, directions given. Wracked with guilt for hours.
    2. India. Rudely said “na cāhatē” to a hassler at an ancient momument only to realise he was studying English and he wanted to practise.

    But the other million times I’ve told people on the street to fuck off I’ve been justified.

    Oh! There’s a third;

    3. Sitting outside a pub with a mate on Tottenham Court Road, a homeless guy carrying a sleeping bag came up to us;
    “No thanks mate”, I said
    “Do you want some spare change mate?” he replied
    “Yeah, I’m an inverse beggar. Do you want some spare change?” and then proceeded to hand us both a couple of 2p coins.

    Of course I broke my rule and handed him some larger denominations in return for the originality.

  2. dearieme says:

    “I’m sorry we’re a Catholic family” leaves them slack-jawed.

  3. Bardon says:

    You really are a tortured type of person.

  4. Michael Jennings says:

    “I want to practice my English” is a fairly classic way for scammers to get close to you when they have other intent of some kind. It can of course be that they simply want to practice their English, but it doesn’t necessarily mean this.

    Like Tim, I have a fairly highly developed set of ways to tell people to go away, starting with simply shaking my head and saying sorry right up to making a pretty intense scene. I’ve also had feelings of guilt after brushing people off and then realising later that they were lost people looking for directions.

    My entire set of “leave me alone” skills fail to work in Morocco, for some reason, particularly in the medina’s of Fez and Marrakech. In these places people (always male – men and boys) approach you, force your attention on you, sometimes follow you around , insist that you need their help in some way (for which they will later want money, of course) and take offence and become extremely aggressive if you say no in any way whatsoever. I find it very hard to deal with, and on occasion have found myself standing in the street as some local person and I scream obscenities at one another. This has never happened anywhere else.

    This is king of annoying, because despite this there are a lot of things about Morocco that I like.

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