What’s worse than a three-hour bus ride without WiFi? Spending it next to the bro who stepped on your foot as he climbed to sit down, reached over you to plug in his phone charger, and promptly began blasting Nickelback from his ear buds.
Sounds like hell, which is exactly why people on buses go to great lengths to avoid a seatmate or interacting with other passengers, according to a new study in Symbolic Interaction.
Esther Kim, lead study author and Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Yale University, took a bus trip at least every other month for three years and says the main “I don’t want to talk” hints are clear: blocking an empty seat from being taken, spreading out your gadgets, and making zero eye contact. People disengage like this because they’re mentally preparing themselves for aggravating situations like long waiting periods, traffic, and previously bad experiences with riders, she adds.
But here’s the thing: That engagement might be good for you. Researchers at Purdue University say that failing to make eye contact could lower your self-esteem, and a British Medical Journal study found that being around strangers could cheer you up.
Whether that happens is up to you. Diane Gottsman, a national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, says there’s a difference between someone who just makes conversation to pass the time and someone who wants your number. So what if you do want her number? Here’s how to chat up the sexy stranger sitting next to you—without seeming like a creep.
Pay Attention to Body Language
Wondering whether the woman next to you wants to talk? Inspect how she’s seated. If her knees and toes are pointed at you, you’re good to go, says Gottsman. But if she doesn’t adjust her shoulders to face you when you muster up a “Hey, how’s it going?” then you’re in for a long ride.
Master Eye Contact
Focus, man! Keep your attention on her eyes, not her mouth—or anywhere lower. A swift eye-to-eye gaze and a smile can put someone at ease, says Gottsman. Just remember not to look past her (which shows you’re not interested in talking, even if you are), look down (which makes you appear nervous), or stare when you think she’s not looking (she can totally see you).
Break the Ice
Ready to gab? Keep the questions relevant. Something like, “How long have you taken this route? I’ve just started and I’m trying to figure out how long it will take me to get downtown,” should do the trick, Gottsman says. Then keep it going with open-ended questions, like, “I’m new in town. Is there a good bar you’d recommend?”
If you think you’ve hit it off by the time the bus arrives to your stop, suggest a future coffee or dinner date if she’s up for it. But hand her your business card rather than asking for a phone number. This takes the pressure off her but also shows that you’re serious—and not just the weird dude on the bus.