Service of How Do You Say It or Don’t You?

November 29th, 2021

Categories: Speak Up


Philip Galanes recently shared Beth’s question in his New York Times column “Social Q’s.” She asked: “What should I do if I am sitting next to a stranger at a performance, and he falls asleep and starts snoring?”

Galanes told her to “tap [him] on the shoulder and whisper: ‘You’re snoring.’”

There’s a Tostitos commercial featuring Dan Levy and Kate McKinnon at a party with a man between them [photo above]. They are standing in front of a table of food. Salsa from a chip drips on the man’s shirt. He turns to McKinnon and tells her she has lipstick on her teeth and walks away. The voice over has Levy and McKinnon arguing which one will tell him about the stain. Clearly neither wants to.

I’ve written before about this instance. I was an early teen going through the everything embarrasses me stage. My father whispered asking me to tell the woman in front of us in church that a price tag was hanging from the collar of her suit. I couldn’t so he did.

Is it easy for you to tell a stranger about such things in addition to tights with a run in them, spinach in teeth or a missing mask on a bus or train? Are there other similar situations? Does it matter if you do or don’t speak up?

Image by Namar from Pixabay

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5 Responses to “Service of How Do You Say It or Don’t You?”

  1. Marths Takayama Said:

    I think it is important to tell someone politely to put on a mask if you think it will not cause an unpleasant or dangerous reaction. I wouldn’t tell any stranger about a run in a stocking. I would not worry terribly about the other situations, but just act on instinct remembering that we are living in a very volatile society nowadays!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good point! I should have mentioned the anger bubbling near the surface of many, ready to splash at the slightest provocation. Trying to be helpful can end up in a knuckle sandwich.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    Once upon a time saying excuse me and telling the person would be OK…

    Nowadays, I wouldn’t risk it! I think the virus pandemic has made people very edgy and nervous!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree, though at certain times and places opening one’s mouth was always dangerous.

    In an earlier post, “Service of How to Speak Up–or Should We?”, I mention keeping my mouth closed in the subway in the tunnel under the river between Brooklyn and Manhattan when a sleazy looking man lit a cigarette. I wanted to warn him of the danger of using up the oxygen, especially if the train got stuck, but decided that wasn’t a wise thing to do. This was decades ago. And even earlier than that I didn’t say a word when a man punched my open New York Times, also in the subway, this time at rush hour. It wasn’t near anyone…

  5. lucrezia Said:

    Before taking action, consider the seriousness of the situation, the embarrassment it may cause if keeping silent. If deciding to act, discretion is mandatory. If unable to draw someone aside and out of earshot, a written note will do. Bending backwards to use tact and empathy will inspire both gratitude and good will.

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