Gordon Davidescu wrote this article.

One day last week as I was waiting to go to the synagogue where I regularly go to services. I noticed a young woman standing across 96th street holding a cup of, what I assumed to be, coffee. I remember thinking to myself that because it was a Jewish holiday on that day, I was not able to buy myself my own cup of coffee and would have to accept a cup of instant coffee instead. I briefly looked at the cup of coffee cup and then looked back down at the street.

As I started crossing the street, the woman walked toward me in a directed manner. She looked right at me and said, “Sorry… but thanks.” She then walked away before I could have a chance to say anything in response. I quietly repeated her strange words to myself as I continued crossing the street. Sorry… but thanks.

Sorry for what? Thanks for what?

My mind started to review all of the possibilities. The first thing I thought of was that, since I was clearly a man, and she a woman, she thought somehow I was expressing interest in pursuing some kind of interaction with her because I had looked at her, in her mind. What she did not know was that I was actually looking at her because of her coffee and not because of anything that had to do with her as a person. It probably could have been someone impersonating Elvis or Ronald Reagan and I still would have noticed the coffee first because my mind was obviously on coffee.

So she was sorry that she had to turn down my offer, whatever offer it was that she thought I was making by looking at her cup of coffee. Clearly she was a very polite woman, even though she was completely misreading how I looked in her general direction. The fact that she added “…but thanks” told me that she was even more of a polite person, or at least a gracious individual, as she was appreciative that I would even think of making this mysterious offer.

It reminded me of an occasion that took place about five years ago. I was standing on a street corner with my friend Joe and we were waiting for the signal. A woman was standing nearby us, chatting aloud. Presumably, she was using one of those mobile phone headsets to talk to someone without having the phone to her ear. She turned to us after we had both quickly glanced at her and announced, “Just to let you know, I’m not on the phone – I am talking to myself.”

People perceive our non-verbal communication on a regular basis. What is it that pushes a person to cross the line from perceiving a non-verbal message that has been received, or that the person thinks they have received, to responding in a very verbal manner? It’s almost amusing to me that now, a woman will think that I was making some kind of gesture of an offer when, in reality, I was just a touch envious over her cup of coffee?

Have you ever thought that someone was trying to tell you something when they weren’t? It has happened to me on more than one occasion that a person was waving hello at someone behind me, but I have gotten confused because I did not know who they were and why they were waving at me. It gives you a really dumb feeling when you point to yourself and mouth, “me?” and the person shakes their head and points over you to indicate someone else.

On the bright side, I suppose it is nice to be able to give someone positive feelings without having actually done anything. When we upset someone without doing anything, on the other hand, should we proactively seek to rectify the misunderstanding, or should we just assume that the person was just a little silly for even reading a message when there was none?


  1. Great article, Gordon, and I thank you for taking the article of the day.
    I find this story curious — especially in NYC where few people would confront a stranger with such a strange phrase. Most women I know would just ignore you and run the other way really slow…
    I have a common name and I learned early on when someone yelled “David!” that only meant 30% of the time they were talking to me. So I would ignore those yells unless and until I heard “Boles!” — then I knew they were shouting at me and I didn’t have to spend any time wondering or waving back at people that didn’t want my attention.

  2. My pleasure, David.
    I also wondered why she bothered confronting me instead of just ignoring me, if she really thought I had intentions. Perhaps she wanted to show gratitude, even though she had no interest.
    For many years as a child, people used to confuse my first and last name. They were so unsure what to do with Davidescu – they thought perhaps Escu was my last name and that David was my first name, even though I always clearly said Gordon first.

  3. Hi Gordon!
    Great article! The waving thing has confounded me a few times to me as well!
    Why is it that you can’t get your cup of coffee on a Jewish holiday?

  4. Sometimes it’s just a matter of pointing to yourself and mouthing, “me?” but this doesn’t always work.
    On all holidays proper (ie that which is called a Festival, or a Chag) as well as for the 25 hours of the Sabbath, all commerce is forbidden by rabbinic law; it was forbidden because commerce inevitably led to writing in those days and writing is forbidden by the Torah on the Sabbath and Festivals. 🙂

  5. Gordon!
    You’re right, often the ones doing the waving are so busy trying to catch the attention of the wavee that they don’t notice anything else!
    Thanks for that interesting detail of rabbinic law!
    I’m also curious about the other possibilities you had considered!

  6. Well I had considered that maybe she was a lunatic, but I dismissed it pretty quickly as I tend to try to judge people favorably. 🙂

  7. Hi Gordon,
    Very interesting article!
    I found that lady’s gesture pretty intriguing…at least she didn’t think you were going to attack her which speaks about your warmth too.
    But I understand this is pretty awkward.
    Will share some thing similar…
    It was 7/8 years back; I used to go to work in a chartered bus (reserved for members only) everyday. As this was reserved the passengers used to know each other. I was fairly tired one morning for some reason and kept my eyes closed after I sat in my seat by a window.
    After 10 min. I realized a guy coming and sitting beside me as I smelled his faint after shave/ cologne or whatever it is…
    I opened my eyes and looked at him because he smelled unbelievably good. The guy was new in our bus – I guessed he was someone’s guest. I remember looking at him once and then turning my head towards the window – mind it, I didn’t close my eyes again.
    Suddenly I heard a voice saying – “in case you feel like talking to me here is my card…”
    I saw the guy holding his visiting card towards me as he was preparing to get down.
    I surely looked dumb and acted as a dumb too because I froze. He kept the card beside me, smiled and walked out.
    My first reaction was getting absolute embarrassed thinking what kind of signal I sent, second reaction was curious realizing how sensitive and intelligent he was and third reaction was to call him ask him the name of the godd^&*n perfume… 🙂

  8. Was there any sign of a smile on your face when you looked at him? Maybe a microsmile? Perhaps he detected it? Did you ever find out the name of the scent?

  9. Gordon!
    Smiling (micro, macro, mini, midi…whatever kind it is) to an absolute stranger in a public transport in India? That too 10 years back?
    There is only one signal that could be derived from this – I am available to discuss my rate. I don’t think I need to be more graphic than this.
    That was the reason I was so embarassed first.
    No way, forget about smiling…I don’t even remember glancing at him for more than a second.
    Yeah, I discovered the name of the after-shave later – it was either Paco Rabanne or Davidoff, I forgot which one. I found it from my colleague though! 🙂

  10. Katha,
    Wow. I hope that’s not how he read into it!
    I am familiar with Davidoff. Nice smell!

  11. Hi Gordon,
    I don’t think so…
    Even in today’s date any decent guy will freak out and run for their life if I smile at them in a public transport in India unless I am in a long hour flight/ train/ bus or something…then there is a chance of building up some kind of rapport.
    Moreover, I didn’t smile at the guy in the bus and he did seem pretty decent, warm and friendly. Eyes and gesture say a lot!
    Yes, Davidoff has a come-hither kind of smell… 🙂
    I remember those were freshly launched in Calcutta at that point.

  12. Goodness.
    I tend to return smiles when I get them.
    Davidoff. The smell of “come hither.” That should be their ad campaign. 🙂

  13. Gordon, don’t worry…you are not in India! And, a genuine smile from the core of your heart increases your face value!
    I was equally freaked out for first few days when I landed in the midwest because everyone was smiling at everyone! Then I got used to it and gradually started enjoying it and finally it became my habit.
    I had to unlearn the habit after coming back here – though!
    “Come hither with Davidoff” – how does that sound??? 🙂

Comments are closed.