Politeness Enforcement August 28, 2010 11:06 AM   Subscribe

The highly popular queue jumping post by garius made it into Oliver Burkeman's column in the Guardian weekend magazine today.

It was Burkeman who previously cited tangerine's popular post on ask vs guess culture. So a regular lurker or is he a signed up member?
posted by biffa to MetaFilter-Related at 11:06 AM (121 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

Looks like he's a recently signed up member.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:10 AM on August 28, 2010


You can tell he's not very active on here by the way he spelled megafiller.
posted by gman at 11:17 AM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sort of an odd conclusion to the article. Peaceable social norms enforcement through a good little parable and some passive-aggressive discouragement, ok sure. But 'revenge is sweet'?
posted by carsonb at 11:17 AM on August 28, 2010


Wow. Oliver Burkeman sounds like a dick.

Mr. Burkeman, some of us sit on subway trains in ways that discourage others from sitting next to us when there are plenty of other empty seats because we're claustrophobic. Or have an injured shoulder or ribs. Or stink after a hard day of work in the sun and are trying to do you a favor in helping you keep your distance. Some of us put our bags on the seats next to us when there are plenty of other empty seats because our knee or back is fucked up and picking it up from the ground hurts too much and putting it on our knees makes matters worse for us. And lastly, some of us sit with our legs spread wider when there are plenty of other empty seats because our balls are huge. I've done all of these things when there are plenty of other empty seats. I've also given my seat to the elderly and pregnant when my leg's been in a cast. Or when I'm literally falling asleep on my ride home. Or when I see someone who appears to have a bum leg, a bad back, or a heavy bag and mine, for that day at least, are fine or normal.

You fashion yourself as some sort of hero or vigilante but to people slogging their way to or from work, injured or beaten or tired or worn, when there there are plenty of other empty seats, you're another ass that makes another day of figurin' out how to fuckin' live that much more difficult.
posted by dobbs at 11:53 AM on August 28, 2010 [14 favorites]


Well, somebody sounds like a dick, that's for sure.
posted by languagehat at 11:58 AM on August 28, 2010 [34 favorites]


On the day he joined (May 9th), he said in MetaTalk:

I'm coming late to this thread, but it seems as good a time as any to delurk on Metafilter. (Though I've posted here in another guise a bit in the past.)
posted by msalt at 11:59 AM on August 28, 2010


And lastly, some of us sit with our legs spread wider when there are plenty of other empty seats because our balls are huge.

Is this a metaphor?
posted by fryman at 12:16 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mr. Burkeman, some of us sit on subway trains in ways that discourage others from sitting next to us when there are plenty of other empty seats because we're claustrophobic.

Take the bus, son.
posted by atrazine at 12:36 PM on August 28, 2010


...this is why no one can stand a Lawful Good character.
posted by griphus at 12:42 PM on August 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


Is this a metaphor?

My point is that Mr. Burkeman has no clue why people are sitting in ways that discourage others from sitting next to them when there are plenty of other empty seats. But his conclusion seems to be it's because they're selfish and he's not, so he's going to teach them some manners by sitting next to them anyway. There are many legit reasons people don't want someone to sit next to them when the vehicle is nowhere near capacity. I could understand Burkeman's behavior on a packed vehicle when someone has a bag on an empty seat (I do likewise and ask them to move it), but he mentions specifically that this is not the case, but rather that he takes pleasure in getting close to those who don't want to be close to anyone when there is plenty of room for him to sit elsewhere. He touts this action as if it's applaudable, when, really, doing so insults these people (by implying they're selfish) and, possibly, causes them mental or physical discomfort. To me, this is the very definition of being a dick.

Take the bus, son.

I have no idea what this means. Where I live, buses and streetcars are more packed than subways. Regardless, Burkeman's article is not about packed vehicles. A claustrophobic person, or someone with another phobia (germs, contact, whatever) has every right to take public transport. Believe me, they understand that if they do and it happens to be busy, they will suffer. But most that I know, myself included, go out of their way to travel at times when the vehicles are as empty as they're going to be. And then, with so many empty seats, they sit in a fashion that doesn't invite company. There's nothing wrong or selfish about this behaviour.

I'd posit that Burkeman would be a happier traveler if he ignored these people and just gave them the benefit of the doubt: that they're not being selfish; that they are, in fact, in some sort of distress, whether it be physical, mental, or imaginary, and just mind his own damn business and take one of the many other empty seats.
posted by dobbs at 12:58 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


You fashion yourself as some sort of hero or vigilante

I was thinking more of "mild humourist", but yeah, now you mention it the cape did seem a bit incongruous.
posted by djgh at 1:13 PM on August 28, 2010


No, there's a definite hero thing going on here. "I'm stopping civilisation collapsing," he writes. No, he isn't. He's annoying people that he has decided deserve to be annoyed, and he's getting no small amount of gratification from it.

So I'm riding with dobbs on this one (though not too close). In this article, Burkeman strikes me as a self-congratulatory jerk, particularly when he claims he's doing this all in the name of "justice." Yes, it's a trivial little article. And I'm not going to worry much about it. But I hope it doesn't inspire anyone else to become a judge, jury and executioner for all perceived breaches of etiquette. I don't know about you, but I tend to get a little prickly whenever justice is being doled out by someone so cocksure. So, I guess I'm riding with Yeats on this one, too: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity."

(Moreover, I find his conflation between "altruistic punishment" and "justice" disturbing, particularly in the ease he seems to swap one for the other. But that may be a topic for another day.)
posted by .kobayashi. at 1:28 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


He's annoying people that he has decided deserve to be annoyed, and he's getting no small amount of gratification from it.

He will fit in well here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:40 PM on August 28, 2010 [92 favorites]


He should link to the original post, so people could also hear the story of the thrown punch resulting in an arrest. That important detail gets lost in the story unfortunately, since I thought it was an even sweeter bit of karmic justice.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 1:43 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


No, there's a definite hero thing going on here. "I'm stopping civilisation collapsing"

I'd be willing to bet that he doesn't literally believe that he's preventing civilisation collapsing, and that his tongue is very much in his cheek at this point.

Maybe we should just ask him?
posted by djgh at 1:45 PM on August 28, 2010


Although having said that, read the following and juxtapose.
posted by djgh at 1:49 PM on August 28, 2010


Well, somebody sounds like a dick, that's for sure.

I agree with you completely. Somebody does.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:23 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


*makes a mental note of the size of dobbs' balls, for possible future Metafilter trivia question*
posted by onlyconnect at 2:33 PM on August 28, 2010


If you're hogging an extra train seat with your bags, I'll probably ask to sit there, even if others are free.

Mr. Burkeman sounds like one of the drivers who, when there is a lane drop in traffic, straddles both lanes to 'punish' anyone behind him that might be in the open lane, somehow thinking that the late merger is taking unfair advantage of him. It's a little over the top to think that putting your bag on the seat of a half empty train is deserving of some punitive act.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:50 PM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, somebody sounds like a dick, that's for sure.

I am suddenly struck by the realization that the human penis doesn't actually make sounds. So where did the saying come from?
posted by nomadicink at 2:53 PM on August 28, 2010


maybe YOURS doesn't.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:59 PM on August 28, 2010


Wait til he gets to his column next week about taters.....
posted by ish__ at 3:00 PM on August 28, 2010


I am suddenly struck by the realization that the human my penis doesn't actually make sounds.

Coming soon on the Nature channel: The Song of the Dong.
posted by Forktine at 3:02 PM on August 28, 2010


I am suddenly struck by the realization that the human penis doesn't actually make sounds.

Urm, you're doing it wrong?

I'm sorry, everyone.
posted by pazazygeek at 3:22 PM on August 28, 2010


The giant balls thing amuses me and someday, perhaps after a night out, I'm going to end up going down a row of men with giant balls and suddenly close their legs - snap, snap snap- smiling all the while.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:34 PM on August 28, 2010


I am suddenly struck by the realization that the human penis doesn't actually make sounds. So where did the saying come from?

Reminds me of Russell Peters describing what a 'fuck face' is.
posted by gman at 3:41 PM on August 28, 2010


Metafilter: I'm stopping civilisation collapsing

Or perhaps The Grauniad: I'm stopping civilisation collapsing
posted by TedW at 3:42 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dobbs is dead right, by the way.

Oliver Brukeman isn't wrong, in concept, but the specifics he chose were; asking me to move my belongings when there are enough other seats isn't reinforcing polite behavior, it is being a pain in my ass when I've done nothing that affects you or anyone else in any way. So cram it. The "Knee Defender" thing is a bit neat, and people who do the begrudging stop at a crosswalk are being dicks, but if there are more seats than people then it really isn't an issue.
posted by paisley henosis at 3:45 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


jumping queues and making haste just ain't my cuppa meat.
posted by jonmc at 3:46 PM on August 28, 2010


The Song of the Dong.

Mine's can occasionally be found letting rip with the chorus of Make it Rain. Which is why I like to call it Fat Joe.

OTOH, there are others who claim Lil' Weezy is a more fitting nickname.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:49 PM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Like any good columnist, Brukeman's first responsibility is to promote readership and sell newspaper, so being an asshole seems to be a means to and end.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Burkeman strikes me as akin to those people who get all up in the face of people who use handicapped parking spaces but don't appear to have an obvious, visible handicap. There are social issues at play here - people shouldn't use handicap parking when they don't need it, nor should people unnecessarily, selfishly take up public transit space. But why do these vigilantes of public wrongs always come off as such self-righteous douchebags? Where are the Politeness Enforcers for these people?
posted by fryman at 4:09 PM on August 28, 2010


I'm a pretty reasonable, quiet guy who generally keeps to himself in public. I've asked to sit next to people who put their bags on subway seats when other seats were empty. Because people who put their bags on seats in subways, simply, are dicks. I took the train every day for almost 10 years, and I saw no end of people with their feet on seats, bags all over the place, using seats as tables, etcetc. I heartily endorse the principle of "take up as little room as possible while in public." You have bad knees? The floor is always in front of you, drop your bag there. You have big balls? Stand, motherfucker, because nobody's balls are that big.

Because for every person who takes a seat with their bag when the car is empty, there are 10 who will do the same when an 80 year old woman is practically passing out from standing in a packed subway car while too polite or reticent to ask for the seat.

Don't want to be lumped in with those assholes? Don't put your shit on seats, no matter the population of the car.

Now, walking too slowly in a crosswalk because a car pulled up in a manner that the author perceived as too fast? Passive-aggressive bs.
posted by nevercalm at 4:42 PM on August 28, 2010


Those people with their shit on the seats aren't moving their shit when the bus fills up. They're staking a claim on space they're not entitled to for when it does get crowded.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:54 PM on August 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, people who place their bags on the seat next to them suck. I just put some ketchup on my nose and hands and lightly spray myself with vinegar every morning and go about my day.
posted by Dumsnill at 5:00 PM on August 28, 2010


And lastly, some of us sit with our legs spread wider when there are plenty of other empty seats because our balls are huge.
Listen, mr wide stance, that shit excuse didn't work for Larry Craig, and its not gonna work for you.

Ive ridden public transport for a good portion of my life, and people generally stay away from males if they can avoid it. The only reason people sit next to dudes is because ther are no available seats next to less creepy people.

You paid for 1 seat, you don't get to take someone else's because you feel as if your day was worse than anybody else's.

You sound like you're new to riding public transport. Why not treat others as you would want to be treated when you want to have a seat in a crowded car, and some dude has a lunch bag on the seat next to his?
posted by hal_c_on at 6:26 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The eponysterical Nevercalm wrote: I'm a pretty reasonable, quiet guy who generally keeps to himself in public. I've asked to sit next to people who put their bags on subway seats when other seats were empty. Because people who put their bags on seats in subways, simply, are dicks.

Or their backs hurt, or they're unwell and every motion makes them feel ill, or (as another poster pointed out) they're claustrophobic. Or perhaps they just want their bag in a convenient place - remember, we're presuming that there are plenty of spaces available, so why not? The good thing is that when you ask to sit next to someone like that it's quite obvious what you're doing. There are any number of reasons why the seat's occupant may be behaving that way, but your actions are susceptible of only one explanation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:23 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


If you're too claustrophobic to sit next to somebody else, you're too claustrophobic for public transportation.
posted by enn at 7:29 PM on August 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know what, nevercalm, screw you. I have a bad hip and it hurts like hell to bend over to pick my bag up off the floor. I'm also way more comfortable if I can prop my leg up. I ONLY put my leg up if there are plenty of seats, and I ONLY put my bag up if there are plenty of seats. Else, I will endure. But you know what? Making me endure pain because YOU think I'm not entitled to a little bit of comfort after a long day, or before I have to go teach for six hours? That is being an asshat if I've ever heard of being an asshat.
posted by strixus at 7:43 PM on August 28, 2010 [7 favorites]

Those people with their shit on the seats aren't moving their shit when the bus fills up. They're staking a claim on space they're not entitled to for when it does get crowded.
That's not necessarily so. If a train or bus is empty enough that everyone boarding can pick their own row, then I generally put my bag where I can rummage through it. If it becomes crowded enough that folks will be sharing rows, then I move my bag between my feet. It's not that complex a calculation.

The local trains have a similar arrangement with moving the seat-backs. On some of the train types you can push the seat back so that two rows face one another. This is nice because you can face your traveling companion(s) and it feels less cramped, but it can result in knee-bumping if you fill both rows. When the train is full, there's generally an announcement asking people not to move the seat-backs. When there's space, it's a convenience and when there isn't, you put them back.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:56 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know what, nevercalm, screw you. I have a bad hip and it hurts like hell to bend over to pick my bag up off the floor.

So sorry, snowflake. Great rule of thumb, there's always someone who has it worse off than you. You and your filthy propped up feet could be infecting someone with an autoimmune disease who sits on that seat after you, no?
posted by nevercalm at 8:05 PM on August 28, 2010


Perhaps it would make sense for people who need to sit for medical reasons to use the priority seating generally available for people who need to sit for medical reasons.

I've asked people to move their bags before and I will continue to do so in the future. If someone told me that moving their bag would result in pain, I'd be okay with them leaving their bag on the seat. No one has ever said anything like that to me. Yet.

I've also been the one standing when I could barely walk due to injuries to both of my heels. I didn't ask to sit, so I didn't get a seat. I've also been the one to stand up and let someone have my seat when they looked like they could have used it. There are a lot of people who wait for someone else to stand up. There are a lot of people who have reasons they need to sit down. We could ask a medical person to do triage on every subway car and every bus and then we'd know who got first dibs, but that would be ludicrous.

Please stop calling one another names, it makes what you're saying less useful.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:30 PM on August 28, 2010


You and your filthy propped up feet could be infecting someone with an autoimmune disease who sits on that seat after you, no?

....Um....no. Autoimmune diseases are not contagious.

But -- strixus, there are indeed people who DO do this and do NOT have bad backs or bad hips or bad knees or claustrophobia or the like. Those are the people who are ruining it for you, I would wager -- because they're not just screwing me out of a seat, they're screwing you out of people understanding your plight.

New York has a pretty sensible system in place, whereby certain seats on buses and subways are designated to be priority seating for the elderly or those with mobility issues. The MTA also does a pretty good job of pointing out that "you can't always visibly see if someone's handicapped," and ostensibly you're supposed to surrender that seat to someone elderly or handicapped if asked.

So, okay, sure, some people do indeed legitimately need some leniency. But the article in question was talking more about people like the three girls who took up seven seats on the subway one evening, spreading legs, books, and food across a whole row of the L train. I was recovering from having thrown my back out, I'd had a bad day at work, and I was pissed off -- and still feel absolutely no shred of guilt about walking over to them and asking them if I could sit on that seat right in the middle, eyeing them until they moved their burgers and homework aside so I could sit. ....Even though my stop was the very next one on the train.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:37 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those people with their shit on the seats aren't moving their shit when the bus fills up. They're staking a claim on space they're not entitled to for when it does get crowded.

I think they're trying to discourage people from choosing the spot near them out of all the possible spots. At work we have worker-driver buses where the transit authority lends the buses and the employees drive them. They're more like greyhound buses than city buses, but I see the same thing. First, all the window seats will fill up one at a time. (Occasionally someone sits by a friend to chat, since the seats are high and hard to talk around, but not often.) People will place their bags in the aisle seat, counting on the fact that as all the rows fill with singles, people coming on will sooner go to a seat with nothing on it.

The other strategy is to be the over-talkative and cheerful guy at 5am. Since most riders are regulars, that strategy works brilliantly in the long run.
posted by ctmf at 8:45 PM on August 28, 2010


I don't have a dong, but if I did, I'd wear a hammered brass codpiece so it could ring like a bell when I walked.

If you're going to be going around on the subway telling people they can't have their bags on the seat when there are plenty of other places where you can sit, you better be wearing a brass codpiece, too, along with your hall monitor sash, or your sanctimonious asshole hat. If you ASK to sit there, I'll figure you have a special reason to want that particular seat (maybe the window opens, or you get sick if you don't face front, or you need to be near the door) and I'll say "sure" and go sit somewhere else.

It is a social cue, easily read by most people. It says "don't choose this seat first". It doesn't mean nobody can sit there. There are lots of valid reasons why a person might want to communicate this without directly engaging you in a conversation about it, ranging from "don't ask me what I am reading" to "I prefer not to put my bag in the piss puddle" to "let's not talk about my nipples" to "I've been farting all morning and you won't like it".

Nobody needs manners lessons from someone who can't even pick up the chords of this really basic tune.

(hmm, after previewing, I feel I must say I am speaking to a theoretical "you", not picking a fight with any particular yous. I have also been a Volunteer Manners Mod asshole, so I am not pretending to be awesome or anything.)
posted by Sallyfur at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Christ, nevercalm, that sounds like a parody of something an asshole would say. Anyway, even the most immunocompromised of us don't normally catch infections through the seats of their trousers.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 9:46 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the hell is this vigilantism? I use the T all the damn time in Boston and Cambridge, and I'll tell you, sometimes you're packed like sardines, and other times there's maybe 4 people total in a car. Sometimes I have no bag, other times my bag weighs 30+ pounds.

I'll often sit, but as a healthy man in my 20s, I'm perfectly willing to stand. Assuming I have a bag at all, when there's hardly anyone at all, I will probably put it up on the seat next to me. Are people seriously saying that this is a problem? I'll tell you something, if this guy was on my subway car and pulled this sort of shit, I'd probably think he's insane. I'd probably give up my seat entirely rather than sit next to him, but then wander over to another expanse of 3-5 seats, and put my bag down on one of those.

Hell, why even stop there? Why not get sanctimonious about perfectly healthy people sitting down ever? "These assholes who'd sit when the subway car's nearly empty would also sit and deprive an elderly woman when it's full!"
posted by explosion at 9:55 PM on August 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


I've always acted under the rule that, if I put my bag on the seat next to me, I have to move it if someone asks me to (or, y'know, does the stand-and-point-with-a-"can I sit there?"-look). When I'm entering a crowded train, I behave as though everyone else is operating on the same principle. Works for me 99% of the time (one time I did the stand-and-point and just got an unsettling death-glare in return), so I guess YMMV.
posted by Zephyrial at 11:36 PM on August 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. It would never in a million years occur to me to be upset about someone putting their bags on the seat next to them when there were plenty of seats open. I can't imagine that kind of thinking. If someone insisted on sitting right next to me when they had other options, I'd be, "oh, great — perv or pickpocket," and I'd move. Now I can't read my book in peace because I have to keep half an eye on the creepy dude to make sure he doesn't escalate some shit. Yuck.

and I always move my stuff when seating becomes at all restricted, and I always give my seat to older people, women with kids, people trying to schlepp a ton of bags, or anyone at all who seems like they could use a break.
posted by taz at 2:41 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Because for every person who takes a seat with their bag when the car is empty, there are 10 who will do the same when an 80 year old woman is practically passing out from standing in a packed subway car while too polite or reticent to ask for the seat.

Don't want to be lumped in with those assholes? Don't put your shit on seats, no matter the population of the car.


I'm often in buses that are far from full. I put my bag next to me so I have it in view, can rummage through it, and, yes, so no-one sits next to me as long as there are plenty of other empty seats. I move it if the bus starts to fill up. It's never even occurred to me that someone would find this unreasonable.

I'm trying to figure out what your argument here is. Because some people leave their bag on the seat when it's inappropriate, therefore I can never do it? And it's my fault that you "lump me in" with them?

Some people never give up their seat for the elderly. Does this mean that I have to always stand in the bus? Otherwise you might see me sitting on a bus with plenty of empty seats and "lump me in" with those other guys, and your bizarre train of reasoning is my responsibility?

Some people never hold the door for others behind them. Does this mean I have to always hold the door, even when no-one's behind me? Otherwise it's my fault if you lump me in with the rest?

Really, what are you saying?
posted by creasy boy at 3:54 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Just been pointed towards this thread by another Mefite. Wow - there's some serious rage going on in here.

To give some background, Burkeman emailed me about a week ago asking if he could make use of the story in his G2 column. After a chat over email about what he was looking to write about I was happy for him to use it.

Obviously I can't speak for Mr Burkeman (I might email him this thread and then he can make his own comments if he feels like it), but there's a lot of gnashing of teeth in here, and I think that may be for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it's worth remembering that Burkeman is having to cope with the enemy of newspaper article writers everywhere - brevity. This isn't an essay on the subject of politeness enforcement and the complexities of human behaviour, its aimed at being a taster.

Should there be more of a discussion about the times when its perfectly reasonable to have your bags on a seat - the exceptions to the rule?

Probably.

Could such discussions have been fitted into the article?

Probably not.

As it is, this sentence makes clear its definitely not about simply enforcing rules for the sake of enforcement:
And justice is key: it's only a Politeness Enforcement Tactic if you're punishing a wrong. Make a large person squeeze up unnecessarily on one of the hopelessly inadequate bus seats prevalent today, for example, and you're just being mean.
Secondly, it's worth remembering that we're talking about empty seats on mass transport here - more particularly about empty seats on the London Underground and/or the suburban commuter rail services. There's a bit of a misunderstanding in this thread about what that means. One that's perfectly understandable if you're not familiar with the Underground so, at the risk of getting all philosophical on a Sunday morning, I'll attempt to explain:

During rush hour (and often throughout the day as well), an empty seat on the Underground isn't an empty seat. It's simply one that hasn't been filled yet.

That may sound like frilly words, but there is a distinction. The seats will fill up. It's just a question of when. Now if you use public transport here regularly (and its worth remembering that the vast, overwhelming, majority of people in London do) then you know this.

This means that if you put your bags (or feet) on a seat, you should be doing so on the understanding that you will have to move them again at some point. A lot of people do this, certainly, and that's cool. There are also situations when it is indeed legitimate for someone to take up a bit more space - a leg injury, a large cast, whatever - although it's also worth remembering that the person attempting to sit down may well have their own reasons why they need that seat the bags are on (they may have their own medical issues and need a seat that is next to the aisle, for example).


The simple fact is though, and pretty much any commuter will confirm this, that in most situations the above just isn't what's happening. One of two things is happening - either the perpetrator is being a special snowflake and is giving their own needs an unfair priority over other travellers or the perpetrator is just bloody inconsiderate and not thinking about others. Also, silly as it may sound, if you travel enough you begin to be able to spot the kind of people who are likely to do do this a mile off - we're not talking little old grannies with shopping, we're talking businessmen with laptop bags, or a teenager who seems to have a rather high opinion about how big his balls are.

Now for a confession. I will happily admit that, if I get on a semi-busy train that I know is going to fill up later, and I happen to spot someone I think may be seat-hogging for no apparent reason, then I may well decide to raise the question:

"Do you mind if I sit there?"

If the reply is something like this:

"To be honest mate, my shoulder is fucked and I can't bend down properly to pick up things at the moment."

Then I will happily sit somewhere else.

If it's simply because they didn't want to put their bag in the luggage rack (I had this once when I was asking after the last empty seat on a train that was about to undertake a two hour journey) then sorry, but I'm going to sit there.

Why do I do it? To be honest I'd never really thought about it until Burkeman emailed me - indeed hadn't really spotted that I even did it. It is a bit silly. It is rules-lawyering (which I normally hate).

Having thought about it over the last week or so though, I reckon its probably partly for the reasons that Burkeman talks about in his article, but also for a couple of others as well.

Firstly, because little social conventions like this are one of the few things that help keep working and travelling in London from being a living hell. Break those conventions and chances are you'll make someone's day a little bit worse, so if sitting next to you stops that from happening to someone who is too polite to say anything then I'm going to do it. Not least, because having to sit there and watch you do it is going to otherwise ruin my day a little bit.

Secondly, because of something hal_c_on touched on upthread:
Ive ridden public transport for a good portion of my life, and people generally stay away from males if they can avoid it. The only reason people sit next to dudes is because ther are no available seats next to less creepy people.
More often than not, the people who do this are blokes. They may well be the nicest blokes in the world, but a lot of people (female and male alike) can be wary about asking them to move their bags, or to take up less space.

The simple fact is that I'm not. So if by my asking someone to move things I prevent someone else from having that anxious moment where they weigh up whether they should ask someone to move their bags, or prevent someone from being on the end of that suspicion then why shouldn't I?

Also, frankly, if it turns out that they actually were relying on their aspect to prevent people from asking to sit next to them then fuck 'em. Like deliberate queue-jumping that's effectively bullying - and as someone who was a lot smaller and more insular as a kid I have fucking zero tolerance of that behaviour. Hell, I know this was why I did what I did during the queue jumping incident - it was petty, it was provocative, and it was uncharacteristically passive-aggressive for me, but fuck bullies.

Indeed the whole visual perception thing is something I'm incredibly conscious of myself - as I mentioned in my original account of the queue-jumping, these days I'm a stocky lad with a shaven head and I know that this can lead to me appearing intimidating at times even though that's in no way my intention. As a result that's why I'm always incredibly careful about when I put my bags on a seat - because the idea of someone feeling they couldn't ask me to move them because of how I look horrifies me.

Anyway, long post there, sorry about that. Them's my thoughts on the subject though.

Also, finally, there is no fucking excuse ever for man-sitting. Sorry, but if you man-sit I will sit next to you.

Sorry son, but my balls are so bloody big I had one removed and turned into a personalised bowling ball. If I can close my goddamn legs then so can you.

It's a rubbish ball though. Always gutters left.

posted by garius at 4:13 AM on August 29, 2010 [17 favorites]


I appreciate the "fuck bullies" sentiment, but you want to be careful you don't become a bully in your enforcement scheme. If you or Burkeman practiced your vigilantism on me, you'd be dead wrong, and causing me uneeded anxiety. I remove my bags if/when the open-seat ratio is one empty to one filled. At the point where no one can sit down without sitting next to somebody, I move my bags. Most people will want to sit next to me because I'm clean, I'm a woman, and I'm obviously minding my own business. If a man sits next to me, I have to worry just a bit; if a man sits next to me when there are a bunch of open seats where they don't have to sit next to anyone, I have to worry a lot.
posted by taz at 5:21 AM on August 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


I will happily admit that, if I get on a semi-busy train that I know is going to fill up later, and I happen to spot someone I think may be seat-hogging for no apparent reason, then I may well decide to raise the question:

"Do you mind if I sit there?"

If the reply is something like this:

"To be honest mate, my shoulder is fucked and I can't bend down properly to pick up things at the moment."

Then I will happily sit somewhere else.


Except maybe the person's shoulder is fucked and they can't bend down properly, but they don't say that, because they're not very assertive and you're a big, intimidating man. Maybe they suffer in silence and think, "who's this asshole who had to sit next to me when there are empty seats everywhere?"
posted by creasy boy at 5:36 AM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe.
posted by carsonb at 5:39 AM on August 29, 2010


I'm on the "there's no reason not to put your bags on a seat if the car's half empty" side. I do this. I'm also careful to move my bags the moment it seems like the car is going to fill up. And I hate it when people callously take up two seats when others have to stand.

But, really, if there are seats available that don't require you to sit next to me, I don't want you to sit next to me. On public transportation, you're only supposed to be in close contact with others because you have to be. Everyone naturally prefers to spread out so they aren't cramped next to strangers.

If someone wants to sit next to me -- directly next to me, so our sides might brush against each other and I might have trouble getting out without interacting with them -- when they have plenty of options that don't require them to be near a stranger, they are creepy. They're going out of their way to be in close proximity with me? When they don't have to? That's a pretty big way of signaling, "Hi! I'm a creep who doesn't understand that most people don't want to be this close to strangers unless they have to! Let's find out what OTHER social clues I fail to recognize!"

Again, when the car is crowded, you have no hope but be near others. That's just the way the deal is, and it doesn't make you a creep to sit next to someone when that's the only open seat. But going out of your way to sit next to me when there are other options available that don't require close proximity to strangers is creepy and a little scary. When the car is empty, me putting my bags on the seat beside of me is my way of doing what I can to avoid such a creepy situation.
posted by meese at 6:11 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I remove my bags if/when the open-seat ratio is one empty to one filled. At the point where no one can sit down without sitting next to somebody, I move my bags.

Then you are not the type of person the "vigilantes" are going for.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:19 AM on August 29, 2010


Take the bus, son.

Are you joking? I don't know what the buses are like where you're from, but they're smaller, run less often and are almost invariably more crowded than the trains in Chicago.
posted by adamdschneider at 6:47 AM on August 29, 2010


I fully agree with garius's post:

we're talking about empty seats.. on the London Underground and/or the suburban commuter rail services....During rush hour (and often throughout the day as well), an empty seat on the Underground isn't an empty seat. It's simply one that hasn't been filled yet.


Exactly. Any rush hour train will have all seats full. There will be a lot of people standing - they will be crushed in on each other. I've stood on the platform and let 4 or 5 trains go past me, because they were so full that it was impossible to get on. In those circumstances, someone taking up an extra seat is being incredibly rude. A few people might need to do it; the majority don't. (I'd question how many claustrophobes there are on the Underground - given that you're probably going to have to stand in a crush of people at some point, I'd think sitting down with someone beside you is going to be the least unpleasant part of the trip.
posted by Infinite Jest at 6:49 AM on August 29, 2010


Then you are not the type of person the "vigilantes" are going for.

No, I'm not, but would they know?

They are specifically saying that they do this when there are other seats available. So they might spot me with my bags, and be all aha! A culprit!!!, because it's not yet 1-to1 ratio. Or maybe someone else is riding for only two or three stops and they set their bags next to them; yes, the train will fill up later, but not before they've gotten off. Or somebody has an aching back... okay, it would be nice, if the train doesn't fill up, not to have to bend over and deal with the bags, right?

I do get the basic point about rude, selfish people, and I don't think there's a thing wrong with getting people to move their shit when the train/bus/car is filling up, but until then, why bug people?
posted by taz at 6:52 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Then you are not the type of person the "vigilantes" are going for.

The weird thing is, some of the previous commenters apparently are going for these kinds of people, i.e. they'll make a point of asking to sit next to someone who's taking up two seats even if there are plenty of other seats available.

This seems weird to me - like plenty of others, I'll sometimes leave my backpack next to me on a bus seat, but only until there are no completely empty double seats left. I'll also ask people who are taking up two seats if I can sit next to them, but only if there isn't anywhere else to sit. If anyone ever said, "no, sorry, I have a back problem/a bad knee/a psychological problem", fine, but nobody ever has. They just grudgingly move their special bag that must be kept clean onto their lap or the floor and I get to spend the rest of the bus trip in seated comfort. Seems reasonable.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 7:01 AM on August 29, 2010


No, I'm not, but would they know?

They would know if you said "actually, I threw my back out the other day" if they asked you. They've said this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:02 AM on August 29, 2010


I've just noticed something interesting, actually -- the notion of "striking a blow for civility" is taking flak in this thread. However, the original queue jumping story that spawned this has over nine hundred favorites.

So the idea of striking a blow for civility doesn't seem to be THAT hateful, no?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:04 AM on August 29, 2010


I didn't say I have a bad back. I said I move my stuff when the train starts filling up. But they say they are doing this to people before that point. It doesn't seem at all like a blow for civility to me.
posted by taz at 7:05 AM on August 29, 2010


the notion of "striking a blow for civility" is taking flak in this thread. However, the original queue jumping story that spawned this has over nine hundred favorites.

I think it's because the queue jumping story is more universally obviously someone being a selfish idiot. I'd see the public-transport-seating equivalent as being some jerk who yanks the 80 year old woman out of her seat so they can put their bag there. And that isn't what the article is talking about.
posted by lwb at 7:21 AM on August 29, 2010


They would know if you said "actually, I threw my back out the other day" if they asked you. They've said this.

nevercalm said no-one should ever put a bag on a seat and he doesn't care what ailment you have. garius said that he would make allowances for ailments but he's also emphasized repeatedly that he's a big, imposing man people don't want to argue with. And the larger issue is: if there are plenty of other empty seats available, it doesn't matter whether or not I have a bad back. Until space becomes a problem, it's simply no-one's business why my bag is on the seat.
posted by creasy boy at 7:22 AM on August 29, 2010


I've just noticed something interesting, actually -- the notion of "striking a blow for civility" is taking flak in this thread. However, the original queue jumping story that spawned this has over nine hundred favorites.

So the idea of striking a blow for civility doesn't seem to be THAT hateful, no?


I'm still waiting for the argument that shows the garius's treatment of queue jumper to be ethically equivalent to Burkeman's harassing of passengers on an under-filled train. Someone could probably make it, but it would most likely involve rejecting the distinction between an actual public transport passenger and a potential future public transport passenger. And I'm not sure I'm ready to get on that train with you. I just don't know.

All I can say for certain is this: If the concern is to reduce the amount of rude behavior in public spaces, Burkeman seems to be going about it the wrong way. Worse, it seems to me that he might instead be adding to the total with his snap judgments.
posted by .kobayashi. at 7:28 AM on August 29, 2010


I've just noticed something interesting, actually -- the notion of "striking a blow for civility" is taking flak in this thread. However, the original queue jumping story that spawned this has over nine hundred favorites.

I love the notion of Garius getting on the train with a bunch of old ladies, encountering a bunch of bags and man-sitters, and doing the whole ask-to-sit, then offering his seat to an old lady.

In the original anecdote that got favorited, we were told of an actual queue jumper. The analogue to the pro-active sit-next-to-you is to passive-aggressively queue up right behind someone else and violate their personal space when there's maybe 3 people waiting for that bus.

What's appropriate in any given moment has a lot to do with context, and the vigilantes seem to be implying that context doesn't matter. When someone states something that so clearly doesn't jive with reality, and asserts that they're not just factually, but morally right, they're gonna take flak.
posted by explosion at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2010


This is why I drive my Canyonero everywhere instead of taking public transit.
posted by Shohn at 7:55 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


It is a social cue, easily read by most people. It says "don't choose this seat first".

Yes, and that's why it annoys people. You get one seat. You don't get a say over which of the other seats in which you are not currently sitting other people get to sit in. I'll sit by myself if there are such seats available, but if I have to sit next to someone, why do you get to be such a special snowflake and decide it isn't going to be you? This is the train, it is not your car. If you can't deal with that, you should drive instead.

And I've taken subways and buses in many cities and never once seen anyone move their bag off the seat — or move from the aisle seat to the empty window seat they've blocked off — when the train starts to fill up.
posted by enn at 8:24 AM on August 29, 2010


Oh, the problems of living in the 'First World!'
posted by ericb at 8:27 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read this entire thread in the voice of Andy Rooney. "Ya' know the thing I don't like..."
posted by ericb at 8:28 AM on August 29, 2010


Burkeman strikes me as akin to those people who get all up in the face of people who use handicapped parking spaces...

Kramer: Why don't you take the handicap spot?
posted by ericb at 8:32 AM on August 29, 2010


Speaking of seat-takers, the absolute worst example is this (which I see every so often in our university-heavy town). Two dudes get on the bus together, going to the same place. But because two dudes sitting NEXT to each other is totally queer and they don't want anyone thinking they're gay for each other, they sit in the same row, but at opposite windows so there is maximum distance between the two of them.

Then I get on the bus and sit in the aisle seat, and dude 1 starts talking to dude 2 but because I'm beside him I think he's talking to me but actually he's talking over me. Then dude 1 sees I'm sitting on his coat and says "Yo, only I get to sit on my coat bro" to which I think "Then don't leave it on the fucking seat next to you bro" but I don't say anything because I just want to go home.

Now everyone in the aisle seats needs to get up because it's the bros' stop and they get off the bus. I assume they spend the rest of the day making sure they don't accidentally touch and end up making out. But if they did they're in Ontario so they could get gay married and no one would care and everyone would live happily ever after.
posted by Gortuk at 8:33 AM on August 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


As a woman who frequently takes public transportation and has had some annoying, uncomfortable and sometimes downright frightening experiences with certain men who feel the need to sit right next to me even when there are plenty of other seats available I'm going to continue to keep my bags on the seat and fuck anyone who doesn't like it.

If the train is full I do the polite thing and share or give up my seat. But if it isn't? I'm not making myself an easy target.
posted by LeeJay at 8:39 AM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, another one of those comments where someone gets tons of favorites for telling a long story that's only tangentially related to the question. That's nice.
posted by jejune at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Once all the window seats are full, it's time to move your bag. At that point the issue is that *someone* is going to have a body next to them, and therefore if you don't move your bags you're being impolite to the others with window seats because you're ducking out of the lottery of who will have to have someone sit next to them.

Before the window seats are full, someone who asks you to move your bag is a jerk. After they're full, if someone needs to ask you to move your bag you're being a jerk.

</voice of god>
posted by Trochanter at 8:43 AM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


And this is why I ride my bike everywhere I can, even to the distant Toronto suburbs, because people generally don't stand beside me when I'm stopped at a light and look meaningfully and passive-aggressively at the panniers on my back rack until I take them off and give them a lift. (This may happen in Holland, but not Canada.)

I have taken public transit a lot in the past. I'm one of those people who will put my bag beside me when the car is nearly empty, but I will spontaneously move it to lap or floor as the car starts filling up. I also give up my seat quite frequently to people who need it more than me AND I take my damn backpack off and put it between my feet when I'm standing with the herd in the middle of the car instead of thwacking people with it as I'm jostled by the movement of the train or bus.

But I consider it fair to use the seat beside me while the space is still largely empty because getting a little extra space for even 5-10 minutes on a commute is precious, especially in winter when everyone is bulked up because of their winter coats. Please don't assume in advance that I'm an asshole because after decades of Toronto transit, I've learned how to balance personal space and public courtesy.
posted by maudlin at 8:45 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now that that's settled I hope we can all focus on the real enemy: people who stand and block the goddamned escalator and make you miss your train.
posted by enn at 8:47 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I'm going to continue to keep my bags on the seat and fuck anyone who doesn't like it.

Right there on the bus, or do you ask them home?
posted by Skyanth at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


you're being a jerk.

Or you haven't noticed how full the cabin is, and it's still proper for you to be corrected.

</voice of god's copy editor>
posted by Trochanter at 8:48 AM on August 29, 2010


I think the point is that regardless of what people self-report here, in real life they never notice how full it is. They sit down and put the bag next to them and think "I'll move it when it gets crowded" and then they promptly drift away into their iPhone-and-paperback world and never think of it again even when people are standing on top of each other in the aisles.
posted by enn at 8:52 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And assuming in advance that everyone who fits your quick and dirty test of rudeness probably promotes more tension, seething, passive-aggressive glares and general bad feelings than assuming the best of people until proven otherwise.

What I loved about Garius' story was that he didn't just punish the queue jumper, but he unified and delighted an entire queue of people in the process. Pre-emptively punishing people by sitting beside them to prove your point about good behaviour is obviously not a universally popular choice. So why keep on stoking your righteous indignation by making that premature choice every time?
posted by maudlin at 8:52 AM on August 29, 2010


*sigh* That should have been "And assuming in advance that everyone who fits your quick and dirty test of rudeness should be correctly immediately probably promotes more tension ..."
posted by maudlin at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2010


I think the point is that regardless of what people self-report here, in real life they never notice how full it is.

This is just bullshit. I actively pay attention to whether the car is filling up or not and adjust accordingly and have seen many others do the same.
posted by LeeJay at 8:57 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Although it pains me to argue with you, enn, because I am SO with you on the escalator thing. Standers on the right, walkers on the left. How hard is that?
posted by LeeJay at 9:00 AM on August 29, 2010


As a result that's why I'm always incredibly careful about when I put my bags on a seat - because the idea of someone feeling they couldn't ask me to move them because of how I look horrifies me.

It is pathetic that you think yourself the only person capable of knowing when it's okay and when it's not okay. You're the only MeFite with enough empathy to travel properly on the subway? Give me a break.

Your queue jumping story was amusing not because you were teaching someone manners. It was amusing because you were teaching someone manners who'd expressed they needed the lesson. The proper analogy is not to the half-empty train that you "know" will be full before the person's stop--it's to the person who leaves the bag on the seat when the car is already full, or their bank of seats are already full. Do you not understand how your anecdote would have been idiotic had you started inviting people in front of you in line because you "sensed" the person behind you didn't like standing in line?
posted by dobbs at 9:11 AM on August 29, 2010


No, I think I'm only person capable of knowing when it's okay and when it's not okay too!

We should form a club, call it Metaf..DOH!
posted by nomadicink at 9:52 AM on August 29, 2010

Although it pains me to argue with you, enn, because I am SO with you on the escalator thing. Standers on the right, walkers on the left. How hard is that?
I've come to peace with the standing on escalators thing. This is possibly because many of the ones I encounter are really only single-file width so folks in a hurry just dash up the stairs. It's the people who step off the escalator and stop that annoy me. It's as though the basic physical fact that other people on the automated people-mover are about to be shoved into the debarkation spot escapes them. If you must dither, take one step to the side first.
posted by Karmakaze at 9:56 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I put my bag(s) on the seat next to me to discourage the smelly and creepy from sitting next to me. As the car fills up, usually at bloor stn, I scan the incoming crowd, make eye contact with someone clean and normal looking and make a motion to move my bag(s) and then when they get close, move my bags.

Doesn't always work, but just because I'm female and normal looking doesn't mean I deserve less free space than anybody else. Bags on the seat are simply a way of asserting that, just as the wide legged sprawl is.
posted by captaincrouton at 10:44 AM on August 29, 2010


I think the point is that regardless of what people self-report here, in real life they never notice how full it is. They sit down and put the bag next to them and think "I'll move it when it gets crowded" and then they promptly drift away into their iPhone-and-paperback world and never think of it again even when people are standing on top of each other in the aisles.

I put my bag on the seat next to me on empty buses and lightrail trains on a fairly regular basis, because I have long-ass legs and tend to lug a lot of shit around when I'm lugging shit around at all, and I live 30+ minutes away from most of the stuff I bus to, and I work from everywhere via laptop, including the seat of whatever bus I'm taking somewhere.

But I monitor the fullness of the vehicle and move it when space is getting limited. I adjust that point-of-removal based on the local context—if I'm closer to the front of the bus I'll be quicker to move it for the sake of low-mobility people, if I'm having a seriously awful I-need-a-little-space day I'll hold off a bit longer, etc—but I keep an eye out and I move my bag before it gets to the point of someone asking. Every time. I accept that people reading the situation uncharitably may think I'm a jerk for not moving my bag sufficiently soon enough or whatever; I try not to return the favor because why do I want to spend time imagining that people I don't know are jerks when I haven't seen actual jerkish behavior manifested?

That there are people in the world who blithely or naively fail to pay attention I have no doubt. But there are lots of people who do the right thing here, as well. That you always only ride with selfish or criminally distractable people, or possibly only ever perceive those ones and don't notice the attentive or thoughtful ones, does not make this not so.

And that comes to the core of a lot of the disagreement in here, I think:

It's both low-stakes stuff (rarely—not never, but certainly rarely—is the situation going to arise where someone is directly, severely negatively affected by a specific instance of etiquette brinksmanship on the train or the bus) and legitimately frustrating and personal stuff (because the non-severe annoyances are still everyday stuff, and public transit is rarely one's preferred choice so much as the needful one, and there are weird clashes between the personal and the public in all this, and one more little frustrating thing happening on a bad day can indirectly cross a line of personal frustration, etc).

And as a result, its easy and understandable to form pretty strong opinions about, and to have pretty strong reactions to, both actual manifest behaviors (the probably-a-jerk who does not move their bag in an otherwise full vehicle, or who does not give up their seat for the plainly physically encumbered person standing near them) and signifiers of potential behavior (the person who doesn't promptly move their bag as a vehicle starts to be not-totally-empty, the apparently-hale person who sits in or near the priority seating on an emptyish bus).

But the difference between dealing with the manifest bad behavior and "dealing with" what might eventually turn out to be actually bad behavior but might be totally harmless and self-repairing stuff is the difference between extending the benefit of the doubt vs. assuming bad faith about people you don't know. I'm always, always going to try and avoid doing the latter because (a) preemptively deciding strangers suck doesn't make my life any better and (b) treating people poorly based on what I assume they're going to do makes me kind of a jerk myself and feeds into a cycle of jerkiness that's precisely counterproductive to the sort of civility and mutual accommodation that I'd like to see happen in the world.

Essentially, I think the distance between righting actual unquestionable wrongs when they occur and going fishing for wrongs to be Right about is a considerable one and while almost no one is going to be bothered by the former, there's a lot of space to disagree with stuff in the realm of the latter. That the core motivations behind both can be the same and can be essentially goodhearted in nature doesn't change the fact that that difference exists and matters.
posted by cortex (staff) at 11:01 AM on August 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Standers on the right, walkers on the left. How hard is that?

See, here it's the walkers on the right (in my experience, at least), and now I want to know whether the same countries with left-side driving also have left-side standing.

I always keep my bag in my lap even in a completely empty carriage, but I am usually too busy seething at Metro by the time I board my train to care about where my fellow passengers are keeping theirs. I only have so much rage to expend!
posted by lwb at 11:21 AM on August 29, 2010


You get one seat. You don't get a say over which of the other seats in which you are not currently sitting other people get to sit in.

There's law and then there are social norms. Legally I can't decide what happens to the next seat. But my putting my bag there isn't a legal claim anyways, so that's a moot point. Meanwhile, there's a strong social norm that on buses, on park benches, at a wall of urinals, etc. people space themselves out evenly, and people who don't are weird and creepy. The guy who walks past 5 empty urinals to take up a space right next to you is being weird and creepy. It's precisely these sorts of social norms that are important in cities where a bunch of strangers have to live together in close quarters, and putting your bag on the seat next to you until the train starts to fill up is a way of enforcing that norm.

I'll sit by myself if there are such seats available, but if I have to sit next to someone, why do you get to be such a special snowflake and decide it isn't going to be you?


As others have said: as soon as the people coming in have to sit next to somebody, I move my bag, because I know that I'm no-one special. -- I just asked my wife and she said: when 50% of the seats are taken, then you move your bag.
posted by creasy boy at 12:12 PM on August 29, 2010


As others have said: as soon as the people coming in have to sit next to somebody, I move my bag, because I know that I'm no-one special.

You are in an infinitesimal group, and I'd bet money that when Burkeman in the linked article referred to asking people to move their bags off the seat next to them "even if others are free" he was referring to other free seats next to other people, not whole swathes of empty rows. Considering how much noise the seat-baggers are making about not assuming the worst of people there seems to have been no hesitation whatsoever to assume the worst possible interpretation of Burkeman's phrase.
posted by enn at 1:05 PM on August 29, 2010


As others have said: as soon as the people coming in have to sit next to somebody, I move my bag, because I know that I'm no-one special.

You are in an infinitesimal group


No, I'm sorry, karmakaze is right. I do the same thing. I often travel on Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains; people are always putting their bag next to them, but I've never seen anyone refuse to move it if someone else asks to sit down.

This is an excuse to get self-righteously moralistic over nothing.
posted by jejune at 1:13 PM on August 29, 2010


Frankly I don't believe garius' story about the queue jumper, it comes off as a post-hoc fantasy or massive embellishment of a minor incident, as does his subsequent story of being the seat vigilante. And even if they were true, neither of these are admirable: being a big bully relying on physical intimidiation, even in a popular cause, is still worse than being a queue jumper or a mansitter.
posted by Rumple at 1:19 PM on August 29, 2010


I often travel on Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains

Those are completely different environments from commuter mass transit where — every morning — the train will go from nearly empty to standing-room-only in 15 minutes.
posted by enn at 1:31 PM on August 29, 2010


Gortuk, that was hilarious. I also hate it when bros sit one seat away from each other at movie theaters so they don't end up accidentally giving each other handjobs.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:06 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Considering how much noise the seat-baggers are making about not assuming the worst of people there seems to have been no hesitation whatsoever to assume the worst possible interpretation of Burkeman's phrase.

If Burkeman had meant to say "other free seats next to other people, not whole swathes of empty rows," he could have said that. He is a professional writer after all. Clarity is his own and his editors problem, not mine.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:03 PM on August 29, 2010


See, here it's the walkers on the right (in my experience, at least), and now I want to know whether the same countries with left-side driving also have left-side standing.


Not in the UK (or London, at least). Here there are multiple signs on every escalator saying 'stand on the right'. It works very well, usually.

If Burkeman had meant to say "other free seats next to other people, not whole swathes of empty rows," he could have said that. He is a professional writer after all. Clarity is his own and his editors problem, not mine.


As garius noted upthread, Burkeman is writing about commuting in London, to an English audience. Everyone in his target audience is going to understand that there aren't "whole swathes of empty rows" of seats on London commuter trains, and therefore there's no need to spell it out.
posted by Infinite Jest at 3:17 PM on August 29, 2010


He said "others," which means two or more, not the more than 50% bandied around in this thread. Willfully vindictive misreadings are hardly his fault.
posted by enn at 3:18 PM on August 29, 2010


Did your bag buy a bus ticket? If not, it doesn't get a seat.
posted by dipolemoment at 3:25 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Those are completely different environments from commuter mass transit where — every morning — the train will go from nearly empty to standing-room-only in 15 minutes.
It's pretty easy to predict when that's going to happen, though. The stops where a flood of humanity enters are generally the same stop every day. Even if you're riding for the first time and somehow don't know which those are, all it takes is a glance out the window to see if the platform is packed. Or, for that matter, to see the flood of people staggering down the aisle at the stop itself.

Weirdly, I find that removing my bag from the side seat makes the seat next to me somehow more attractive than seats that were already empty. (I suppose a seat that's been deliberately cleared rather than one that happens to be clear seems more open. Though it also seems to attract women, so maybe it's just a "not a creep" signal.)

As an aside, I am quite happy with the design of the new double-decker trains they've started using where I am. It addresses the bag accessibility issue by having a hook on the back of the seat in front (so your stuff doesn't have to sit on your feet and is usually at a good rummaging height). Even better, it has distinct seats so you avoid the two-people-on-a-three-person-bench issue which I find eats more available seating than bags on seats in any case.
posted by Karmakaze at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2010


I often hear people complain about other people not getting out of their cars and taking public transport.

I now have a super-handy place at which to point them. "Here, read this. This is why."
posted by adipocere at 5:55 PM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I am quite happy with the design of the new double-decker trains they've started using where I am. It addresses the bag accessibility issue by having a hook on the back of the seat in front (so your stuff doesn't have to sit on your feet and is usually at a good rummaging height). Even better, it has distinct seats so you avoid the two-people-on-a-three-person-bench issue which I find eats more available seating than bags on seats in any case.

If you have a backpack that's anything other than small, it won't fit in the overhead luggage rack except at the end of the car with the inward-facing bench seats. The upstairs part in the center has ridiculously tiny luggage racks, and the downstairs part has no room for luggage at all. This leads to the all-too-frequent situation where one person (usually going to or from the airport) is taking up four seats, three of them with bags.

Enter the car, turn toward the double-decker part in the center, go either up or down the stairs, and look at the seats facing each other immediately to your right. If you take the train regularly, you will probably see the situation I've just described within a week.

They hold more people and the seats are marginally more comfortable, but those double-decker cars still have their drawbacks.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 7:01 PM on August 29, 2010


I'm a woman. I sometimes put bags next to me if they're uncomfortably bulky on my lap and there are several seats free nearby. If somebody asks to have that seat, they get it. I really don't see the problem.

Consequently, I will ask someone to move their bag if I want to sit somewhere, no matter if there are other seats free or not. No hard feelings, but if I want that seat, I'll ask.

Putting a bag next to you reduces the desirability of your seat for some people. I see no problem with this but I just want to explain what I see happening:

People, often without thinking about it, choose seats according to specific criteria of desirability: Aisle seats, seats in the same direction as the train goes, single seats, seats with no-one currently sitting next to them, seats next to a woman (rather than a man), seats next to non-difficult (smelly, loud or requiring effort) people.

A bag next to my seat advertises me as one of the perhaps difficult people. Difficult in the sense that you may have to talk to me or look at me to get me to move my bag. This is more effort than if the seat were empty, and for some people it is a threshhold high enough that they would rather look somewhere else.

This is the choice that is up to other people, not the person with the bag. I've often found myself in a crowded train still getting a premium seat because nobody else wanted to make the effort of asking that one guy to move his bag. *shrug* Better seats for me.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:04 AM on August 30, 2010


I think I shall take up wearing large, 1940's style, hats. With feathers and things on. Things which auto-enforce a 12" personal space bubble. Besides, with fabulous hats, people are never sure if you're well dressed, or just insane.

In all seriousness though; I've ridden the Underground a lot. Of all the cities where I've lived with good public transport, Amsterdam and Holland were the two most polite. It would be quite the social miscue for a man on the Tube to sit directly next to a woman, making her move her bags, if there were other seats available. I would be willing to make a strong wager that every single woman in that instance would move to another seat. Because it's creepy as all get out to have someone come shoehorn themselves next to you for no apparent purpose, whether they think they're being the Seat Saving Crusader or not.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:02 AM on August 30, 2010


I put my bag on the seat next to me, and yet i'm pretty sure i'm not an asshole. If/when the bus starts to fill up, I just remove the bag. If someone walked up to me on an empty bus to sit where my bag is, I would assume they had a massive chip on their shoulder, and i'd get off at the next stop.
posted by ukdanae at 10:39 AM on August 30, 2010


The comment has over a thousand favorites now. I don't think I've ever seen a comment with four-digit favorites before.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 11:10 AM on August 30, 2010


And even if they were true, neither of these are admirable: being a big bully relying on physical intimidiation, even in a popular cause, is still worse than being a queue jumper or a mansitter.

Wrong. There is nothing worse than being a queue jumper. It's a viscious, selfish attack on the fabric of civilisation.
posted by atrazine at 11:39 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'll put my bag on the seat next to me if there are plenty of empty seats on the subway car, and I'd love to see some asshole like Burkeman or nevercalm tell me to move it so they can keep fighting their wee crusade. What a couple of tools.
posted by dazed_one at 12:11 PM on August 30, 2010


I am suddenly struck by the realization that the human penis doesn't actually make sounds. So where did the saying come from?
posted by nomadicink at 3:53 PM on August 28 [+] [!]



maybe YOURS doesn't.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 3:59 PM on August 28 [+] [!]


The funny thing here is that "nomadicink" is an anagram of "moan in dick".
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 1:53 PM on August 30, 2010

Frankly I don't believe garius' story about the queue jumper, it comes off as a post-hoc fantasy or massive embellishment of a minor incident, as does his subsequent story of being the seat vigilante. And even if they were true, neither of these are admirable: being a big bully relying on physical intimidiation, even in a popular cause, is still worse than being a queue jumper or a mansitter.
@Rumple: You are, of course, entirely free to believe that - I know its true because, obviously, I was there - but you weren't so fair enough.

Burkeman obviously asked me if it was true as well and I read through the account I'd posted on here again and agreed that it was pretty much on the money. Think the only thing I really left out was that there was about 30 seconds of banter between him and me as we got towards the back of the line - which thinking about it is probably why the police had begun to drift that way (they were there precisely because the bus lines at Victoria station can get a bit heated during tube strikes).
It is pathetic that you think yourself the only person capable of knowing when it's okay and when it's not okay. You're the only MeFite with enough empathy to travel properly on the subway? Give me a break.
@Dobbs: Where have I said that? All I've said is that in certain situations I won't take obviously free seat, I'll take the less clear one. You seem determined to make this some kind of black/white thing, where pernicious busy-bodies roam empty trains looking for that one evil bag-leaver to sit next to. But you're tilting at an enemy here who doesn't exist.

I'm not talking about prosecuting edge-cases here though, I'm talking about the occasions when someone jumps out clearly as someone who is likely to be awkward. In those cases it is possible I'll sit next to them, maybe because it makes me feel a bit better about myself (which is something I'd never realised before) and also because I KNOW it'll bug me (and I won't be able to properly enjoy my book) if they hog a seat for the next few stops whilst someone less self-confident than myself ums and ahs about asking them to move their bag. It's as much enlightened self interest as anything else.

I happily acknowledge that, as was mentioned upthread, this means that there is a danger of me making unfair assumptions, or making someone uncomfortable unfairly, which is why - personally speaking - I'd never do it if I felt there was any chance of that. Given that its not like I do this every day (or even every week), and I'm careful about it I'm reasonably confident the worst I've ever done is make a few rude-boys feel slightly uncomfortable about their sexuality ("oh no bruv. There's a bald guy wiv a tache sittin' next to me. Must luv my big balls innit").
Your queue jumping story was amusing not because you were teaching someone manners. It was amusing because you were teaching someone manners who'd expressed they needed the lesson. The proper analogy is not to the half-empty train that you "know" will be full before the person's stop--it's to the person who leaves the bag on the seat when the car is already full, or their bank of seats are already full. Do you not understand how your anecdote would have been idiotic had you started inviting people in front of you in line because you "sensed" the person behind you didn't like standing in line?
@Dobbs: Absolutely - I've never said otherwise. The two situations aren't precisely comparable, as Burkeman himself says in the article. All I've done here is admit that, like Burkeman, I too do the seat thing. The link between the two situations is not that they are directly comparable, but that they both featured in that article and - on my part - that I have admitted to doing both.

Basically, I can't help feeling that a lot of the argument here is focused on extreme cases. The whole "vigilante" thing makes is sound as if there's some kind of pythonesque version of the Guardian Angels going round ruthlessly sitting on seats next to women and old ladies who have had the temerity to place a handbag slightly over the dividing line. The simple fact is though, that we're not talking about extremes. I certainly haven't advocated that, and I don't think Burkeman was in the article either.

What he's talking about and what, when he emailed me about the queuejumping story, we discovered that both of us do is this:- In cases where there is a clear and present danger of seat-hogging (and we're talking CLEAR - no input from Gil Grissom or suchlike necessary), we won't take the path of the "easiest" seat we'll go for the "hardest."

I've been trying to think of a better way of explaining that - particularly when there IS a lot of London commuter knowledge that is inherent here. I'm gonna try via the medium of a text adventure-style dialogue to see if that helps.

:::: WELCOME TO COMMUTER WARS V1.0 ::::

:::: CHAPTER ONE ::::

It is drizzling in London as you walk towards the London Liverpool Street. As you cross the road to get to the station concourse, a red bus and a black cab fly past. You briefly dwell on the fact that this makes the current environment startlingly reminiscent of every single establishing shot used by Hollywood for films that include a scene in London, but the thought is swiftly put out of your mind by a particularly large droplet of rain that manages to fall straight down your neck and inside your coat.

Walking slightly faster now (and feeling slightly damper) you enter the station, and begin to wonder where you need to go to get a train to Ladbroke Grove.

> LOOK WEST

You look around the station. To your west are the mainline platforms that will take you out to Hackney, Edmonton and a bunch of run-down old seaside towns like Eastbourne. You went to Eastbourne last year and shudder at the memory. It was about as fun as a dead clown. The thought of heading west fills you with a slight sense of dread.

>LOOK SOUTH

Looking south you see a tramp. He is arguing half-heartedly with a girl giving out promotional packs of Skittles because she will only give him one pack. Two members of the British Transport Police are heading towards them, although whether its because they plan to diffuse the situation or because they just want some skittles is currently unclear. You toy briefly with heading that way to see what happens next, but realise that it'll probably just end up with someone being arrested on trumped up terrorism charges as per usual.

>LOOK EAST

To the east are the platforms for the Sub-surface lines. Looking East gives you a slightly warm feeling inside, as if your stomach instinctively knows that heading this way will eventually lead it to getting a croissant from the bakers by Ladbroke Grove station.

>GO EAST

You are now on the Westbound platform for the Sub-surface lines. As you arrive on the platform, a train begins to pull in.

>LOOK AT TRAIN

The driver looks bored, as if he's only biding time until the next tube stike kicks in and he can have a day off. The signage above his cabin reads "Metropolitan Line." Do you wish to board or wait?

>WAIT

The train pulls away, and you glance enviously at the vast swaithes of empty seats upon it. The few people on the train are spreading the bags across seats with carefree abandon, and you feel no hatred at their actions. Indeed, you are briefly envious of the emptiness of the train and wish you were on it. That feeling quickly passes though when you remember that its a Met train to Watford and that's why its empty - because no one in their right fucking mind would ever go to Watford by choice.

As you begin to say a silent prayer to Saint Elton, patron saint of anyone who has to go to Watford, another train pulls up. This one has a different seat layout, which instinctively tells you its either Hammersmith & City or Circle Line - both of which will get you to Ladbroke Grove. Do you wish to board or wait?

>BOARD

You board the train.

>LOOK

There are four empty seats in the carriage, which is lucky, because you know that more people will get on when it reaches the next stop at Moorgate than will get off.

The empty seat to your east is next to someone who has fallen asleep. They're gently snoring but are otherwise harmless (unless you happen to be the bulkhead that they're dribbling on. Luckily you're not).

To your west is a seat next to a nun reading a book. It's a Dan Brown novel but you forgive her, in line with the tenets of her faith.

To your east is a woman reading a copy of the Metro. You can't read the story on its cover from here, but if the headline is accurate then apparently the population of London is now 95% composed of trophy dogs and immigrants. The woman has a shopping bag with her, which is on the empty seat.

The seat to the north is next to a business man with a silly moustache. You instinctively don't trust him for this reason alone, but then remember that you also have a silly moustache yourself and feel a bit of a fool.

The seat to the south is also next to a business man. He is talking loudly on his mobile phone, despite the fact that he's going to be cut off in about 30 seconds as the train enters the tunnel. He has a briefcase, which is on the seat next to him. He is also sitting in such a way that implies he either has a serious testicular problem, or is very proud of the way his suit trousers have been sewn at the groin, and is keen to demonstrate their quality to the rest of the carriage.

Do you wish to sit East, West, North or South?

>SOUTH


:::: END OF CHAPTER ONE ::::

:::: CONTINUE TO CHAPTER TWO? Y/N ::::

|
posted by garius at 4:31 AM on August 31, 2010 [4 favorites]


>BRIEF
posted by fleacircus at 4:40 AM on August 31, 2010


UNKNOWN COMMAND

Sorry. The garius version of the wordyfucker software does not recognise the command "BRIEF."

Suggested alternatives: THROTTLE or BUY PINT
posted by garius at 4:50 AM on August 31, 2010


>KILLS NUN

Metafilter does not forgive Dan Brown
posted by taz at 5:29 AM on August 31, 2010


neither of these are admirable: being a big bully relying on physical intimidiation, even in a popular cause, is still worse than being a queue jumper or a mansitter.

No, there is nothing wrong with power -- you can use it for good or evil. Garius did not choose to be big, and probably did not choose to be bald. The fact that a craven queue jumper fears him, but not the little old lady he cut in front of, does not make garius a bully.
posted by msalt at 10:53 AM on September 1, 2010


As a data point, MTA cops in New York just started ticketing passengers who take up an additional seat with their bags. I'm not sure whether this was on crowded trains or all trains, but my suspicion is that it's across the board.

http://www.mta.info/nyct/rules/rules.htm for more fun...

"No person on or in any facility or conveyance shall: 1050.7.10 (1) occupy more than one seat on a station, platform or conveyance when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the operation of the Authority�s transit system or the comfort of other passengers; (2) place his or her foot on a seat on a station, platform or conveyance;"

So... yeah.
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:03 AM on September 1, 2010

"No person on or in any facility or conveyance shall: 1050.7.10 (1) occupy more than one seat ... when to do so would interfere or tend to interfere with the ... comfort of other passengers..."
That sounds like the enforcement is only on crowded trains. Otherwise they would not have qualified the prohibition.
posted by Karmakaze at 12:58 PM on September 1, 2010


As a data point, MTA cops in New York just started ticketing passengers who take up an additional seat with their bags.

They've been doing this for years. I scored a $50 citation for sleeping across a bench in 2004, and two years ago or so watched a kid get pulled off a 3 AM train to get ticketed.
posted by griphus at 2:43 PM on September 1, 2010


That sounds like the enforcement is only on crowded trains.

It is most definitely not.
posted by griphus at 2:43 PM on September 1, 2010


> They've been doing this for years.

Man, I'm glad they weren't doing it back in the early '80s, when I routinely fell asleep on the E train out to Jamaica. (I was flat broke pretty much all the time, so I didn't really worry about getting ripped off.)
posted by languagehat at 3:12 PM on September 1, 2010


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