Take His Seat, Please

by admin on June 11, 2012

I could write a book on all of the absurdities of riding the public transportation on a daily basis, but a particular circumstance keeps coming up that I would like some guidance on.

Both on buses and commuter trains in our city there are designated seats near the doorways for elderly, expectant mothers, and children. Often times on my train, there are enough seats for those in need to have a seat, regardless of whether or not those particular seats are where they sit. The issue mainly comes up at the 5 o’clock rush hour, when all seats are filled and the aisles are filled with people standing. Those designated seats are filled with normal commuters, as people are piling in and out of the trains. Whenever I am on the train, I try to look out for those that may need a seat and try to give it up whenever possible, but not everyone does the same.

The circumstance that I question is when I am standing and unable to give a seat and someone comes up that needs one. Last week an obviously pregnant woman got on our crowded train and squeezed in front of the designated seating area, that of which a younger man and woman were seated in. It is possible that they didn’t notice that she was standing in front of them, but no one else did anything about it. My first instinct is to ask these people to get up and let her have a seat, as I did not have a seat to give to her. Is this my request to ask, or am I imposing my sense of justice too much onto strangers? 0608-12

You cannot give away what you do not own nor direct people to give up what is theirs either.  Second, one does not know if the reason why those seats are taken is due to the person’s hidden handicaps.    About the most you can do is clear your throat to get attention shifted towards the standing person.

{ 86 comments… read them below or add one }

Starry Diadem June 11, 2012 at 1:45 am

I agree with Admin on this. I try to give up my seat to those less able to stand than I am but in the weeks following my back surgery, when I had no outward sign of disability, that would have been impossible for me. I could walk unaided but standing for any length of time, especially on a moving tube train where I’d have to be constantly shifting my weight to keep balanced – no, thanks. I’d have spent the journey and the next few hours in severe physical discomfort. If the OP had asked me to give up my seat then, they’d have got short shrift and a reminder that not all disabilities, even temporary ones, are visible and that they are not the judge of whether I am more able to stand than someone else.

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whatever June 11, 2012 at 2:16 am

for a long time i had mixed feelings about the rule that people have to jump up and offer a seat when older but seemingly fit people entered a train or bus. mostly because a lot of them are really rude about it.

when on official transport i usually listen to music and read a book simultaneously, effectively shutting out the world around me, so sometimes i don’t even notice as it gets full and seats are rare. some elderly people have raised my attention by politely touching my shoulder, and i was happy to jump up and give them my seat. sometimes a standing other passenger would do the same and point out the person in need of a seat. i’m totally fine with that.

on other occasion though, the elderly person in question would NOT approach me directly, but instead get into an increasingly loud tirade about “the youth these days don’t show any respect”. and those are the one’s that i kept ignoring on purpose. is it really too much to ask to politely raise my attention?

on another note: my neighbor is elderly and has trouble walking and standing, and i was discussing that very topic with her once. she told me that whenever she gets on a crowded bus, she cheerfully asks “who of you nice guys is willing to stand for me today?” and she was never left standing.

that said, for the situation OP was in:
if it is obvious that the person sitting is unaware of the person in need standing, it is fine to politely raise their attention to the issue.
if they are clearly aware there is nothing you can do as a bystander. it is clearly the own responsibility of the person in need to politely ask for a seat.

also, when i was very pregnant, and i was on the train or bus for less than 10 minutes, it was much less hassle for me to remain standing than sitting down and shortly after heaving my whale like self out of the seat again. plus i needed fresh, cool air that wasn’t as available in sitting height on a full bus. so maybe the woman didn’t even wan’t to sit.

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Green123 June 11, 2012 at 4:10 am

Personally, I sit where I can on a bus or train, and I don’t offer my seat to others, as I have an injury which means I can’t stand. Never assume someone sitting down who looks ‘normal’ is not disabled or unwell in some way!

Also never assume that someone standing wants a seat! A good friend of mine is pregnant for the third time – she’s been blessed with relatively easy pregnancies, and has commuted to and from London by train throughout. She claims it’s better for her back to stand than sit, and her mantra has been ‘I’m pregnant, not ill; if I need a seat, I’ll ask’ which I think is a fair attitude to have. I also think, secretly, as a ‘you go girl!’ style feminist, she’d be quite offended if someone offered her a seat as I think it would make her feel less empowered – she would politely refuse. However, she has, on very hot days, or days when the baby is kicking a lot, asked someone sitting down if she can have a seat, and that’s never been refused. If you don’t ask you don’t get!

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Lambzig June 11, 2012 at 4:31 am

I think it depends on whether the person who needs a seat can be seen. Here in the UK and I am in London, trains and buses can get very crowded, so if someone near the doors clearly needs a seat, but cant be seen by the people sitting down, I have heard a third party also standing say “Could someone let this pregnant lady sit down please” (or other obvious need) and a seat has been given and I think thats perfectly fine as long as a specific person is not targeted to give up their seat.

What I do find ridiculous though is when people complain about not being offered a seat (I have only heard pregnant women do this) when they haven’t asked for one. When I was pregnant with my daughter and felt that I needed a seat I would ask politely “Excuse me, could someone please let me have a seat?” I do not see the point of standing in discomfort, not saying anything and then feeling hard done by later. People on trains and buses are reading books, newspapers and staring out the window and may not notice your needs. I am now pregnant again and will ask again if I feel I need one (but accept if no-one offers that they may have their own need for a seat).

I almost always got a seat from a polite request except for one occasion when 8 months pregnant and commuting, where a very well dressed businessman working on a laptop looked up from his seat and said “I am busy working and you chose to get pregnant, why should I move for you” and went back to his work.

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Kira June 11, 2012 at 5:29 am

I agree about hidden handicaps. I have had to lower my head to stop people glaring at me because my disabilities are hidden and I am young. I only have about 6 conditions that each alone would consider me for disability alone. Only thing worth a do is keep an eye on the seating situation and when one becomes free save it and tell the person if they like there is something available.

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lkb June 11, 2012 at 6:24 am

Just a thought: Perhaps in that situation, you could strike up a slightly louder conversation with the expectant mother, hoping those seated will get the hint: “Oh my! When are you due? How are you feeling? I remember those days, I remember what it was like, my feet and back (or my spouse’s feet and back) were killing me…”
Of course, if it was an elderly person, you’d change the comment to fit. “Wow! Hot day, you must be tired with all those groceries etc. I wish this bus weren’t so crowded so you could have a seat…”
All this to be spoken just loud enough for immediate people to hear. If they take the hint, it’s all good. If not, then perhaps at least you’ve made a friend of the person you’ve tried to help.

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woohoo! June 11, 2012 at 7:53 am

I see no reason why a person can’t very loudly say, “hey folks, there is someone here who needs a seat, who has one to give up?” At least where I’m from, a 1/2 dozen people would jump to their feet if someone just brings it to their attention.

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BH June 11, 2012 at 8:17 am

I have to disagree with the Admin on this. Only on the clearing of the throat… She may ‘look’ obviously pregnant, but one shouldn’t assume – wouldn’t THAT be an etiquette faux pas? The younger man could have been a ‘gentleman’ and give up his seat to a ‘lady’ but there is nothing anyone should do if he doesn’t. The “obviously pregnant” woman could certainly clear her throat, or even ask nicely just as well.

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Decimus June 11, 2012 at 8:34 am

I agree about the hidden disabilities issue. I’d also agree with BH above, it is rude to assume that a person is pregnant or disabled. Also, on mass transit I find that often people are off in their own mental world, even if they aren’t visibly reading, listening to music, etc. People just don’t SEE other people.

I think if someone with a cane or walker or other clearly visible disability comes on, it’s fine to make a general “Will anyone give up their seat?” announcement. That way you aren’t singling out the apparently healthy person who may have a hidden disability. For pregnant ladies, it may be up to them to make the request, simply because it would be rude to assume they ARE pregnant.

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Shannon June 11, 2012 at 8:57 am

Frankly, I do not understand how it’s okay to “be in your own world” while being out in the world. To me, it’s just plain poor manners to be oblivious. It is just not that hard to glance up from the earbuds and book once in a while to see what’s going on around you – it’s called situational awareness and it’s vital for both manners and safety. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone with earbuds jammed in place, walking into traffic or bumping into others.)

I ride the DC Metro daily. I routinely offer my seat to the elderly, pregnant, someone with a large amount of packages, or even if someone seems tired or they have a job that makes them be on their feet all day (Starbucks uniform = take my seat). And I’m not sure why anyone has to make a production out of it – a simple, “Would you like to sit down?” is more than sufficient, saying, “Because you’re pregnant,” could be disastrous if the woman isn’t actually pregnant.

One thing that’s always baffled me is that I’ve never observed a young man in professional attire giving up his seat for a pregnant woman. I’ve seen women do it, I’ve seen older men do it, and I’ve seen men in jeans do it. But there’s something about a business suit that turns men into utter dinks. I wonder why that is – any theories?

Finally, and this might just be a dumb peeve of mine, but it makes me absolutely bonkers when commuters decide their bags need their own seat, vs holding them on their laps. This means that passengers are left standing when there should be seats available. Dude, I guarantee your duffel hasn’t been on its feet all day and isn’t nearly as tired as I am. So how about moving the bag so I can sit? (I simply go up to these people, give the bag a pointed look, and say, “May I sit down?”)

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Huh June 11, 2012 at 9:19 am

I witnessed something like this at a busy restaurant where people were crowded in the lobby section, waiting on tables. Two little kids sat down on one of the benches, and another woman was loudly complaining about how kids aren’t being raised to respect their elders, they shouldn’t be sitting down when there were older people needing to be seated, etc. The mother of the kids just ignored her. I just felt weird throughout the whole exchange – I hate passive-aggressive shows.

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Bint June 11, 2012 at 9:51 am

“What I do find ridiculous though is when people complain about not being offered a seat (I have only heard pregnant women do this) when they haven’t asked for one”

Indeed, and I also find ridiculous people being offended at being offered a seat. This is like women who complain when men hold doors for them and claim they are being feminist. Save that for when you’re told to get home and cook your husband’s dinner, not for simple good manners.

All this ‘just because they don’t look disabled’ is fair enough, but the person who needs a seat should ask. If the person they ask cannot offer it, they can say so. You shouldn”t stand up in discomfort just in case that healthy-looking person happens to be disabled as well. Just ask politely. There’s no faux pas in that.

I half-fainted on the Cairo Metro once and woah! I have never been offered so many seats in my life! Love that metro.

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Cat June 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

Things have not changed much over the centuries. There’s a wonderful story about the early Olympic games.
Men were seated according to their city-state as no women were allowed to attend. (All atheletes were nude so women couldn’t be present.) An old man was searching for a seat, but all the seats were taken. As he made his painful way around the stadium, people noticed his plight and began to laugh.
When he reached the Spartans, they stood as if they were all one man and each offered the old man his seat. Those who had been mocking the old man broke into applause.
Spartans were known for their courtesy-and for their horrible food, but that is another story.

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Pam June 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

I agree with those who say “let a person ask for themselves if they want a seat.” In my opinion it would be rude to ask people to give up a seat for someone who might not even want it . Also a bus may be a “public” place but I would not like a stranger to ask me personal questions loudly across the space… even if the intentions were good.

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anonymous June 11, 2012 at 10:02 am

I agree completely.

On one hand, for a period before and after some much needed back surgery, I desperately needed a seat on trains and buses, but because I look young and healthy, I’d get glared at in the priority seats and never be offered a seat if none were free. What made it worse is that if there are a lot of people getting on, and just a few free seats, those with “invisible” handicaps who need them won’t get them, because the fastest people get there first and don’t notice anyone who is not obviously elderly, infirm or pregnant. I’ve been on trains with nausea and oncoming migraines and not gotten a seat when I was desperate for one (but looking young and healthy, I didn’t want to ask for one, so I just suffered through it – oh well).

On the other hand, when my in-laws visited, we were on a very crowded train to a popular weekend destination. My father-in-law can stand, but MIL really can’t – arthritis and a bad hip, which she had replaced not long after she visited. Nobody on the train gave her a seat, although I tried to lobby for one, people just ignored me (I was pretty direct). If she’d had to stand the entire way, it would have been “OK” but would have limited her mobility for the rest of the day. One seat became available down the crowded car – I raced for it, got there to find a young man taking it, and breathlessly told him my mother in law with a bad hip really needed it. Fortunately, he got up and I could get MIL into the seat.

(I had to do all of this, not DH, because we live in a Chinese-speaking country and I speak better and more fluent Chinese than he does).

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Angel June 11, 2012 at 10:12 am

When I take public transport, I offer my seat when there is one to offer. But I agree with the admin, if you are standing already there’s not a heck of a lot you can do. And personally, if I’m tired from doing a lot of walking all day (and I am a perfectly able bodied person) I would resent it if someone who got on after me and asked me to give up my seat for somebody else–who also got on after me. Unless the person is obviously frail/elderly/pregnant or whatever, that would be annoying. Although it would be much less annoying if the frail/elderly/pregnant person asked me themselves. Then I wouldn’t have any problem giving up the seat.

I guess I just have a problem with people policing everybody else. What gives you the right to determine who should give up their seat and who gets a seat? Just mind your own business already!

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Calliope June 11, 2012 at 10:22 am

I believe that a person who wants a seat should ask for one, but people occupying the seats should also notice when someone else needs a seat and offer without being asked. Passengers who pretend to be absorbed in a book or, worse yet, asleep, so they can comfortably ignore the needs of others are a major peeve of mine. In my city, it’s not uncommon to see a passenger “sleeping” across two or three seats on a train. It drives me crazy.

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Aiza June 11, 2012 at 10:51 am

I’m dismayed that people on here would ever consider being so presumptive as to instruct a complete stranger how to behave on public transport. They are not a child that you’re bringing up and you are not their parent, it’s absolutely not your place to teach them courtesy. That’s just impossibly rude and tacky.

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Calliope June 11, 2012 at 11:18 am

Oh, Shannon, I am with you on every single one of your points. Well said. It’s funny that you bring up the business suit thing; while I was pregnant, I noticed that almost all the people who offered their seats to me were women my mother’s age and older. A couple of times, passengers for whom I would have given up my seat offered me theirs. (I politely declined.) But I was never offered a seat by anyone much under 60, and men in business suits, along with women in their 20s and 30s, usually stared right through me as if I did not exist. I had complications with my pregnancy that made standing for long periods difficult at best and, at worst, dangerous, so I was always prepared to ask for a seat if none were offered, but seats were always offered…by women twice my age. I guess women never forget what it’s like to be pregnant.

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GroceryGirl June 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

I agree with Admin. I was subjected to a passive-agressive tirade (a “I don’t what’s wrong with kids today” type thing spoken from one elderly lady to another directly over my head) following a knee surgery that made it very difficult to stand for an extended time and especially difficult to maintain balance on a moving subway. I was both humiliated and infuriated by their presumption combined with the fact that they wouldn’t actually ASK me to move but assumed I ought to anyway. In the end I turned up my iPod and they moved on down the car.

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lkb June 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Wildly off topic but cynical me had to respond to this:

Cat wrote: “Spartans were known for their courtesy-and for their horrible food, but that is another story.”

There’s a chain of grocery stores in my area called Spartan stores…

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Amanda H. June 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Once again, I think Admin is spot on. If you’re not the disabled/elderly/pregnant person or the person with the seat, there’s not much you can really do, without possibly getting on someone’s nerves. And as others have said, there’s always the chance that whoever “needed” the seat didn’t actually want it.

I know when I was heavily pregnant on trains, I certainly appreciated offers of seats because my back and lower belly were aching by that point. But once I had my baby and was riding on those same trains with her in a sling, it was actually much better for me to stand, despite repeated, insistent offers that I have a seat. Thing was, the baby absolutely hated it if I wasn’t moving, so when I was on my feet I could fake it by turning or slightly swaying, even jiggling her comfortably, but if I were to sit she’d quickly catch on that we weren’t in motion anymore and become a screaming terror for the duration of the train ride. I much preferred my sanity and preserving the eardrums of those around me by remaining on my feet and thus keeping her quiet. Plus it was kind of fun to stand on trains, since I grew up in a small town with no public transit to speak of and never had the chance to stand on trains or buses as a kid.

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CanadaLes June 11, 2012 at 1:10 pm

I was once on a crowded bus, standing near the back, when a very pregnant woman got on. She looked hot and exhausted, but no one gave her a seat. The bus driver got up and said, “I am not driving this bus anywhere until someone gives this woman a seat!” Someone did, and she gratefully took it. I was impressed with the bus driver, but disgusted that no one thought to do it on their own!

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girl_with_all_the_yarn June 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm

The only time I’ve ever not given up a seat on the train was after I had knee surgery. I couldn’t safely stand on the train or get down from the raised platform where the non-handicapped seats were (in case you were wondering, the raises platform hides the totally amazing suspension system, but I digress), so I sat in the handicapped seats. An older man (I’d say gentleman but he clearly wasn’t) came up to me and demanded I give him my seat. There were easily ten other people who could have given up seats – and one of them did try to give up his seat but this old man demanded mine – but he singled out the one person with crutches and yelled at me until a transit cop escorted him off the train.

I’d even tried scooting over into the spot the nice man who tried giving up *his* seat had, but this guy was having none of it. I usually give up my seat for older people, but not this time.

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amyasleigh June 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm

I don’t think Shannon and Calliope would regard me with favour — mostly, on public transport, I am truly absorbed in my book, and paying minimal attention to what goes on around me. I’m not over-keen on people, or on interacting with them, in real life; on the Net, it’s a different story. OK — I’m a monster fostered by late-20th / early 21st-century detrimental developments.

I’m oldish, but physically fit. I’ll give up my seat on transport, if required, to someone whose physical need is obviously greater than mine; but it tends to be necessary for the facts of that situation to be aggressively thrust in my face, for me to become aware of it. I basically don’t much like people, and blot them out from my consciousness, as much as I can.

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sweetonsno June 11, 2012 at 1:21 pm

I see another option. Enlist the help of the bus driver. He or she does have the authority to ask someone to leave a reserved seat if that person doesn’t meet the requirements for using it. I’ve seen bus drivers do that before. The driver is also more likely to know which riders have a hidden disability vs. those who simply do not wish to stand. (Obviously, your experience may vary. In my neck of the woods, most drivers recognize their “regulars” and would know if one of them needed priority seating.)

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Jane June 11, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Just this past week, there was a story here about a teenage girl with scoliosis who had no outward signs of being handicapped. An older man kicked in her car and accused her of being lazy. There is just no way to know what’s going on with the person who’s sitting.

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Michelle M. June 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm

@Shannon–

You are my hero! Completely, 100% agree with everything you said. :)

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travestine June 11, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I disagree with the admin on this one. It’s an extreme example, but there is a saying “evil happens when good (wo)men stay silent”. As a society, we need to look out for each other.

Not all persons who appear to need a seat actually want one. First, I would make the enquiry whether the standing person WANTS a seat. If the answer is ‘yes’, then I would make the request, quietly, to someone sitting in a designated seat if they would mind giving it up. At that point, the seated person is free to state that they themselves need the seat.

The situation doesn’t need to become confrontational, nor passisve-agressive by attempting to “shame” the seated person into standing.

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Calliope June 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm

I do think it’s rude–passively rude, but rude–to be so absorbed in a book, a phone, or a daydream in public that you pay no attention to the people around you. I’m a reserved, quiet person, and a bookworm to boot, but I still make sure that my own little world has a window in it, so I can remain aware of my surroundings. That doesn’t mean I go out of my way to interact with strangers on trains and buses, but it does mean that I notice when another passenger appears to need my seat, and I offer it.

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Shannon June 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm

amyasleigh, honestly, unless you have an absolutely crippling form of social anxiety, it is just not that hard to glance up from your book and take a look around when passengers are boarding a bus or train. I do a quick scan each morning while listening to my music and reading the newspaper – “Okay, here’s someone who could use my seat,” or, “Plenty of seats left, I’m fine.” It takes all of two seconds, then I’m back to my paper.

I think all of us could stand to be more situationally aware. It takes just a little bit of effort to hold open an elevator door because you hear someone behind you in the lobby, or to stand to the side when someone is clearly late and running for their train, or to let someone in the grocery line go ahead of you when they have one item and you have a whole cart full. It’s these little courtesies that make life more pleasant, and they cost nothing.

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Meg June 11, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I am another that has “hidden disabilities” and catches public transport. I’ve found people use two tactics to ask for seats:
Tactic A: Give me dirty looks, grumbling, huffing and sighing. – These people get ignored.
Tactic B: Directly asking me if they can have my seat. – These people get a polite reply of “I’m sorry, I actually require the seat but perhaps someone else will be able to give you theirs.” Most people just accept this and then someone else will usually offer theirs.
If I get on and there are no available seats, firstly, I wait a stop or two to see if one becomes available, if not I find that a simple “Is anyone able to let me take their seat?” works a treat.
Weren’t we all taught as children that if we wanted something then we should “Use our words” and ask for it? I was and it has served me well.

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Another Alice June 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm

In defense of those who absorb themselves in books/music on commutes: When living in a major metro area, you are surrounded by hoards of people 24/7. Even when you go home, you most likely live in an apartment building where, though it might not be immediately in your “space,” you may you hear your neighbors talking, playing music, etc. Basically, it’s VERY difficult to get any peace, and it’s extremely difficult to be 100% alone and in quiet. Yes, people choose to live in these areas, but if you spent the 1 – 2 hours per day on your commute looking and absorbing every single amount of stimuli, you would go insane within a couple of weeks. ;-) It’s basically self-preservation to be able to turn off your surroundings. In addition, for those with families or busy lives, their commute may be the only time of day they have to just sit and read or listen to music. It’s silly to suggest that getting absorbed into an activity in public is rude. Then we shouldn’t read books or magazines at the hair dressers or in the park, just in case someone within 10 feet may need assistance? As many have said, all it takes is a simple, “May I have this seat please?” to draw someone’s attention. I think it’s rather rude to assume that when you enter a train or bus, everyone should immediately size you up and assess whether you need anything. If only the world were like that!

I’ve learned over the years of experience with insane public transportation to sharpen my offering of my seats. Older men tend to be insulted; older women and anyone with lots of bags usually smile and accept; pregnant women are 50/50. If anyone asks, I stand up; I offer when there’s a good chance they’ll be grateful and not insulted. I myself have to carry tons of huge, awkward-to-carry supplies on the subway often for my job. If I’m offered a seat (doesn’t happen a lot anyway), I often decline because the ride is short and it’s a lot harder to get up and readjust all that junk to carry than it is just to stand for a little bit. Bottom line: Always a good thing to ask, but no, you can’t ask other people to OR, in my opinion, feel to badly if someone you think may want a seat refuses to ask. They may have their reasons for not asking.

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karen June 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm

I spent last winter in a walking cast, and I navigated public transportation every day. I’m a healthy fit looking young woman, and I choose to believe that many people simply didn’t notice that I had one snow boot and one stability boot. If I had my cane with me (on the icy days) I would almost always have a seat, because the cane is a lot more noticeable.

Usually, I managed without a seat, but there were a few days when I had a particularly tough PT session, and I actually asked for a seat. That experience DID make me a lot more conscience of the people on the train with me- I actually look around to see if someone needs the seat more than I do.

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Echo June 11, 2012 at 6:12 pm

Sitting was extrememly uncomfortable for me in my last month of pregnancy, so I had the rather lovely problem of having to decline repeated offers of seats. But there was this one time when someone on my bus yelled at a high school student for not offering me his seat. The bus wasn’t full, I thought it was apparent that I was standing by choice, but the guy blasted this poor kid so badly that he ended up standing for the rest of the ride, even though I insisted over and over (and ended up telling the man that he was the one being rude) that I didn’t want it. The whole thing still leaves a bad taste in my mouth so for that reason I agree emphatically with admin.

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Otter June 11, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I’ve been that woman, 6 months pregnant and dying to sit down while a whole train full of people stared at me and my protruding belly. I was literally standing at the very front holding onto a pole and had to face towards the entire car, or have my face pressed against the front window. Not one able bodied male or female person offered me their seat. They all made dull, slack-jawed eye contact with me though. It was an excruciating 45 minute ride with pregnancy induced sciatica to boot. I’ll never forget, or forgive!

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Lydia June 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm

I agree with sweetonsno, if you are concerned about the person’s condition, get the bus driver to help. I have an ‘invisible’ disability, and I get claustrophobic and anxious on crowded buses so I always have my iPod and sunglasses on. When it is available, I will sit in one of the disability spots, as it reduces my anxiety levels. That being said, I will always get up if someone who needs a seat asks me, or if an elderly/disabled person comes on the bus. What gets me is how the priority seating for people with disabilities has turned into ‘I have a stroller, so you need to get out of my way and fold up the chairs for me’. The rule that is posted on the bus is that if it’s crowded, you fold up the stroller and carry your kid – yet how many people still barge on in standee conditions and take up 2-3 seats for their stroller? There was one time when there had been 3 major accidents in town, so the buses were about an hour late, and people were being squashed in like sardines. When we got to the first terminal, a lady with a stroller got on and said quite loudly “Well someone’s gotta move.” Made the other passengers squish further back to park her big stroller. And then proceeded to whine and complain about how crowded the bus was and “they aren’t seriously gonna take the bus on the highway like this.” I’m perched up on the newspaper box thinking “Lady, if it’s that crowded, and you’re that concerned for your safety, take another bus.”

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SS June 11, 2012 at 9:14 pm

For the person that “is in their own world”…. if you are sitting in the seats that are marked for handicap/elderly, it is YOUR responsibility to vacate those seats if someone enters that needs them. I get so sick of riding the trains/els in Chicago and watch the first people onto the transit grab those seats then burrow their nose in book and ignore when the train fills up and a person with a cane is standing in front of them. If you take those seats, you need to be alert for someone that needs them. That’s why they are specially marked so that the people in those seats know that they must vacate when appropriate. They shouldn’t be asked, they should be offering.

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suzuki_dvr June 11, 2012 at 10:28 pm

amyasleigh, I’m with you! The default behaviour, at least in large cities, is to mind one’s own business and leave other people alone. And I’m comfortable with that. Breaking this rule goes against social norms, and it will lead to awkwardness at best and ugly confrontations at worst.

I see two interesting assumptions here. First, OP assumes that these supposedly seat-needing people are incapable of deciding what they want and speaking up for themselves. Second, OP assumes that it’s his/her samaritan duty to “help” by drawing copious public attention to them – attention that they may not want.

I can’t speak for others, but I would be very uncomfortable if a stranger created a public disturbance supposedly for my benefit.

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Irenaeus G. Saintonge June 11, 2012 at 11:32 pm

In terms of pregnancy, as a guy I adhere to the rule of “never ever even consider thinking about hinting that you think a woman might possibly be pregnant unless there is a baby coming out of her at that exact moment.”

Avoids a potentially embarrassing case of foot-in-mouth. ^_^

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Kira June 12, 2012 at 12:13 am

I actually would hate if someone loudly asked someone to give up a seat for me without asking me. I a usually quite self conscious as it is when I do need something that makes it apparent. Also assuming someone is pregnant. Usually you can tell in peoples faces if the lack of seating is an issue and there are more polite ways to not point out – hey this person is different, please do something to make it obvious even though I have no clue about it. I honestly think grabbing the next available seat and offering it is a good way – person might not be as fast to get there, and has the chance to decline without a big fuss. If two people try and go for the seat you can subtly tell them yo8u are actually going to offer to such a person and if they decline the other is more then welcome to the seat. Then if a person is in obvious distress you can ask if there is anyway you can assist them. I hate every day that my disability is thrown in my face even by the best of intentions. I don’t wan the entire bus to know and people think I am shaming them when I might be ok for a short ride.

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Rug Pilot June 12, 2012 at 12:35 am

I have had the same problem riding the bus in San Francisco. On one ride out to my destination I was thrown to the floor of the bus when it took off before I could find a seat. It took two people to lift me up again. On the way back I sat in the front where the disabled people and elderly sit. One elderly genetleman questioned my right to sit there. “Aren’t you in the wrong area?” he asked. “No” I then hobbled off the bus in a very large walking cast.

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amyasleigh June 12, 2012 at 1:47 am

An “across-the-board” tension here, between two opposed ways of tackling life. Put in extreme terms: alert concern for others, alias “busybodying”; and people being responsible for themselves, alias callous self-absorption. (Also, between different cultures, some tend strongly toward one approach, some toward the other.) I am very much one for the second category mentioned. Put this, in my previous post, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way. Can’t help feeling a bit of pleasure, at discovering others who consider that I have something of a valid point.

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River June 12, 2012 at 2:17 am

Bint – regarding people making a fuss because of someone holding the door open for them; my FIL loves telling this story. He opened a door for a woman one day and she scowled at him and said “Did you do that because I’m a woman?” to which he replied “No, I did it because I’m a gentleman.”

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Lambzig June 12, 2012 at 3:37 am

Incidentally, the people who complain about not being given a seat usually say that they are much to embarassed to ask for a seat (possibly a british thing?). It is a little embarassing, but I would rather be a bit embarassed than uncomfortable or risk my pregnancy (there have been studies linking miscarriage to commuting standing in overcrowded trains).

London Transport who run all the trains, tubes and buses in london give out “Baby on Board” badges for women to wear when they travel so that people know that they are pregnant and would like a seat. Personally, I think its more embarassing to wear the badge than to politely ask for a seat.

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The Elf June 12, 2012 at 6:52 am

Yeah, this is pretty much a no-win situation. In addition, the onus is on the pregnant woman, not a bystander, to ask for the seat. I know many who need the seat are reluctant to ask, but as one of those commuters, please ask! Sometimes I’m far away, zoning out to music or deep in a book and I just don’t see you. (Though I do make a point of not taking those reserved seats during rush hour.)

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Jenny June 12, 2012 at 6:55 am

I’m a woman so men will offer me seats sometimes, but as I sit at a desk all day, I don’t mind standing on public transportation. I will get up to offer seats to moms travelling with little kids, especially, as otherwise they have to hold onto the kid, the bags, and the bus/train. Also, I don’t push past others to sit.

It would be incredibly rude to ask someone else to stand. Although the one time I think it’s okay to call someone else out is when they are sitting on the outside seat and not letting anyone sit next to them or blocking a seat with their bag. That is just rude.

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Jenny June 12, 2012 at 7:01 am

(Someone else I mean, as a third party interfering in a situation. There’s the whole hidden disability issue, AND sometimes I’ll have a quick gestured conversation with the pregnant lady that a third passenger could miss going along the lines of me pointing and my seat and gesturing, her putting up a hand to say no. The offer and refusal can happen in about a second, and the third party could have missed it easily.)

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The Elf June 12, 2012 at 7:06 am

I completely agree with Another Alice: Commuting in DC is hell, no matter what you do. I’d rather take the subway/train/bus (I’ve done all three over the years) than drive, but it still isn’t a lot of fun to be pressed against people like sardines. My only retreat to stay sane is the music/book. Plus that horrible afternoon commute comes after 9 hours of working in a cube, surrounded by other people. My only sanctuary is my home, where it’s just the two of us and a backyard of trees. Over the years I’ve become a bit of a hermit, unwilling to even go out for dinner or run errands on the weekdays. It’s because I am completely, utterly, totally sick of other people by the time I finish my workday + commute. Shannon, maybe you’re just more extroverted than me, but if I remained so alert every commute, my nerves would be totally frayed.

Please, if you need my seat, ASK. In return, I promise not to sit in one of the few seats set aside for the elderly.

Shannon, my father (who wore a suit and rode the DC metro) is very observant like you. He is also an extrovert. Anyway, not only would he always volunteer his seat, but he’d then strike up a conversation with that person and have an enjoyable, convival ride home. He’s just friendly that way. I saw this in action many times when we commuted together. I am my father’s daughter in so many ways, but not that one!

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Chris June 12, 2012 at 7:36 am

I realise this will probably be an unpopular opinion.

I don’t use public transportation often. It’s incredibly inconvenient for me, typically. However my thoughts on offering seats are as follows: I will offer my seat only to someone who is clearly physically in need, IE the elderly, someone in a cast, etc. These people, even in the case of broken limbs, generally did not actively select the physical impairment that ails them. However, I will NOT offer my seat to a pregnant woman for a few reasons. 1) I risk dismemberment. If the woman is NOT pregnant, I have just insulted her. If she IS pregnant, she may still be insulted. 2) The pregnancy was, allowing only an exception for sexual assault related pregnancies which are rare, her decision. I have to live with the consequences of my decisions and so should she.

Now, while the times when I will actively OFFER my seat are/were limited, if someone politely asks me, directly, if I will give them my seat, I would happily do so, even for the pregnant woman.

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