It seems like I get into some kind of confrontation with someone about once a week now (the house seller, the gardener, the preacher at church, kids at school regularly). This after 11 years in Japan and perhaps 1 or 2 proper arguments with random people. Perhaps that was partly due to poor language skills, but also culture difference.
Anyway, this morning on the train I had a confrontation. We were packed in, and an older woman next to me in the aisle was grumbling about everybody, muttering to her partner but loud enough for people nearby to hear. She complained that nobody would move down (the common refrain on London trains is ‘Can you move down please?’), she asked a woman to open a window then complained when she didn’t open it fast enough, then she said- “and you’ve got people this one behind me here trying to push into you.”
OK, so definitely she is talking about me. I’m not pushing her especially, but people get in and you try to move down.
“You’re talking about me?” I say, almost on reflex. “I’m not pushing you,” I look over my shoulder to see her- our faces right next to each other.
She goes wide-eyed and aggressive at once. “Was I talking to you? Did I call out your name?”
“You don’t even know my name.”
“I wasn’t talking to you so shut up.”
“You were talking about me, loud enough for me to hear, so you must have been talking to me,” I counter (a comeback learned from something Kvothe says in The Wise Man’s Fear).
“It’s none of your business what I say, so shut up.”
“Why don’t you shut up? We’re all here listening to you grumble, you tell her to open the window then complain she’s not doing it right, you complain about me when I’m just standing here. We’re just trying to go to work.”
“I’m just going to work!”
“So stop complaining and insulting people.”
“What are you going to do about it, huh?” She demands. She thinks she’s got me.
“I’m doing this,” I say. “Publicly shaming you.”
She snorts. “You’re making a fool out of yourself.”
I look around. “I don’t think so. You’re the fool, and nobody wants to hear you bitch.” I wish here I’d said a la George Costanza, “We live in a? society!”
“Just shut your face!” she snaps.
“You shut yours.”
“Shut up you arsehole.”
“You’re the aresehole.”
“Oh we’ve got a parrot on the train.”
At that it stops.
She goes back to talking to her male friend. She says one mild reference about me, to which I snort manful derision, then they go back to gossiping about other topics.
On the way out at another station, a guy said to me- “Well said, mate.”
Victory? Utterly pointless? Probably. But had I not said anything, I’d have had her poison in my ear and probably be kicking myself for not saying something. A year back I still remember being a silent witness to a guy basically bullying, or trying to bully, a woman sitting next to him for wearing headphones with too loud music. I couldn’t hear the music, and I was right next to them both, so figured he was being unreasonable. She defended herself well, and didn’t need a ‘knight in shining armor’ to defend her, but for my own sake I didn’t want to have to hear him try and get some concession out of her any longer.
“Alright,” I could have said. “Settle down, that’s enough.”
Maybe they both would have rounded on me? Ha ha, better that than sit mute though.
On the other hand, yesterday on the train some girl was lost and asking where to get off, but the lady she asked didn’t know. I volunteered, and didn’t know either, but the guy standing next to me, now the request had been opened up, did know, and told her. She was happy and so were we.
I think actually she went the wrong way when she did get off, and I considered chasing her to tell her, but maybe that would be too keen.