I think I just inadvertently creeped out a barista. During a pretty routine coffee and sandwich buy I asked, “Does anyone ever tell you that you look like Chloe Sevigny?” And I got a curt, “No.” Sensing I’d somehow misstepped I followed up with, “I mean that as a compliment, I think she’s adorable.” Uncomfortable silence. “Um, well, does that sandwich come with fruit?”
I think maybe I was being creepy, but I’m not sure how or why. Isn’t it harder for women to be creepy than it is for men to be anyway? I always thought it was.
In order to get to the bottom of this, I guess it makes sense to explore the principles of creepiness.
For starters, though subject matter can determine whether an interaction is creepy, really, context is everything. If my sister casually said to me as I was about to leave the house, “I can see your panty line,” I would take it as a helpful note to either change my undies or my skirt. Whereas, if the office FedEx guy lowered his gaze and said in a smoky voice, “I can see your panty line,” I’d be overtly creeped.
Using the panty line example just mentioned, creepiness can be dissected into three basic elements.
Creepiness usually involves some level of unwelcomeness. Is the office FedEx guy, either directly or tacitly, invited to comment on underpants, rears, or the visibility of underpants on rears? Based on my understanding of common workplace and acquaintance etiquette, I’d say, no. On the other hand, sisters are not only invited to comment on correctable outfit flaws, they’re expected to. If my sister let me walk around with preventable VPL (visible panty line), I’d be kind of annoyed with her.
But unwelcomeness is only part of the equation. If the office FedEx guy noticed my panty line in a chipper or joking tone, I’d still raise my eyebrows, but with the comment lacking intensity I might be willing to believe he’s not a complete creepster. Prolonged eye contact can make a conversation creepier, unnecessary touching, laughter that is too loud or too sinister. Anything with too much intensity (I realize this is kind of vague, but it’s the best I can do ““ think pornography and Potter Stewart’s great quote about it, you know it when you see it) can greatly exacerbate the creepiness of a situation.
Misplaced interest is also key creepster tip-off. My sister loves me, she helps me pick out clothes, and she has an interest in presenting our family in a positive light. Because she cares about me, she has an interest in keeping me VPL-free, knowing that I might find VPL somewhat embarrassing. Because she helps me choose outfits, she has a self-preserving interest in making sure my outfits look decent. Finally, because she wants me to avoid bringing VPL shame upon the family, she has an interest in keeping me VPL-free. All of these motivations are legitimate reasons for her to be interested in my panty line. The office FedEx guy, of course, has none of these reasons to be interested my panty line. Thus, my understanding of common workplace and acquaintance etiquette would suggest that any interest he might have in my panty line would be a misplaced one.
Given the three tenets of creepiness, I still don’t know where I erred at the coffee shop.
I generally assume that some amount of small talk and certainly compliments are a welcome part of sandwich buying. And I don’t believe the exchange with the Chloe lookalike was any more or less intense than any other sandwich transaction. Last, my reason for making the comment was an interest in small talk, and, to an extent, in evacuating a thought from my mind simply because it had arrived there.
Where did I go wrong?
I’ve tried looking at my interaction with the barista from a different standpoint by imagining a man of my same relative attractiveness, charm, and posture, in my place, but it doesn’t bring me any closer to an answer. Were I that barista and a man compared me to an attractive actress, and then proceeded to tell me it was a compliment, I might think he was flirting with me, but I don’t think I would take it to be inappropriate or especially bothersome flirting. Likewise, if I were the barista and a woman I believed to be gay compared me to an attractive actress, and then proceeded to tell me it was a compliment, I might assume she was flirting, but again, I don’t see how mild, polite chit-chat-variety flirting would be bothersome?
So, given the fact that prior to the Chloe Sevigny incident I had had many perfectly pleasant interactions with this barista, the only conclusion I can come to is that she hates Chloe Sevigny.
Sorry, Chloe. It’s the only plausible explanation. I’m such a lovely person, I couldn’t possibly be creepy.