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Tube etiquette & the age of chivalry


Old Northern Line carriage, from bagelmouses photostream. Click pic to visit.

Old Northern Line carriage, from bagelmouse's photostream. Click pic to visit.

Having, once again, to trudge along to the tube while I’m working up to biking again, I was stood in the carriage with my usual tube face,  sour, grudgeful, generally disinterested in anything other than my book. At Finsbury Park, seats become free. As usual, on the busy train there’s a melée: one girl with some sort of grizzly bear for a jacket (maybe a TFV) leaves, the doe-eyed woman next to me is in her place in seconds.


There’s one left, there at the end, by the perspex partition. I’m stood in the centre of the seats, but I go for it, politely eagle-eyed. No-one seems to be going for it, and I’m almost there when a young lady holding a book makes a move.


I immediately demur, of course, being something of a gent, but the problem is: so does she. So now we’re both looking at one another. My Great British instincts say, give the seat to the lady, give the seat to the lady, give the seat to the lady, but she’s backing off and… I’m sat down.

I should have insisted! I should! Shouldn’t I? It’s the gentlemanly thing to do, and I really don’t need the seat that much. The Terry-Thomas in me says ‘schmooze the pretty lady, give her the seat’, but I haven’t made any sort of effort to insist. 

I don’t know if some imperceptible gesture was made, or what, but I am sat down. In reality, I think it’s mostly to avoid continued eye contact with a young lady, something I’ve never been good at. Instead I sit down feeling a bit like a heel, definitely not looking towards this girl whose comfort I have just stolen, definitely feeling a bit like the prized seat is bitter-tasting and horrible. I’m better than I used to be mind. I have little use for random pretty women these days, and am even generally confident in their presence, but etiquette failed me today.

So what should be done in this situation? Exactly what is the etiquette involved in grabbing a warm, comfy tube seat. Most internets guides tell me that I should be looking out for no.1, or they’re how-to guides for the outsider. Charlotte Hanger suggests that men should give up their seats to the ladies by default. I think we’re past that stage in society now, to the point where that would be considered weird/creepy.

So I’m none the wiser sadly, just left with a lingering suspicion that I was a bit of cad for panicking and not giving the lady her seat. In that case, if you’re reading, I’m extremely sorry – I didn’t mean to take your seat, and would rather you had had it. Any time you need a door opening or a jar unscrewing, I owe you one.


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