Geek Etiquette: How To Approach A Geek

Photo by Darwin Yamamoto

There has been a lot of talk lately of women being harassed, insulted, and assaulted at conventions and other public gatherings. This is a terrible thing, and while it’s no excuse for their actions, some of the time the experiences can be attributed to the fact that the harasser didn’t know better or couldn’t read appropriate social cues. Let’s talk a bit about the right way to approach someone out in the wild. Hopefully it will make for a pleasant interaction for you both!

Focus on content, not physicality

Love that person’s geeky tee? Start a conversation by complimenting the shirt. Avoid the fleshy bits underneath the item of clothing you enjoy, and instead focus on the movie/game/world the shirt is from. Please, please avoid awful innuendos.

Do say: “Awesome shirt! Is that from shirt.woot?” or “Sweet Mario tee! What’s your fave game of his?”

Don’t say: “Damn, that shirt makes your rack look fiiiiine.”

Use your surroundings as an ice breaker

In line at a bar? Ask someone what the best drink to get there is. At a convention? Ask them what panel or game you should check out. By focusing the conversations on your surroundings, you’re creating a common ground and greatly reduce the risk of them thinking you’re harassing them.

Honesty (and a bit of tact) is the best policy

Think someone seems interesting and want to chat with them a bit more? Ask them for their contact information, or if they’re free for dinner or lunch. No gimmicks needed, just be honest. However, honesty doesn’t mean you should get rid of tact entirely and say whatever enters your mind. And please be prepared to:

Accept rejection gracefully

Sometimes the person  you’re talking to is just not interested in you. Sometimes they’re busy, tired, antisocial, talking with someone else, married or in a relationship, distracted, or just in a crummy mood.  If they don’t look you in the eye, turn their body away from you, and respond to your questions as quickly as possible, then give them some space. If they tell you they want to be left alone, leave them alone. It’s not always personal, and you don’t know what the person’s night/day/life has been like up to that point. Don’t assume the worst about yourself.

Let me know in the comments: What are your tips on approaching someone respectfully? What stories do you have of experiences that went well? Any that went horribly? What would you do to make that situation better?


  1. Man, I could never inappropriately approach anyone. I was sheepish to ask cosplayers if I could shoot a photo, even though my cosplay friends say it’s quite alright. I just found it weird to ask that, lol.

    Still, there’s no way I’d be caught dead behaving like the people in recent incidents of harrassment. Who taught them to act like that?

  2. One of the best things I’ve ever seen at a Con was at ConVergence in Minneapolis. They had posters up everywhere saying things like “Don’t be a dick” and “A costume is not consent”. It would be awesome if every Con was so conscientious.

  3. Props to you for asking the cosplayers! Most definitely don’t mind getting a photo taken, but always appreciate being asked instead of having a candid photo taken. That way they can strike the pose they want, and you and they both end up getting the best photo possible!

  4. I love “a costume is not consent!” Brilliant!

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