modern ms manners: cramped seats, loud strangers and the loss of personal space – a note on the etiquette of travelling
It may be my country heritage, but I actually quite enjoy public transport. That said, as someone who still drives to work everyday, I think it would be more accurate to say that it is probably the idea of public transport that appeals to me. The notion of being able to kick back and relax whilst someone else deals with the traffic truly appeals to me. However, this romantic view of shuttling around with my fellow commuters never fails to be regularly shattered when I do finally take public transport.
Having recently returned from overseas, I can safely confirm that travelling is not always the utopian experience I had in mind. Inevitable delays, frustrating security measures, and the inability of some commuters to appreciate a daily application of deodorant can all turn your travelling utopia into something that more closely resembles a vacation with the Griswold family. Not to mention the time where a trip across the harbour on the Manly Ferry led to some wayward spittle landing on my face.
As a casual commuter I have identified key areas which tend to be pressure points in public transport and how we might all best deal with them.
In the Air
Unless you have the good fortune of actually owning a good fortune, you may be required to join your fellow commuters in economy class. Depending on the airline/train etc, this can actually be quite pleasant, as some carriers do still invest in providing good quality for all of the guests. However, more often than not, you are subjected to a crowded and cramped environment where apparently no one requires leg room or easy access to the toilets.
This is only going to be increased if you are ignorant of your fellow passengers and pretend like you actually have access to all the space around you. Be mindful of those behind you when you put your chair back, especially when there is the prospect that activating the lever will inevitably lead to the person behind you emptying their drink in their lap. It is also courteous to use the overhead baggage compartments to store all your stuff. You will not need ready access to all your in flight material at one time, just take out the essentials and then later use the opportunity to stretch your legs in the aisle.
Another rookie error is to assume that because you have an aisle seat, you automatically gain access to extra leg room. Incorrect. This is a trap for unsuspecting travellers to have their toes promptly stomped on or knees bashed into by passing drink carts.
The first step is to accept that you and a stranger are more than likely going to have to be in each others’ personal space for this small window in time. Sure, it may be weird, however the sooner you get over any misapprehension that you were going to be able to get out and stretch your legs without accidentally dry humping the guy next to you as you scramble over his seat mid-flight, the less stressed you will be when said dry hump occurs.
A good rule of thumb is to think about the usual parameter of space you would have around you in public and then decrease that one hundred times. That is how much space you can reasonably expect.
On the ground
On buses and trains, it seems like commuters are determined to compensate for their lack of space on planes by taking up all the space on the ground. I might be alone in my thinking, but two seats does not equate to one seat for you and one seat for your bag/feet/attitude. There appears to be a trend that a bus should fill up completely before anyone considers sitting next to someone else. Then upon sitting next to said person, you must do your best to ignore them completely so as to avoid any awkwardness that might eventuate from having your knees touch.
Call me old fashioned, but it is my belief that a simple ‘hello’ and a smile can ease any potential awkwardness that might ensue by sitting next to someone. I find something truly strange about being so physically close to a person, and then having to pretend that they do not exist. You do not need to enter into forced conversation, however sitting there like a stunned potato makes you appear not only rude but rather stupid as well. For my advice on small talk, see my previous article here.
Whilst I am all for friendly chatter between commuters, I think this again requires an element of discretion so as not to disturb your fellow travellers. If everyone around you is trying to sleep, it is probably not a good idea to test whether your ear drums will in fact burst if you amplify your iPod to its highest setting. Nor is it appropriate to have long winded mobile phone conversations. Bear in mind that whilst the conversation is interesting to you, everyone else is only hearing one side which is inevitably going to be the annoying side of the phone call.
Getting on and off:
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a bus driver in possession of a foot brake must be wanting his passengers to plummet down the aisle and out the front windscreen, as it appears that most drivers wait for the most inopportune moment to stop the bus. Be prepared for this and either wait until the last moment to get up, or hold on for dear life.
Also it is a good idea to remember that shoving your way through a line is never okay. You are not packing a scrum here and I am pretty sure every time you push in line, a fairy loses its wings. Remember, everyone needs to be somewhere, hence why they are taking transport in the first place. However not everyone needs to be a jerk whilst doing it — that is a lifestyle choice.