“I didn’t intend to scare you.” “But you did”. “Not my problem”.

Here’s the situation. A friend of mine, Martin, travels by train. The coach, (it is about 3 PM) is empty, except for himself and, about 20 seats away, an old lady.

Martin is a tall, thin, rather handsome, well-groomed, but otherwise hippie-ish guy aged 37. Furthermore, Martin likes to sing. He also believes everybody should “be himself” under all circumstances. So Martin starts to sing. Not well (it’s clear he’s not an opera-student rehearsing) but not a drunken, or aggressive bawl either.

As Martin starts singing, the old lady looks at him with scared eyes, clutches her purse in her frail hands and makes a dash for the door to the other coach.

Martin told me this as an example of how uptight, narrow-minded and afraid-to-live this old woman was, and congratulated himself on being a free spirit.
I disagreed. IMHO, he scared an innocent old lady out of her wits, just as much as when he would have jumped at her and yelled: “BOOO !!”. Because of his behaviour, she might have been scared away from public transport, confined to her house. (Okay, so maybe I was pushing it). I said that yes, it’s unfair, but if you’re anything other then a cute girl, a cute toddler, or clearly a performer, then you should refrain from acting “weird” when anyone could feel threatened.

Still, it made me think. Where do you draw the line? If old ladies get scared by a mohawk-hairdo, or leather pants, or even by an attempt at polite conversation, then who’s to blame?
And, to slide further down the scale, how about if Martin had looked perfectly normal, but would have felt preferred to look cross, instead of beaming the obligatory yes-we’re-alone-in-this-carriage-but-don’t-worry-I’m-a-nice-normal-guy-smile?

Guys, where do **you ** draw the line?

Leaving aside the question of whether the woman could reasonably be expected to be frightened, Martin was being an ass by being unnecessarily intrusive.

When you’re obliged to occupy a public space with someone, all parties concerned should be mindful of others.

I’m a public singer myself – when I’m in motion, and when I’m a reasonable distance from others. If you know that your behavior is necessarily going to be impossible to ignore, you’re being unforgivably rude.

“Being yourself” is a good thing – as long as your self is a considerate one. When I watch movies, I have an impulse to comment. If I’m with people that I know are receptive to running commentary, I indulge it. If I’m in a public theatre, I refrain, which I suppose could be interpreted as “not being yourself.” Courtesy involves altering your behavior to suit the comfort of your fellows. If everybody was as uninhibited as your friend Martin, it would be impossible to live in an urban environment without being constantly annoyed.

I’m surprised that a thirty-seven-year-old man is still so childish and self-centred. Will he ever grow out of the idios kosmos, or is his development permanently stunted?

Larry said it well when he said “When you’re obliged to occupy a public space with someone, all parties concerned should be mindful of others.” It something that is forgotten in too many places that I go these days. It seems that in asserting our rights, we have forgotten how to be courteous.

There’s nothing “free spirited” about scaring the crap out of a little old lady minding her own business. What Larry said.

He scared her by singing? Either that was a very jumpy woman or we don’t have the complete story here. If it’s the latter, any sudden noise would likely have startled her; your friend would not be at fault.

I totally agree with you both that Martin’s behavior was rude. Anyone in that coach would have been perfectly entitled to feel annoyed. But, I feel that it is a worse offense to frighten someone then to annoy them.

Should I, can I hold Martin responsible for *frightening * the old lady out of her wits? Can it be reasonably expected of her to be more realistic in her assesment of what composes a threat, and what doesn’t ?

Unless he was loud and obnoxious, it is the old ladys problem. I see nothing wrong with Martin singing, if it was kept to himself in low volume. Damn whipper-snappers.

Maybe it was a scary song!

I get annoyed when people start singing loudly in the subway or bus. I wouldn’t say I’m frightened, but if I have a chance to move further from them, I usually will.

What was he singing? I could see the old woman being freaked out if he was singing, say, *Kill You *, by KORN…

[Garrett Morris]
Gonna get me a shotgun and kill all the whiteys I seeeeeee…
[/Garrett Morris]

Knowing Martin, he would have sung something weird and 80’s, like Echo and the Bunnymen or the Cure. Anyway, it would have been in English, and the scene took place in a Dutch train, so I doubt the old lady would have been frightened by the lyrics.

About the volume: he was not softly humming. He was singing to himself, so I guess the volme would have been slightly louder then ordinary conversation-level.

I would have enjoyed hearing Martin singing on the coach, but then I’m not a frail old woman. I could have looked over and seen that Martin wasn’t a drunk or acting in a threatening manner, but the old lady may have cataracts or something else that limits her sight. She may have just been able to see a big (blurry) male but could not have been able to see that he was just a carefree guy.

I think she did the right thing by going to another coach. In this day and age where some junkies wouldn’t think twice about beating up and robbing their own parents, much less some old lady on a train, she was simply looking after her own safety. Martin shouldn’t be offended about that but realize that there may be many reasons for the lady to behave the way she did. It doesn’t necessarily mean she’s overly paranoid but just understands that her declining physical state means that she has to be more cautious when it comes to potential dangerous situations.

Well Martin strikes me as at least a little obtuse, so is it possible that he was mistaking a “You friggin idiot, I can’t wait to get away from you” glare for an “Oh the big bad man is singing” glower?

Just how tolerant is Martin of others “being themselves” under all circumstances? Say, for example, he was in a nearly empty train car and the only other occupant, feeling the need to be true to himself, decided to stand up and loudly preach about the impending battle of Armageddon and the fiery lakes of hell that were just waiting for the likes of Martin? Bet he wouldn’t be all that tolerant. I bet he wouldn’t be nearly as tolerant of that sort of thing as he seems to expect others to be of him.

Sorry, “being oneself” is usually not appropriate behavior in confined public places. It’s just impolite if it involves making a lot of noise or disturbing the people one is sharing the space with. Would Martin take his pants off if he felt that was “being himself?” Would he then be pissed off if that resulted in his arrest for indecent exposure? How would Martin feel about someone else in that train car getting naked? Would that make him just a little uncomfortable?

Sorry, but your friend Martin sounds like a jerk. There’s appropriate behavior at home, in private, or with a group of friends, or in a pub, for example. And then there’s appropriate behavior on public transportation. Or in a library. Or a church. The same standard doesn’t apply in all situations.

Unless you’re a raving egomaniac.

I think this line says it all. People who are self-congratulatory are jackasses, plain and simple. There’s an entire wing being built in hell right now for self-congratulatory public singers. I honestly can’t think of anything more annoying than that combination.

I agree with this – as I agree with most of the points being made by others who don’t find this childlike joie de vivre but an annoying tendency to share all of himself with whoever can’t get out of range fast enough. Sounds like she might have been ticked off, but he chose to see it as frightened as a way of proving his moral superiority to the bourgoisie. He really does sound like quite a jerk.

Why is it when people say “be yourself” it always means “be an annoyiong ass and do whatever you want to no matter how obnoxious it may be?” People should stop getting in touch with their Inner Child and bloody well start getting in touch with their Inner Adult for a change.

I am not an old lady, and nor am I easily frightened. But if I had been alone in a carriage with Martin when he started singing, I’d have thought he was a nutcase, and changed carriages.

**Twickster ** and TellMeI’mNotCrazy, good point. It hadn’t occurred to me the old lady might have been just annoyed instead of frightenend, but Martin might have preferred to"have "scared"her. Still, that doesn’t sound like him. He’s egomaniacal, but not meanspirited. He felt slightly guilty (not proud) for scaring the old lady, and “defended” himself by saying “she just shouldn’t have been so uptight”.

Martin is the SO of my best friend. He and my friend Eva have been together for several years, and for her sake I try to understand and tolerate him, and even to like him as much as I can. But yes, Martin qualifies for the diagnosis of
Narcissistic Personality Disorder In layman’s terms: a jerk.

But Martins case is just an example. I still wonder about the question I posed in my OP.

When a guy does something relatively innocent, like singing, and that mortifies an old lady, is that guy then responsible for her fear? What if he had just “looked wrong”? At what behaviour do you draw the line? I’m sure most guys have at times, felt guilty for frightening a woman when they had no intention of doing so.

Are guys responsible for the fear of ladies (ladies of any age, for that matter) who have read too many sensational newspapers, and now suspect an axe-murderer behind any slightly ideosyncratic behavour?

SPeaking strictly hypothetically, if a person does something that would not reasonably be construed as “scary”, then it’s not their fault if someone is frightened by it. There’s always some nervous wreck waiting for a reason to be frightened by behavior that, while a little odd, is generally not threatening. Sitting across from someone and staring at them while mumbling about Satan’s minions? Reasonably scary. Singing “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” to yourself on the train (and even perhaps dancing to the beat)? Annoying, but not scary.
So, no, I don’t think a man (or woman, for that matter) should take it on as a personal responsibility not to frighten other people, because somewhere, there’s someone who’s ready to flee wailing at the sight of some shlub reading his book and drinking a coffee.