Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Collective rudeness

Every Monday and Tuesday morning, I walk to the closest commuter rail station in my town and wait for the train that will take me into the city.

Every Monday and Tuesday morning, the train is packed...the reality is that it just looks packed. One side of the train is three passenger seats while the other side is two passenger seats. The two passenger side is usually filled and the three passenger side is actually two passengers sitting on the ends with their stuff in the empty space between them.

The view as you get on the train is pretty funny and I only wish I had the nerve to take a picture someday. Basically it is the view of the top of every one of those seated passengers' heads as they keep their heads down and hope that someone else will offer up their seat. Most times, the people getting on the train at my stop just stand rather than ask anyone to move over. It should also be noted that should you ask someone to let you sit down in the empty space, they will sigh, usually glare at you, and then get all the way out of their seat so you can climb in, rather than just sliding over the 14 inches into the next space.

It has been this way for as long as I have traveled on the commuter rail. The thing is, if you were to meet each of those people on the train individually, you might come to the conclusion that most, if not all, of them are relatively polite people...not at all the collectively rude crowd that they come off as a group. And I will admit; I have been one of them. I travel to work with my headphones on and am usually checking my iPhone or reading a paper and though I am aware of the stops the train makes, I rarely look up to see who is looking for a seat. So I am guilty as well.

So, with all of that in mind, it really shouldn’t annoy me so much that when I got onto the train this morning with my very, obviously large pregnant belly, not one person who looked up at me even made an attempt to offer me a place to sit down. I am trying very hard not to feel entitled to a seat…but I just can’t help myself. It makes me LIVID that I had to stand up in front of everyone and basically announce that I was very apologetic, but that I needed a place to sit, so could someone please move for me. Even with the announcement, I was met by blank stares (while they all hoped that someone else would step forward) until finally, after a multi-second pause, a woman gave up her seat for me. An older woman…surrounded by young and older professional men and women who continued to ignore me.

It isn’t just pregnant women who get the shaft…I’ve been on the train with a 3 year old and gotten the same averted-eyes syndrome until finally a spot was found for him to sit…right next to a person who reacted as though the 3 year old must have been covered in scabs under his clothes based on the passenger’s attempts to get as far away from the 3 year old as possible.

Now, I know that in lieu of making an announcement of my seating needs, I could have easily asked one specific person to let me sit, but that puts me in an incredibly awkward situation as I peruse the crowd for the person who is looking down at their shoelaces the least in hopes that they will be the least offended by my request. In the future I will most likely go that route because as I have already stated, it seems that people are much more polite one on one than as a mass crowd**.

Of course, the other alternative would be to take the bus to the subway where interestingly enough, to date, I have been offered a seat every time. Which BEGS the question; what makes the people on the commuter rail so much less inclined to offer up their seats than the people on the bus or the subway? Is it THEIR sense of entitlement? They paid more so they expect more?

Who knows…all I know is that no matter how wrong it may be for me to feel like people should at least acknowledge my current condition, that’s how I feel. It bugs me that I feel that way, but I do. So I guess the next thing to do is embrace it and know that I’m just as wrong as those people on the train and maybe that knowledge can help me to forgive them for their rudeness.


** Ironically, this theory was just argued in our lunchtime discussion today on the paper: ‘Quantum Probability Explanation for Violations of ‘Rational’ Decision Theory’ (yeah…I work with math nerds)


  1. I ride the bus every day and it irritates me to no end that people don't give up their seats especially for really old people who are barely hanging on as the bus tosses them around while some 9-year old sits there ignoring them. (phew, run on sentence!) This makes me curious. At what age do you think kids should be giving up their seats for other people?

  2. Good question...obviously, as with everything in life, there is no black and white answer. Kids can get thrown about on a bus just as much as the rest of us, if not more. I know the rules for kids in a car is that they are supposed to be in a car seat until they are 100 lbs...which always makes me laugh because I know a couple of 16 year old's who are only 100 lbs!!

    So...I guess my answer would be it depends on how big the kid is, and how many other people around him would be thrown around less by getting up...i.e. maybe the kid's mom or the guy across the aisle should get up for the older person.

  3. Heather UerlingsTue May 25, 07:18:00 PM

    It's actually a psychological phenomenon, the more people that are in the crowd, the less likely an individual will offer help. It's because each person feels it's another individuals responsibility rather than their own, so, in any situation your better singling people out.