‘Do you have a minute?’ How to avoid street petitioners without being flippant

  • Sep. 14, 2017 2:34 p.m.

Q: You are walking down the street and a petitioner approaches you. How do you avoid discussion so you can get to your destination without disruption?

We tested this in 2015 in New York City and Toronto and it works and avoids hurt feelings. When I said tested I mean used the approach I suggested and observed whether it got through to the person. Nearly no one argued back, touched or insisted. You see, a person looking for a handout needs to be efficient in his or her solicitations. My technique very politely expresses, “Please don’t waste your time with me.” Glance away from the person or group (signaling your intention to keep on walking) and add a quick, kind “Excuse me” as you pass, always avoiding eye contact. Saying “excuse me” kindly goes a long way in making the other feel recognized as a human being. If someone reaches for my body I respond with humor, (such as saying) “No touching.” The way to pass without offending is to say “Excuse me” even if they are not in your way — and to say it kindly.

— Dr. Benet Davetian is author of “Civility — A Cultural History.”

The best way to do this is by approaching the person in a polite but firm manner. You could say something along the lines of, “No, thank you,” or “Not right now, but thank you anyway.” Keep walking and basically communicate both verbally and through body language. Communicate with motion instead of emotion. Acknowledge their presence by saying “No thanks,” but be sure to look at them directly in the eyes because they are people too. If you feel inclined to add any more pleasantries, like if they are working to help veterans or an organization that is working for a good cause, you can say, “Thank you for what you are doing,” and keep moving.

— Elaine Swann is a lifestyle and etiquette expert.

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