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Coffee Shop Etiquette: How to start conversations without being creepy

The last two years of my adult life has been mainly spent in coffee shops that playing Pandora mixes with local art decor on its walls. I often go there to read books, meet up with friends or do some work on my computer. During these times I have encountered many people and have observed many things. Lots of conversations start in coffee shops, sometimes relationships.

This is my unofficial coffee shop etiquette for you, and some advice on how to not be creepy at a coffee shop.

Remember, this is a coffee shop. The main reason people go here is to drink coffee, not to pick people up. Come on now, this isn’t a salsa dancing class, because nobody goes to a salsa dancing class to actually learn salsa.

Rule #1: Don’t be fucking creepy, dude.
What do creepers do? Creepers stare. Don’t stare.

What is the difference between staring and looking? When you stare, you make someone feel like Sarah Connor with a red dot between her eyes, then she’ll run off with Kyle Reese and be the mother of the future. Don’t do it, dude. That’s trying too hard. Being creeped on feels like when all the dream projections in Inception zero in on you, and are just staring.

Creepy is trying too hard and over-pursuing. In football, they teach defensive players to not over-pursue. This means don’t be overly aggressive where the player with the ball cuts back and you go flying into the sidelines or get juked out of your jock. When you try too hard, there is a sense of inauthenticity. Be yourself, see what’s actually there and play it by ear.

That said, you should creep. There is a fundamental difference between being creepy and creeping. Creeping is an action, whereas being creepy is an adjective.

Everybody Creeps, but Creep Responsibly
Let’s face it, people creep by nature. When I say creeping, I don’t mean like how they do in Fresno, CA. If you are from Fresno, you know what I mean. Everyone has Facebook stalked someone or used guerrilla tactics to find more intel on someone they are digging. There is a notion that guys creep and girls don’t. This is not true at all.

In fact, girls creep about 84,000 times more than guys. They just don’t get caught doing it like we do. Clever girl.

Girls know when you are checking them out, so don’t be a cat hiding under a rug with their tail sticking out, thinking they are in ninja mode. They know our tricks. Example: Don’t look at them in mirrors because they will be looking right back at you to see if you’re checking them out.

People want to be talked to…sometimes
There are three type of people in New York City:

1) People who don’t want to talk to you.
2) People who don’t mind having a short conversation with you.
3) People who have not been talked to in about six weeks and they will turn into a bard and recite the epic tale of their life as soon as you say “How’s it going?”

There is nothing wrong with starting a conversation with someone. Once on a flight from Iceland to New York, an elderly man asked me about my iPhone, even though he knew exactly what it was. It was his way to engage in a conversation with me. It turned out I was very glad he started talking to me because he and his wife were really cool. He told me he always talks to people just to see where things go. A lot of times people will just respond and not want to talk (which he said is fine), but other times new friendships and relationships have come from it.

Go get em, tiger.
You’re no longer in OK Cupid, Kansas. This is the real world, and this is the real thing. This is not a drill, soldier. When you act, there are results and consequences of your actions. There is no safe haven of copying/pasting messages to people you think have a hot thumbnail photo and waiting for responses. When you get rejected here, you feel it and know it.

It’s just you…and her. Here is some unofficial advice I can give you.

Don’t talk to a girl if she is wearing headphones and avoiding any eye contact. No girl ever thinks “Gee, I hope this guy taps me on the shoulder as I’m reading this book, so I can take my headphones off to talk to him.” Sure, there is probably a 000.01% chance that this is the first part of the infinity gauntlet, and she likes you so much but wants to test if you will avoid all signs that she doesn’t want to be talked to, just so you can conquer her heart. However, I would say most of the time, she doesn’t want to talk to anyone, or maybe just you.

Check the ring, yo! Get the Hell out of there! And if she’s just wearing a ring to trick people in thinking she’s married, you definitely don’t want that.

Theatricality and Deception are powerful tools for the uninitiated, but we are both initiated, aren’t we? Kindness is so rare these days, it is often mistaken as flirtation, or panty-dropping. A smile does not automatically mean she is into you.

You: “She smiled at me, that must mean I’m her Neo.”
Her: “Uh, why is this guy staring at me? I better smile at him to break the awkwardness.”

I’m not saying don’t be encouraged by a smile, but do not make assumptions of what it means. I know many happily married women who smile at other people. Know why? Because it’s nice to.

If she is sitting on the couch holding her boyfriend’s hand, I suggest you don’t ask her out.

Just. Say. Something.
Friends always ask me “What do you say to a girl first?” How about, “hello”? The first words out of your mouth to her doesn’t have to be a Shakespearian sonnet. However, bitches love sonnets. Just say something to break the silence if you really want to talk to her. If you don’t, maybe you aren’t that into her. If you get nervous around her, that’s a good sign because that means your body is reacting to her presence. It usually means you want to have babies with her, but let’s start with saying hello first.

There is no shame asking someone something for the sole purpose of starting a conversation. I once asked a girl what the wifi password is, even though I already knew it. I believe that type of lie is a venial sin. I can live with that.

Think of it as dipping a stick into the water to see if it is deep enough to dive into. Use it to see if a conversation sparks up. What usually happens is homegirl will tell you the wifi password and you’ll continue with your lives. No harm in that. or maybe she will keep talking to you. Take whichever one happens.

For the ladies
I can’t write this without giving some advice to the ladies out there. Let’s inverse this for a second and think about how a girl can better make it more apparent that she wants to have a conversation with someone.

See something, say something. There is this notion that a guy is supposed to make the first move. I can assure you that I know many women who met their boyfriends or husbands by making the first move. This does not mean you have to propose to him, but something to get the ball rolling. This could be simple as saying hello. Girls, you can really increase the contrast and avoid creepers you don’t to talk to if you strike preemptively on guys you actually want to talk to.

Take off your bra and throw it at him. Trust me, if he doesn’t ask for your number after that, he’s just not that into you. I’m sorry. The success rate of this one is pretty high. This is your atomic bomb—use it carefully.

There you have it. Again, moral of the story: Go to a coffee shop to drink coffee, but if you want to talk to people who are there, don’t be fucking creepy.

Be yourself, unless your creepy, then be a less creepy version of yourself.

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