BY MIA FREEDMAN Public fights with strangers aren’t usually my thing. I’m highly averse to confrontation, you see. But recently I’ve been involved in two such fights, once in a nail salon when a customer was bullying the manicurist (which you can read all about here), and once on a plane.
Both times I found myself getting feisty with well-dressed women aged around 60.
Odd co-incidence or something to discuss with a therapist? Could I have an issue with nannas?
I shall bookmark that therapy session for another time and instead, tell you about the barney I had two weeks ago at 35,000 feet.
As I approached my seat after boarding, I briefly registered the silver-haired woman already sitting by the window absorbed in Steve Jobs’ biography. She didn’t acknowledge me as I sat down next to her which made me happy. Let’s-Pretend-There’s-Nobody-Sitting-Next-To-Me is my all-time favourite flying game.
Before we took off, I did my usual thing of checking emails and Twitter until the last possible minute before flicking my phone to flight mode and popping it in my bag.
“Are you going to turn that off?” Silver-hair demanded, before we’d even left the terminal. “I did,” I replied. “No you didn’t,” she insisted, gesturing at my bag. “It’s in flight mode,” I explained hastily. “You have to turn it off,” she hissed. Taken aback, I rolled my eyes like a teenager, and turned it off while possibly muttering “Whatever,” under my breath.
As soon as we reached altitude and the seatbelt sign went off, I grabbed my phone and turned it on with a dramatic flourish even though I didn’t want to use it. After playing with it ostentatiously for a minute, I put it beside me and opened my laptop to work.
An hour later when the Captain announced he was preparing to land, I did quite an immature thing. I surreptitiously turned off my phone so Silver-hair couldn’t see me do it. I wanted to see if she’d say something and she didn’t let me down.
“Are you going to turn off your iPhone?” she huffed.
I loosened one ear bud and turned to her incredulously. “Are you talking to me again? Why are you talking to me again?”
She continued her aggressive questioning and things deteriorated from there. I kept putting my earphones back in my ears and she kept hissing at me to turn off my phone. Knowing full well my phone was off, I ignored her, occasionally turning my head in her direction to roll my eyes and gape at her fury.
“You are a rude little person!” she huffed at one point.
“And you are a sad little person!” I retorted with incredible restraint, after taking a split-second to weigh up my choice of adjectives. She may have been hostile but I didn’t want to play dirty with insults based on her age or appearance.
I may be immature but I didn’t want to be a dick as well.
Refusing to believe my phone was off, she began angrily pushing the call button to summon the flight attendant at which point I started laughing. “What, are you going to DOB on me?” I exclaimed.
Indeed she tried but as we descended, her button-pushing went unanswered. Meanwhile, I turned up the in-flight music and watched her lips move furiously until we touched down. Afterwards I was giddy from the adrenaline surge that accompanies a fight or flight (in-flight) response.
It was an unfamiliar sensation because I usually go to great lengths to avoid those kinds of confrontations. They mess with my chi.
Thinking about it afterwards, I realised there are two types of fights with strangers – one is when you confront someone to stand up for a third party (like I did in the nail salon) and the other is to protect or defend your own interests (like arguments over parking spots which I always avoid because I’m scared the other driver may have a gun).
I used to flee from both types of fight but as I get older, I’m becoming less likely to put up with unreasonable behaviour. Admittedly, my definition of ‘unreasonable’ fluctuates wildly depending on how pre-menstrual I am. At a certain point in my cycle, blinking or breathing in a particular way meet my criteria. Yes, YOU IN NEW ZEALAND. Stop BLINKING LIKE THAT. I CAN HEAR YOU.
One group of people with whom I always avoid ugly confrontations are those in the service industry. Having worked in retail and restaurants, I know how ghastly it is to be berated by a customer for something entirely out of your control like a faulty product, a late flight or an over-cooked steak.
My tolerance for bad service is not unlimited but I’ll never be rude or abusive. When the power balance is unequal (i.e.: someone can’t speak freely without fear of being sacked) it’s not a fair fight.
There’s also a healthy degree of self-interest in my approach because waiters and people who work at airline check-in counters can make your life unpleasant if you piss them off. Food can be spat in and luggage can be sent to Uganda. Remember that next time you want to flex your angry muscle at the messenger.
When was the last time you got into an argument with a stranger? Or do you avoid confrontation?