Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't Sit So Close To Me

You know what really grinds my gears ...

The other day I was riding the subway, as I and at least 3 other people in this city do on a regular basis. I got on the subway and lo and behold, to my utter delight, there were open seats. As we all shuffled on and off the car, I found that indeed, I would be able to sit without even having to race past some old lady and snipe the chair out from under her.

To clarify, this was one of those brand spanking new R160 trains (one of which rolled past me today while I was waiting only to announce via signs in 5 languages that this one was being "tested" and thus not taking on passengers - and this right after I saw the train before it pull out of the station as I was walking down to the platform). So this train has that long row of seats on either side with the bar running up the middle dividing it into two neat sections that fit 3 normally sized people relatively comfortably.

Anyway, I got on the train and found that the two remaining seats were on either side of a youngish girl. Figuring she would slide over when I sat down, I took the seat closest to the door. She didn't slide. No one took the other open seat next to her but she still didn't slide. She didn't slide over to the middle leaving the open seat between us. She didn't slide over somewhat leaving empty space between us and allowing both of us to spread out in a more comfortable manner. No. She just stayed where she was, with a wide open space right next to her, cramping my style.

But what could I do. I wasn't about to stand up. It's a fairly long ride and even if it hadn't been, I prefer sitting when it is an option. I couldn't shove her over or tap her on the shoulder and exclaim, "Excuse me, miss, but would you stop invading my personal space." What, indeed, could I do but grit my teeth and bear the indignity while attempting to comprehend why so many people fail to understand the subtleties of public transit etiquette.

Now, she wasn't an unattractive lady, and had I been looking to rub up on a stranger on a train perhaps I would not have been so put off. Though the glazed eyes and bored expression as she sifted through the track listing on her ipod might have diminished the thrill. And it's not that I mind sitting next to strangers or sitting that close to strangers when the train is full. In fact, once someone a couple stops later filled that empty seat, I felt much more comfortable with the situation, if still confused about the motivations of said bored girl.

The situation, like this post, ended with an anticlimactic bang, and I got of the train still perplexed and then got around, several days later to writing about it. Basically, I don't know why she, and so many others on so many other occasions, do not understand that strangers do not want to be that close to them unless they have to be (and that they should be suspect of any stranger that does). When seats open up, you spread out, you give people their space. And you sure as fuck don't fall asleep on them. I would perhaps be remiss in not claiming that "maybe this is just my opinion" and allowing that "some people might have no concept of personal space, and that's ok". So maybe this is just my opinion. But I doubt it. And it's not ok.


Alex said...

Actually, I can tell you exactly why. Because the space between the poles is designed to fit exactly three people, there are a fixed number of available seats on any given train. Therefore, it is considered rude to seat yourself in such a way as to obstruct this arrangement. So, if she had moved over from you slightly, but not all the way to the other side, she would not be leaving room for a potential third person. The only option, then, would been for her to move as far away from you as possible. And given that this move would not increase the available space (which would be one empty seat no matter what), such a gesture could only be construed as one of deliberately not wanting to sit next to you.

Now, I am not one to flatter you with the notion that she would actually prefer to remain seated next to you on account of your roguish charm; on the contrary, the opposite is more likely. However, she was also aware that moving all the way to other side (as I have already noted she would have had to do) immediately after you sat down could be construed as a rude gesture implying that you are an undesirable bench neighbor, perhaps due to a rancid odor or strange appearance. So rather than risk upsetting the air of casual indifference with such a bold move, she chose go on sitting as if you were not there.

Of course, if one had any foresight, the proper thing to do would have been to move to one side or the other as soon as the surrounding seats had emptied, rather than remain in the middle and allow a situation such as this to arise (see also: urinal etiquette). However, it is heartening to know that even in this cold and impersonal world, she chose to put up with a slightly decreased personal space than risk offending a stranger.

Billy Prophet said...

While I would agree that there is a fixed space between poles meant for 3 people (I have only seen on one occasion a woman try to be the fourth person)I would not agree that she would deny another person from sitting simply by moving slightly to the side. In fact, that is how seating on the train tends to work. When full, clearly this is of no consequence. Also when empty enough that everyone can find a seat. But when in this semi-full state, people move and slide maximizing their amount of personal space (spreading their legs, putting their purse next to them, etc) until they are forced to do otherwise.

Though I would agree: she was far to bored and glassy eyed to be sitting there because of my roguish charm.

euterpe's bitch said...

And then there are situations like the one I encountered this morning. Upon transferring to the R train, I found myself in a car comprise of those yellow/orange seats in groups of twos and threes. Most of the seats in the groups of threes were taken, such that people were sitting on the end seats, leaving the middle seat empty. All of the two seats were empty. I sat down in an empty two seat, closest to the window. Just before the doors closed, a middle-aged man in a wool overcoat with a briefcase boarded the train, looked around, and despite the myriad open two-seat rows, chose to sit next to me. I spent all two of the stops we rode glaring hostilely at him, vowing that if I should have another bout of morning sickness, I would puke in his lap. He stared straight ahead and ignored me.

Why, with so many open seats, all of which remained open, did he sit next to the only person in the car who looked as though she was about to refund her breakfast?