Dear Savvy Sister: What to do when people suck?

Dear Savvy Sister,

Today I watched a drunken giggling tourist take a sneaky picture of a woman’s peekaboo thong as she ate lunch, oblivious, with her friends at the next table. I felt I should’ve spoken up but what should I have said?

Flummoxed in Florida

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Dear Flummoxed,

Ah, social media. We can hardly eat dinner without it, and yet it’s the unavoidable bane of our existence. We all know this poor woman’s barely decorated booty had been posted to the tourist’s Facebook page before the next cocktail arrived, and viewed with varying degrees of lust and disgust. Yet she, the victim, probably ate dinner that night recalling what a pleasant day she’d had with friends, unaware of her role in the Sunshine State’s notorious, most affordable pastime – public leering.

It’s not a new problem, of course. Men have gawked at women since caveman wore loincloths, and women have done the same, gathering like hens to publicly gape at a sister’s choice of dress, demeanor, or hairstyle. What’s different now is the cell phone camera. It cements every accidental moment into a permanent slice in time, making mere milliseconds far more important than they should be – which is why the tourist’s behavior upset you.

You did nothing wrong by simply tsk-tsking to yourself. It’s not your job to instill manners in strangers. But then there’s Ghandi: Be the change you wish to see in the world. You’re probably all, WAIT! I VOLUNTEER AT THE CAT RESCUE! I GIVE MONEY TO THE HOMELESS MAN OUTSIDE OF PANERA! But sometimes change can be small, incremental nudges that encourage people to respect one another. It’s not always easy; you must have courage. The courage of your convictions, in fact! If you believe in this woman’s right to eat lunch at a restaurant minus becoming an internet sensation, then you have a secret obligation to protect that right. I say secret because I’m guessing you don’t go around with righteous placards hung around your neck – you just want to help keep the world on an even keel.

You will encounter this dilemma again. That’s a certainty. So let’s go over some proactive options:

  1. Report what’s happening to the restaurant manager – “Ma’am/Sir, that man/woman is taking inappropriate pictures of a customer’s body parts. Could you ask him/her to stop?” This way, you safely address the situation without intruding. That’s really the manager’s job, anyway.
  2. If the victim seems accessible, tap her on the shoulder – I’m sure the offending party will notice you doing this – and say sympathetically, “Ma’am, I’m so sorry to bother you, but the waist of your pants has slipped down a little, and the rude people behind you are taking pictures of it. I just thought you’d want to know.”
  3. I am on the other side of middle-aged now, and have the swagger to call out idiots, particularly kids, when their behavior is not just offensive but injurious to others. If the perpetrators don’t seem threatening – for example, they’re drunk college kids – you might consider saying something like: “You know, what you’re doing could be considered voyeurism in the state of Florida, and it’s definitely considered rude. Would you like to stop now and delete those pictures or should I ask the manager to call the police so we can sort this out?”

Now, Flummoxed, I’m concerned you might be perspiring a bit as you contemplate these courses of options, and I want you to know: IT’S OKAY! Sometimes making a point can be uncomfortable. Remember the first line of Dr. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled? It’s this: Life is difficult. Boy, that’s the damn truth. But it doesn’t just refer to grief and death and despair. It also refers to living life in a way that reflects your morals and mantras.

Listen, to emphasize, you were not compelled to act on the thong-wearer’s behalf. (As a side note, I still can’t understand how those dang things can be comfortable.) But us civilized members of the community can certainly intervene on each other’s behalf without being overly dramatic, and often a tiny bit of quiet public shaming is all it takes for people to mind their manners.*

*The exception being Donald Trump. GAH.

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