I’m a thirtysomething woman who works in a bustling downtown area of a major city. On a recent lunch break, I took a short walk down a busy thoroughfare and I accidentally bumped into a man walking beside me. I apologized and kept walking. As I paused at the next stoplight, this man (who looked to be in his 60s) asked me where I was headed. I said, “Work,” smiled politely, and hoped to end our conversation there. But he persisted, asking me where I worked (A store? A restaurant? No, and no.). He seemed perfectly nice, and spoke slowly; I think English was not his first language. He asked if I spoke Spanish, I smiled and said, “No, I took French in high school,” and then looked into the distance to encourage an end to our conversation. I was uncomfortable, and I am sure it was visually apparent. The light turned green, and I walked away quickly.
On the one hand, I can’t help but feel I was terribly rude when this fellow was only attempting to engage with me in harmless chatter. I’m a fairly introverted individual, and I honestly detest making small talk with strangers—be it a fellow on the street or a teller at my local bank. On the other hand, I believe that often men make demands on strange women’s attentions and ask invasive questions. What do you think? Should I have been kinder to this gentleman, who in the bright light of day, on the busiest boulevard in my city, posed me no risk?