Thinking about whether a request is likely to be welcome

There are things it’s considered rude to ask for. Sometimes it’s also considered rude to say no to some rude requests. Sometimes it’s considered rude to even show annoyance or reluctance.

This means that you can’t always tell from someone’s reactions what they are and aren’t ok with. So it’s important to think about it, and make a good guess about how someone is likely to feel before you ask them.

Sometimes you will make mistakes about this. That’s ok. Everyone makes these mistakes sometimes.

There are no hard and fast rules about what it’s polite to ask for and what it’s polite to say no to. It depends a lot on your particular subculture, and your particular relationship with the person you’re asking.

Some things to consider:

Think about how intrusive the favor is likely to be. Are you asking someone for their time? For something that will reduce their privacy? For something that could be risky, painful, or embarrassing to them? For resources? How are they likely to feel about that?

How hard or easy is it for them to say no? (It’s usually not so hard for strangers to say no. It’s much harder for friends and family.)

Have they indicated willingness to do that kind of favor? (Eg: if you’re looking for people to stay with, it’s rude to ask random strangers on the street. It’s not rude to make requests on couch surfing sites or to ask a conference that has offered to arrange home hospitality for help finding a host.)

Reciprocity is important. It’s often rude to ask a friend to do something for you that you wouldn’t do for them. (Eg: if you wouldn’t let a friend stay with you, it may be rude to ask to stay with them.)

Reciprocity doesn’t have to be doing the exact same thing. But it does usually mean being willing to help your friends in comparably significant ways.
(Eg: if you’re never willing to do significantly inconvenient things for a friend, it’s probably rude to ask to stay with them.)

It’s important to acknowledge favors. Saying thank you to someone who does you a favor makes it much more likely that they’ll feel good about it rather than resentful. Even if you’re sure that they know how you feel, saying thank you is usually important.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are a lot of potential factors in whether or not requests for favors are likely to be welcome. No one knows all of them. You don’t need to know all of them. The important thing is to think about it seriously and make your best guesses.

It's considered rude to point out rudeness

It’s usually considered rude to directly tell a social equal that they’re being rude. Telling someone that they are being weird is perceived as asserting authority over them.

Telling someone that they’re being rude is considered appropriate if they’re someone you’re supposed to have power over. For instance, parents and teachers are allowed to tell children that they’re being rude. Children are generally not supposed to tell adults or other children that they’re being rude (unless they’re babysitting or something.)

Similarly, bosses are sometimes supposed to tell employees to stop being rude — but only if it’s work related. If bosses think that you’re being rude to customers or coworkers, they’re usually supposed to tell you. If bosses think you’re being rude to your spouse, they’re generally supposed to mind their own business.

Telling a social equal that they’re being rude is usually considered rude. It’s seen as asserting inappropriate authority over them. (Eg: you may be seen as inappropriately treating an adult like a child.)

It’s usually considered even ruder to tell someone above you in a hierarchy that they’re being rude. It’s likely to be perceived as implicitly asserting that you’re above them. It’s considered rude to challenge someone’s authority.

Correcting someone’s manners is considered rude in these situations even if you’re right and everyone agrees that you are right. People who say that you shouldn’t have called something rude may completely agree with you that it was rude. They just consider that less significant than your rudeness in pointing out the rudeness.

This gets complicated, because social hierarchies are complicated. And there are sometimes hierarchies that you’re expected to comply with *and* expected not to acknowledge. (Eg: sometimes people want you to obey them but don’t want to think of themselves as the kind of people who have power.)

Another complication is that sometimes people ask you if you think that something was rude. Sometimes they really want your opinion (in which case it’s considered appropriate to give it). But sometimes they want validation (in which case the usual rules about correcting manners usually apply.)

Generally speaking, it depends a lot on your actual relationship with someone. Real interactions between real people are more complicated than any social rules can capture.

This can all be very confusing, and there are no hard and fast rules. It’s very context-dependent. But knowing that it’s a thing can make conflicts easier to understand.

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s not always wrong to be rude. Everyone is rude sometimes, and sometimes it’s absolutely the right thing to do. Sometimes there’s no polite way to stand up for yourself or other people. Sometimes it’s important to do it anyway. (For instance, the Greensboro lunch counter sit ins were extremely rude and extremely important.)

Tl;dr If you’re not supervising someone, it’s usually considered rude to directly tell them that they are being rude. It’s considered even ruder if they are supervising you. Even if you’re absolutely right that they are being rude, it’s usually considered rude to say so directly. It’s more complicated than that in practice, and there are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes it is ok to be rude. Sometimes it’s even necessary to be rude.

when others struggle to find words

Anonymous said to :

When other people forget the word they’re trying to say I often just say the word for them. Normally they seem happy to have gotten the word they couldn’t remember but I notice that I seem to be the only one I notice doing this (note: I’m autistic). I was just wondering, is this rude? Is it something I need to stop doing?

realsocialskills said:

Saying the word you think someone forgot is a form of interrupting. It’s usually rude, but not always. (That’s true of interrupting in general. The formal rule is “don’t interrupt people”, but there are a zillion exceptions, including many situations in which it’s rude not to interrupt.)

It’s basically rude to suggest words unless they wanted you to do it. People’s preferences on this vary a lot. For instance:

Some people need time and space to find words when they’re looking for words. Suggesting the word for them can actually make it harder for them to figure out what they wanted to say, especially if you get the word wrong.

Some people get stuck and like other people to help unstick them by suggesting words.

These are just two examples; there are a lot of other reasons people can prefer different approaches. 

It’s not always obvious. The best way to find out about someone’s preferences is to ask, preferably when they’re not actively struggling for words, eg: “I’ve noticed that you sometimes have trouble finding words. Would you like me to suggest words when you get stuck, or would you rather wait for you to finish your sentence?“

It’s probably better to err on the side of not suggesting words, because people who are bothered by it are really bothered by it. But for people who find it helpful, it can be a good thing to do. If you can’t tell, it’s good to ask. 

A further thing: pretty much nobody likes to be told what they are saying; if you’re suggesting a word, it should be a question, not an answer (you are not a mindreader and sometimes you’re going to get the word wrong).

Eg, if you say it like this, it will probably aggravate the person you’re trying to help:

  • Them: You know? The thing? The sit thing? With the surface?
  • You: You’re talking about a chair.

If you say it like this, it’s more likely to be helpful:

  • Them: You know? The thing? The sit thing? With the surface?
  • You: A chair?

tl;dr Most people who are struggling to find words don’t like to be interrupted with a suggested word. Some people find it helpful. It’s usually best to err on the side of not suggesting words. When in doubt, ask.

Anyone else want to weigh in? When you have trouble finding words, how do you like people around you to react?

deflecting fight-pickers at christmas

Anonymous said to :

My mother sometimes likes to pick fights at family gatherings, especially meals. She brings up controversial political opinions/things she knows many of us are uncomfortable with (she is fairly ableist, homophobic etc). I will be staying with my parents for Christmas. Do you have any advice on how to deal with this? I have tried just saying ‘I don’t want to argue about this now.’ or leaving the table when I got too uncomfortable but was called rude for doing so.

realsocialskills said:

It might be ok if people call you rude. Sometimes there’s no way to effectively assert boundaries without anyone objecting. Sometimes there’s no way to insist that people stop saying mean things without being somewhat rude. Sometimes putting up with being called rude is more tolerable than putting up with obnoxious and offensive conversation. I don’t know if that’s the kind of situation you’re in, but the possibility is worth considering. 

I don’t know who said it first, but I think the most important principle is: You don’t have to attend every argument that you are invited to. The fact that your mother insists on saying offensive things and trying to pick fights doesn’t mean that you have to argue with her about them. You get to decide what you do and don’t want to talk about.

(Especially given that it’s an established rule of polite behavior that at this kind of gathering, one should not talk about controversial topics that are liable to result in unpleasant arguing. But that would be true even if you were not at the kind of gathering where that’s a rule - you don’t have to argue with people who say offensive things unless you want to.)

That said, you might get better results from changing the subject than from leaving or saying that you don’t want to talk about a given topic. (Or you might not. It really depends on your family.)

Changing the subject can be better because:

  • If you just say you don’t want to talk about the controversial thing, it can give a new hook for arguing.
  • Then it can turn into an argument about why you’re too PC to listen to the ~obviously-true~ bigoted opinions 
  • Or how you’re rude, or censoring, or ~causing tension~ (the tension is already there; caused by the people who insist on picking fights about offensive things. It’s not your fault. But it will sometimes be convenient to blame you.)
  • If you introduce a new topic immediately, there’s something to talk about that isn’t a fight
  • That can sometimes make the path of least resistance talking about the new thing rather than fighting about the old thing

Changing the subject to something your mother consistently wants to talk about that isn’t offensive:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be going for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: How are things at work? How are things going with your new client?

Changing the subject to something that other people present want to talk about:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Hey, did anyone see the sportsball game last night? How amazing was the ball thrown by that sportsball player on the team that half of you root for and the rest of you hate?

Changing the subject to something a particular person present is likely to want to talk about:

  • This can work well because it shifts the center of attention to someone else, and most people like attention
  • If you’re aggressively paying attention to someone who is interested in talking about something non-offensive, it’s much harder for someone to interject with something offensive, or to call you rude


  • Mom: People I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are ruining everything. My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for that! People used to be decent. 
  • You: David, how are you liking the exciting new thing you just purchased? I’m thinking about upgrading mine, do you think now is a good time?

Sometimes it works better if you explicitly say that you don’t want to talk about the thing while you change the subject:

  • Your mother: These people I’m arbitrarily bigoted against are terrible! My tax dollars shouldn’t be paying for this. Why can’t people be decent like they used to be?
  • You: Mom, let’s not talk about politics. It’s Christmas. Your tree is absolutely gorgeous, where did you find those new ornaments?

tl;dr Some people like to pick fights by saying offensive things. You don’t have to argue with them if you don’t want to. One way of deflecting the fight is to change the subject. (That doesn’t always work.) Scroll up for more details and scripts.

A rude thing that people do to wheelchair and mobility scooter users

So, here’s a thing that happens a lot:
  • Someone rides a wheelchair or mobility scooter into a room that has many chairs in it
  • They want to sit on one of those chairs.
  • Several people, trying to be helpful, dart in to remove the very chair they wanted to sit on

This is very annoying.

  • Especially when it happens several times a week
  • Especially when the people who dart in to remove the chairs are very proud of themselves for Helping The Disabled
  • Even more so if they don’t understand “actually, I want to sit in that chair”, and keep removing it anyway
  • Even more so if the person has to physically grab the chair they want to sit on to prevent it from being removed
  • (And sometimes people react badly to being corrected and become aggressive or condescending)

Do not do this annoying thing.

  • Instead, find out what the person you want to be helpful to actually wants
  • People who use mobility equipment are not actually glued to it
  • And different people have different preferences about where they want to sit
  • You can’t know without asking them
  • (You can’t read their mind, Some people seem to think that mobility equipment transmits a telepathic call for help regardless of the person’s actual apparent interest in help. Those people are wrong. You have to actually ask)
  • You can’t know where someone wants to sit unless you ask, so ask
  • One way you can ask is “Would you like me to move anything?”

If you forget to ask, and make the wrong assumption:

  • Recognize that you have been rude
  • And apologize, and say “Oh, excuse me” or “Sorry. I’ll put it back.”
  • This is the same kind of rude as, say, accidentally cutting in line
  • Or being careless and bumping into someone
  • This is not a big-deal apology, it’s basically just acknowledging that you made a rude mistake
  • People make and acknowledge rude mistakes all the time with nondisabled folks
  • The same people who say “excuse me” when they bump into a nondisabled person, are often completely silent when they do something rude related to someone’s disability
  • Being on the receiving end of a lot of unacknowledged rudeness is degrading and draining. Particularly when you see that the same people who are rude to you without apologizing say “sorry” and “excuse me” to people without disabilities they interact with
  • Do not be part of this problem
  • When you are inadvertently rude to someone who has a disability, it’s important to acknowledge and apologize for it in the same way you would for any other inadvertent interpersonal rudeness


Hierarchies of cussing


I’ve never understood which swearwords are worse than others. It’s only in very recent years that I’ve heard people saying that the c-word is the worst of all. Before that I assumed the f-word was the worst swearword. Is…

distraptortimeraptor said:

another swearing thing is that scatological swears tend to be lower on the scale if you’re using them to describe the thing they literally mean, “I just took an enormous shit”, for example. It is considered rude to tell people aside from doctors about your bodily functions but imo the specific words arent as big a deal unless its a formal setting, you being the mayor of one of the largest cities in North America, for example. Also “fucking” and “goddamn” as well as their variants are more or less acceptable inserted into the middle of words for emphasis, eg “Abso-fucking-lutely”

I often have problems with phrases that are literally neutral, but have negative connotations. For example: for years, I thought ‘forget about it’ was a polite way to tell someone that they didn’t have to worry about a situation. Eventually, I realized this was insulting. If possible, could you please list some more phrases that are literally neutral but have negative connotations? Possible with the connotative definition?
Realsocialskills answered:
Most of these aren’t always negative, but they can have negative connotations depending on context and tone. 
  • That’s nice (“I don’t care”)
  • Uh huh (“I don’t believe you and/or I wish you’d shut up about this”)
  • Fine (Can be taken to mean “I’m not ok with this, but I’d rather put up with it than discuss it further. I’m probably going to stay mad about this”
  • Whatever (“I don’t respect your opinion and want you to shut up about it”)
  • Never mind (“I wish you’d shut up.” or “You’re obviously not going to do anything worthwhile about this, so I want to drop the subject”)
  • I hope you’re happy (“You’re doing a stupid thing that I have contempt for”)
  • Duly noted (“I don’t care”)
  • It doesn’t matter (“It matters, but I don’t respect you enough to say why”)
  • I guess (“I don’t think I agree, but I don’t want to say why”)
  • Thanks for sharing (“What you said was inappropriately personal”)
  • Interesting (“That’s boring, annoying, or offensive, and I would like you to stop talking about it”)
  • Really? (In certain tones it can mean “I don’t believe you and can’t believe you would say such a stupid thing” or “I think you’re lying to me and I’m angry about that.” It doesn’t always have that kind of connotation, though - it can also just be a way of expressing surprise.)
  • Good luck with that (“That’s a stupid idea” or “That’s going to fail and I can’t believe you’re trying it”)
  • If you say so (“I don’t believe you and can’t believe you would say such a stupid thing”)

Content warning: I reblogged something from a concern troll and my reply sucked. I regret this post and many of you are probably better off skipping this one.





 chavisory answered: If you’re having wine, have some soda or cider too in case there are people who avoid alcohol. Hard cider is also a nice alternative to beer

realsocialskills said:

That’s an important point. If you’re having a gathering that includes alcohol, it’s important to have non-alcoholic drinks too. 

A lot of people avoid alcohol for various reasons, and you don’t always know who they are.

And even people who drink often find it easier to avoid drinking too much if there are non-alcoholics drinks available.

Also, consider who you are inviting when you’re deciding whether to have alcohol. If you’re inviting people who tend to be really obnoxious when they’re drunk, it might be better to stick with soft drinks.

lady-brain said:

I would suggest, if you are a host, letting all invitees know ahead of time explicitly whether or not there will be alcohol (or drugs, or anything else people might want to avoid or be forewarned about) at your event.

I’m a sober alcoholic, I appreciate knowing whether there will be alcohol so I can make the decision whether or not I am able to attend the event. I understand when people require alcohol/other substances to socialize/feel safe (especially since I used it for anxiety myself), so I know that not all my spaces can be alcohol-free, and I don’t require that. What I do require is a heads-up, because I am not comfortable around alcohol all the time, around all people, in all locations. It depends, and I need to make the call myself. I can’t do that if I don’t have that information.

realsocialskills said:

I agree this is an important thing to do, but I don’t know of a polite way to do it. Do you know of one?

Mystrich said:

First of all, please do not ever ever use alcohol as a way to handle your anxiety. It makes anxiety worse in the long run.

Second of all: It’s pretty simple, just put “No Alcohol Allowed/No Alcohol Please.” I don’t think anyone will take offense to that. Or “There will be alcohol.” I see that on most party invites/facebook events.

realsocialskills said:

Oh dear, I just realized it could look like I was endorsing that comment. I was actually not paying attention to that part of it because I don’t understand uses of alcohol well enough to comment on any of them.

(And since I don’t understand, I’m probably not going to be having a discussion here on uses of alcohol any time soon - I’m not qualified to moderate it and I don’t want to have a lot of things I don’t understand on my blog.)

Getting back to the issue of alerting people. I think it’s easier to say that there won’t be alcohol than that there will be. The problem with saying that there will be alcohol is that it can sound like it’s a drunken party even when what you really mean is that it’s a dinner and some people might have a beer or glass of wine or two.

I’m not sure what to do about that.

orima-kazooie said: It’s probably relevant to mention this is assuming the spouse knows you won’t get along but has nothing against the partner coming. Or are you supposed to invite them and let them/hope they decline?

little-mourning-magpie said: In my experience this is only ok if you do the same to everyone. So you can say no partners but not specifically uninvite one person’s partner if other partners are coming.


realsocialskills said:

I think that it works like this:

  • If you invite a coupled person to a party, the invitation is generally assumed to include their partner unless explicitly stated otherwise
  • It’s usually considered rude to explicitly uninvite someone
  • Partly because it’s considered rude to tell people about parties they aren’t invited to
  • But it’s considered ok if there’s a general reason partners aren’t invited that isn’t personal, because then it’s not an insult
  • Eg: if no one’s partner is invited, or if it’s a single-gender event and the partner isn’t that gender

Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s always wrong to be rude in this way. Just that it’s a convention it’s worth being aware of, because ignoring it can have unintended consequences.

A couple of situations in which it might be a good idea to violate this convention:

  • The person you don’t want to invite is or was abusive towards you or someone you’ll be inviting
  • The person you don’t want to invite ruins parties by telling racist or misogynistic or otherwise hateful jokes, and has repeatedly refused to knock it off

orima-kazooie answered: I think that if a friend’s spouse doesn’t get along with you but doesn’t hate you either, it may be appropriate to invite only the friend

realsocialskills said:

I don’t think it’s necessarily *wrong*, but it’s almost always considered *rude*. (For some reason, single-gender events are an exception to this if the spouse is not the included gender).

Do you know of a way to do this without it being perceived as rude?

Avoiding slurs is not about sanitizing language

Cussing is important. Here are some uses:

  • Expressing boundaries in forceful language
  • Expressing emphatic contempt
  • Expressing distress

Sometimes it’s ok to insult people. Sometimes it’s important to be rude.

Slurs aren’t part of this, though. It’s not ok to insult someone by comparing them to an oppressed group. It’s not ok to insult someone by referencing their membership in an oppressed group.

Lists of things to say rather than “that’s so gay” or “that’s so r-word” tend to be long lists of big words that are clean and polite. They shouldn’t be, though. There’s no moral obligation to use long words. There’s no moral obligation to always use clean language.

The problem with slurs is that they help to keep marginalized groups marginalized. They hurt innocent people, and they hurt guilty people in ways no one deserves.

So, when the situation calls for cussing at or about someone, use swear words. Don’t use slurs.

 igotpillstheyremultiplying said: Right, I have been in situations like that. I guess I’m just reacting because being polite has sometimes kept me in dangerous situations. I guess it’s up to each person, but you shouldn’t have to be.

Yes, absolutely. It’s important to be rude sometimes.

It’s just that there are tools besides rudeness that work better for managing some situations some of the time. And it can be worth learning to use them.

But being able to be rude as-needed is really important too.

When people won't stop asking for reasons

When you don’t want to give the reason for saying no, and the other person is pressuring you, what is a polite way to get them to stop?
Unfortunately, there often isn’t a completely polite way to get them to stop. People who do this are often very good at manipulating the rules of polite conversation in ways that make it impossible to assert a boundary without being rude.
And even if you are being entirely polite, you’re still likely to offend them. Someone who feels entitled to an answer is probably going to feel wronged if they don’t get one.
That said, these are phrases that sometimes end that kind of conversation without making you appear too rude:
  • “Thank you for your suggestion. I’ll think about it”.
  • “Maybe; let me get back to you.”
  • “I’ll have to think about that.”
  • “I have to leave now. Nice talking to you.”
  • “Thank you, but I’m not interested, and I don’t want to talk about this further.”

Sometimes you can also just change the subject and ignore anything they say about the thing they’re demanding reasons about. This can be especially effective if there’s something they will usually take any opportunity to discuss. That doesn’t work in all situations, but it does work sometimes.

Basically, though, it’s not always possible to defend boundaries politely. It’s ok to be rude when you need to be in order to protect your boundaries. No one has to be polite all the time at all costs.

More on learning to say no

When you first start learning how to say no, you won’t know how to do it politely.

This means that you’ll offend people. Even when you have every right to say no. Even when everyone agrees that it’s ok to say no.

Asserting boundaries politely is a skill worth acquiring, if you can do it. But that takes time and practice. It’s something that’s learned alongside learning how to have boundaries; it’s not something you can learn first as a prerequisite for being allowed to have boundaries.

And when you haven’t figured out how to say no politely, the reactions you get might look to you like evidence that you really *can’t* say no. It might look to you like you have to choose between having no boundaries, or hurting people in unreasonable ways.

This is especially true if you are a disabled person who has learned to pass as nondisabled by following rules. A lot of disabled people are taught that they must pass at all costs, and taught not to asset boundaries as part of this. Starting to learn to have boundaries will probably undermine your ability to pass. That can be terrifying, and some ways people react might be triggering. But you’re ok. You’re not broken. You’re allowed to have boundaries, even if it means looking weird. Even if it breaks rules. Even if people are offended. You are a person and you have rights.

The rules for politely asserting boundaries are really complicated. It takes time and practice to learn these rules. And not everyone can master them. And even people who can have to be rude sometimes in order to have boundaries, and that’s ok too. Being able to be polite is not a prerequisite for having rights.

It’s ok to say no, and it’s ok to have a rough time learning how.

Response to an ask about money talk

 Why is asking about money rude?

I get why asking someone randomly is rude, but why is it rude if it’s got to do with the conversation? On a tv show someone wanted to buy something really expensive and someone else asked how they could afford it, and another person said it was rude.

I don’t get why it’s so personal. Other times it’s acceptable to talk about how someone made their money, but only really if they’re rich.

I get that some people feel ashamed that they don’t make as much money as some people, but why wasn’t it acceptable in the first situation?

It’s hard to say without knowing the full context. I’m going to arbitrarily use an iPad as an example. Here’s some reasons it could be rude to ask someone how they could afford an iPad:

It could be (or be seen as) an indirect way of asking how much money someone makes. The perceived question could be “I didn’t think you had that kind of income! So how much *do* you make, anyway?”

It could be seen as a judgement about someone’s priorities. Eg, the implied question could be (or perceived as) “why are you going around buying *that* when your house is a dump and you keep complaining about how you can’t afford to get the roof fixed?”

It could be seen as contempt for the particular category of purchase. Eg, implied question “Why would you spend all that money on a stupid expensive toy?”

It can be (or be perceived as) a class dynamic. Eg “Who do you think you are buying an iPad? That’s for rich people. Do you think you’re a rich person who deserves that kind of thing?!”

It could also just be (or perceived as) someone trying to assert that they have the right to demand that you justify your spending decisions to them. The less money people have, the more they tend to be treated as owing people an explanation, and it’s draining. Even if you don’t mean that, it’s likely to be perceived that way.