Wednesday, August 23, 2017

What is the proper etiquette? Train journeys

Leye - Every other Wednesday

Photo by Yusaini Usulludin

You get onto a train carriage. It's full. You manage to find an empty seat. You wedge your recently expanding bottom, all 'sorry's and 'excuse me's, between two hitherto comfortable rail customers. You relax into the beginning of jour hour-long journey across London. As stops go by, the carriage thins out. Soon, it’s just you and the person next to you. Empty seats on both sides of both of you. An entire row of empty seats in front. Stop after stop, they don't get off and they don't move. Empty seats mocking you both for your lack of courage or your self-discomforting laziness.

But what's the proper etiquette here? Surely there must be one. If you get onto a carriage with just one person on it, you don’t go and sit next to them. No. You sit in a seat without neighbours. So why would you continue sitting right next to a stranger when the carriage becomes sufficiently empty?

But what is the proper etiquette? Move and risk offending them? Like saying, 'Sorry, but I'm gonna have to move because....'

You're likely to cause offense no matter what comes after the 'because'. You stink. I just don't feel comfortable next to you. I just want to move. I don't like you. Your perfume reminds me of toilet air-freshener. You just can't win. You don't know what insecurities they're in a programme for. What seven or eight or twelve steps your moving over to an empty seat might have reset to step 1.

And if it's socially allowed to move, who moves first? The person who was already sitting, or the person who came after? Surely, the person who came after. The person already sitting may have been first on an empty carriage. They may have already had to move to an empty seat. It’s unfair for them to have to move again. No matter the history of their current sitting situation, you got sat next to them. Not they next to you. It is you who must move to an empty seat when it’s just the two of you sitting next to each other on an empty carriage.

What about length of time before you move to an empty seat? Is it measured in stops or in seconds after the carriage first becomes empty? Do you wait one more stop before politely getting up – because you came after – and moving to an empty seat?

I just don’t know. I’m perplexed with this dilemma right now because I’m on a longish tube journey. Even as I type into my phone’s notepad app, hoping to figure out the right thing to do before it’s just me and a person sitting next to me, I’ve become acutely aware of another train journey etiquette dilemma. The person next to me on my left is peering at my screen, reading what I’m writing. What’s the right thing to do here? Continue pretending to be oblivious of her casual invasion of my privacy? Acknowledge her with a smile and continue, and let her continue reading, this time invited or permitted with the smile? Lean forward so she can count the threads of the back of my shirt? Give her a look? Glare at her? Politely, but formerly, ask her to stop it? i.e: be assertive?

What’s the proper etiquette????

With some situations it’s straightforward. A pregnant person walks onto a carriage, The rules for this are universal and well known. You get up, even though you had nothing to do with getting them pregnant. But wait. It’s not that straightforward. If there are lots of you already sitting down when they get on, who gets up? The train network helps with this. They have designated areas for pregnant, disabled, otherwise frail people, or people with little people carriers.

But what if you don’t see a badge? Here in the UK you get a badge when you get pregnant. It’s like ‘well done’ for getting knocked up. You’re preggies? Here, have a badge, you rock star. It says, Baby On-board. Anytime I see one I think, ‘What else could it be? Dragons?’ Note to self: Watch Game of Thrones and stop making up the story line yourself.

Back to a missing badge. What do you do then? If the protruding belly is on a man, I guess that one’s kinda easy: they need the exercise. Unless they are considerably old. So, protruding belly on female without badge or male who is considerably old, give up your seat.

But how do you define old? How do you gauge a person’s age in trying to decide whether or not you stand up so they can sit down? I suggest an elders system. Everybody gets a badge, baby on-board or not. A date of birth bage, so we can work out each other’s age and determine whether or not they get our seat on a train. If they are say, ten years older than you, you get up no questions asked. They’ve been paying taxes longer than you, if you’re already paying taxes and assuming they are too. Or at the very least they’ve been purifying the air you breathe longer than you. I assume that when humans breathe in, our lungs absorb most of the pollution and we breathe out slightly cleaner air and eventually die from all the accumulated toxins in the air we’ve purified.

But I digress. Back to the dilemma at hand. The approaching possibility of being next to a strange on a carriage with empty seats. And indeed, this carriage is depopulating as we go through the tourist hotspots.

You know, this is not the only dilemma I have with train journeys. It starts right from the platform. Anytime people arrive on a platform and come and stand next to me, I’m at a dilemma over what to do. Do I ignore them or do I confess to them that I too don’t know where the train doors will stop? I just got onto the platform, didn’t see anyone else already marking a spot, so I licked my finger, stuck it in the air, calculated Pi, and stopped walking when I got distracted. And if I do know where the doors will be and I’m standing there, should I be calling out to clueless passengers standing on the platform where the driver’s door will stop. ‘Hey guys, you’re way off. I know where the doors are. This is the spot. Come join me here. There’s space for us all.’

We are well into the sticks now and the carriage is well thinned out and like I feared, it’s me and the elderly man I sat next to and a sprinkling of stranglers on the far side of the carriage. Apprehension. Anxiety builds. The moment I feared has arrived. Or has it? One more stop? Wait one full minute?

What is this? He gets up and plumps himself into a seat right in front. What? It was my duty to move, not his. What does he mean by moving? Does he think I don’t know the etiquette? What is this? I am will pissed up now. I’m angry. I’m offended. My heart is pumping indignation into my veins. How dare he? How so very dare he? Then I remember. I forgot to buy deodorants after I threw the empty one away yesterday. I turn my body in the chair, I pretend to suddenly find something notice worthy in the landscape flying past, and I to try to get a whiff of my armpits without making it obvious.


  1. I love it when you free associate, Leye. I REALLY needed to laugh out loud this morning. And since I ride the subway in NYC, I know whereof you speak! Thank you!

  2. Too, too funny. Halfway through, I started humming to myself Paul Simon's "I Think Too Much." :-)

  3. It's very nice to live in a country free of the constraints of good manners. We have issues of nakedness on scotrail ...the staff have been known to walk down the carriage handing out clothes. Strange but true.

    1. Yeah, well, on scotrail you also have the problem of men wearing kilts manspreading...

  4. I think you should move to NYC, Leye, and take the bus. People freely jump from the two-person seats and longer benches to the single person seats the moment one opens up. It's the closest one ever comes to a moment in one's own space on the MTA.

    You should also move to NYC for another reason: so that Annamaria and I could laugh with you in person!

  5. I would looooove to move to NYC. My only concern is the man in the white house. :-(