Here’s the Right Way to Offer Your Seat on Public Transport

Granting a place on public transport to someone who needs it should be a simple and easy gesture. And still. Almost all of us saw an exhausted, heavily pregnant woman standing, ignored, on a train full of comfortably seated passengers; not at all pregnant, humiliated by an unwelcome offer to sit down; an elderly man forced to stand while struggling with heavy bags of groceries … The list of brutal humiliations goes on.

Part of this confusion is that rules that should be simple in theory don’t always apply in practice. Someone in their third trimester or ninth decade of life is likely to be more than happy to accept the seat, of course, but what about the less obvious cases? Is it worth ruining the day for someone who has bloating but is not pregnant, or who has gray hair but is not frail or elderly? (“I think I’m being offered seats now because people see gray hair and think, ‘My God, she’s ancient, help her,” says (non-ancient) Lifehacker deputy editor Alice Bradley.)

With this in mind, Lifehacker has come up with a new rule: if you see someone who you think needs your seat more than you do, wait until they see you and then just get up . It is not necessary to maintain meaningful eye contact while making this pointer gesture back and forth between the person and the seat. Just move. If they need a seat, they’ll swoop in and take it, and if not, you still tried to do your good deed during the day, and is it really that bad to stand?

Of course, you run the risk that an ignorant, capable person will jump from a gun and sit down before your intended seat has a chance. (White people, we’re looking at you .) It sucks, but honestly it’s worth the risk. Worse yet, trying to do something good and the rude idiot ruining everything, or hurting the feelings of the person you were trying to help in the first place?

Now, if you can make meaningful eye contact with that person – that is, the ignorant person who grabbed the seat – before they jump in and push the seat away from someone who really needs it, so much the better. But this is strictly from case to case. The bottom line is this: be attentive, but not arrogant, and accept the thought that you are doing a favor to someone who never realizes it.


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