by John Webber
Some of us, when we travel, can talk a dog off a meat wagon. Chatting up strangers at the bar and shaking hands left and right, we might as well be running for office.
Not so for introverts. As one of our client has expressed in a recent email, “Extroverts are solar powered, and need the outside world to recharge. Introverts are battery powered, and need to go within to recharge.” So what, you may ask, is the correct etiquette when dealing with one of this world’s many traveling Extroverts?
How do you politely ask for peace and quiet if you are seated next to a chatterbox?
Directly. You do have to be direct: ‘You know, I need to be quiet for a little bit, I have a busy week ahead.’ You can be absolutely as gentle and polite and kind in your tone as possible, but I would say, ‘It’s been truly lovely chatting with you, but I’m going to need this flight to quiet myself and recharge, so you’ll have to excuse me while I put on my earbuds and close my eyes.’ I really think that putting on earbuds or headphones is really a physical barrier for them to remember that you’re not there to bounce a quick laugh off of. [If you are in the aisle seat], say, ‘Just so you know, I’m feeling really tired… please feel free to wake me if you need to get by.’
What if that doesn’t work?
A more extreme variation is: ‘I am going to read my book now. Please excuse me if I don’t respond,’ [or] ‘I’ve been dying to get back to this book, so I’m gonna dip back into it. [or] I’m terribly sorry, but I’m going to not respond. [or] It’s so hard for me … I don’t mean to cause any offense … I need this for myself.’ You shouldn’t feel awkward asking for your space in this moment.
Say you are at a Bed & Breakfast at a big shared breakfast table?
If I notice that the dining room is really just one table … depending on how the B&B is set up I might choose to eat elsewhere if I can. I might check if there is a possibility of having food to go. I might say to the host, ‘I am so enjoying this lovely stay…I’m really trying to be quiet. Is there any way I could do dinner in my room?’ or ‘Is there a [breakfast] time when most guests aren’t around?’ Whatever it is that makes sense for the situation, it is perfectly OK for you to ask that. Hosts know that there’s a gamut; some people want to be left alone.
What if your cab driver won’t leave you alone?
For car services and Uber, that’s one where you can definitely say, ‘Thank you so much for picking me up; this is really lovely.’ As they start asking you questions, you can answer one or two, but you can then say, ‘I’m gonna use the car or travel time to close my eyes, rest, prepare my notes…’ – whatever is a legitimate reason for you to go into yourself rather than talk. I usually love chatting with drivers, but every now and again my timeline is so tight, I know I need to prep my notes. Try, ‘I’m terribly sorry; normally I’d love to chat but there are a few things I need to look over, so I’m gonna do that if you don’t mind.’ Or ‘Please excuse me, but there’s a couple calls/emails/texts I was hoping to be able to make/go over while we are driving.’
What if you get a chatty, nosy person on a customer service call, say to an airline?
You really have to have a practiced tone, [but if they’re making small talk], say, ‘That’s very interesting, however I really do need to get to the nature of my call today, thank you,’ or ‘I’m a little pressed for time.’ That’s a way to nip that in the bud. Ninety percent of the time those calls are recorded, so [if] you’ve directly requested that they… stick to business… and they keep chit-chatting, it’s gonna show up that they wasted time chit-chatting.
Can you expect to be left alone at dinner if you sit at the bar?
“Probably not”, says Joanne Alivio-Mendoza, longtime Delta Airlines senior flight crew. “My experience being a gal sitting at (airport) bars is that people will talk to you. If it’s the only place to sit, or if they’re unwilling to seat singles at tables, sit at the bar by all means. But do all the things [mentioned above]: ‘Hey, I’ve had a really long day…and I hope you’ll understand but I’d appreciate a little alone time right now.’ Or do as a cousine of mine (of half Chinese descent) does once in a while…. grin, bow and say ‘no speaku engrish’ – which works for her spectacularly.”
Doesn’t the “bringing a book” trick still work to get people to leave you alone?
It certainly works, but for a chatty, outgoing person, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t stop them. Being really clear, ‘Hey, I really do want to enjoy this chapter.’ Nowadays though, it is more usually the cellphone trick (scrolling reading something onscreen) that is more commonly done.
Any last words of wisdom?
Be aware that some people – no matter how nicely you say it; might be offended. If that happens, try not to take it on too much; you have done what you can at being polite and you are not obligated to entertain them.
“Do not go where the path leads, travel instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” @wbbrjp