etiquette: XYZ?

So I’m riding the train to work last Wednesday and this happens…

The man was–more or less–a stranger, but also a stranger that one could call an acquaintance in that you see them on your commute at least 4 times a week. As a quick reply noted, I shouldn’t be eye-ing other commuters’ crotches, but I honestly wasn’t. I was seated, they were standing and as anyone who’s sat in an aisle seat during a busy stretch of metro knows, you keep your eyes straight forward or on your book/device while you dodge backpacks and avoid looking directly at a stranger’s crotchal area.

Google doodle honoring the inventor of the zipper So yes, a stranger, but a stranger that I know gets on at L’Enfant Plaza and exits with me at Navy Yard. I remember thinking it was odd because he was wearing jeans on a Wednesday–rather than the usual Federal Friday dress down code–and unfortunately, jeans are not forgiving if you don’t zip ’em up. They love to bow out and announce to the world that you were just a wee bit absent-minded that morning.

I thought, “It’ll be weird if I tell him, I won’t say anything.” and let it go through one station stop. Then I thought, “It’s better if I, a near-stranger, tell him than a co-worker sees it and tells him.” So I stood up, grabbed the standee-pole nearest him and casually–if that even applies here–said “Excuse me sir,” as if he’d just dropped something. When he acknowledged eye contact, I mouthed more than said, “Your fly is undone.” The train wasn’t packed and the noise of the car covered it. His face flushed as he quickly corrected the… oversight and said thanks. I awkwardly nodded and reverted to “I don’t know you at all, fellow commuter!” mode.

David Tennant's fly slightly undone at a Comic-Con panel Was that the right thing to do? Should I have ignored it? What would you have done? I tell co-workers all the time that they need to make a vital adjustment whether it’s an XYZ call, their tags are out or in more than one co-worker’s case, that their garment is on inside-out. It isn’t to make fun of them, it’s more in the hope that they’d do the same were the situation reversed.

So what is the etiquette of breaking a delicate–but not tragic–situation to a stranger assuming you aren’t a member of the hospitality industry?

I’ve seen the guy on the train since then and there’s been the usual lack of acknowledgement of each others’ existence, which is fine by me. He’s not the type I’d cruise, even subtly, and I wasn’t expecting a lifelong friendship to blossom from some random dude’s zipper being down.1 Washington, D.C. was recently ranked America’s 3rd rudest city in a survey by Travel & Leisure, so maybe I should have ignored it, but I still think a little do unto others is called for, even when it might get kinda… weird. 😛

1 Then again, I’ve known couples who’ve been together for years whose “How we met…” stories begin in a strikingly similar fashion.

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6 Responses

  1. Neal says:

    *golf clap*

    I think he was probably more surprised that you were kind enough to tell him than wondering why you happened to notice. I’d certainly want to be told. Reminds me of a time when I debated for four stops if I should tell the lady across from me her wig was on crooked. I decided it best not to criticize a womans weave no matter now kind hearted my intentions were.

  2. L A Cochran says:

    You done good. I’ve told strangers their tags are sticking out of their shirts/dresses/etc.

  3. Esprix says:

    It annoys me to no end when I’m halfway through the day and discover my shirt collar has been unbuttoned all day. No serious social faux pas there, I just think if you’ve got the buttons it looks stupid to be unbuttoned. I always end up yelling at my co-workers as to why they didn’t tell me sooner. 🙂

  4. Brian says:

    I think you’re right to tell them. I was once on my way to an interview when someone on metro was kind enough to point out to me to XYZ. Would have been awkward to find that out during the interview.

  5. darla says:

    I don’t think anything is wrong with that… happened to me once at an outdoor concert. I had a woman come up to me very discreetly “XYZ”. I was very appreciative. Yes it was jeans….I guess it was noticable walking through the crowd.

  6. Brooke says:

    You did the nice thing. Good for you. I’d want someone to tell me. If more people are like you, maybe DC can lose its place as 3rd rudest.

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