“Is this seat taken?”
|March 30, 2012||Posted by Dan Peacock under satire|
We live in dangerous times. Wars and riots rock the Middle East, rogue states shake nuclear fists at each other, and gangs of hooded youths nick cans of Coke from Poundland when the lady at the till isn’t looking. But none of these things come close to the terror that is public transport.
Walk onto a train anywhere in the country and immediately you’re faced with a dilemma. Where to sit? Assuming you’re alone, you want a row of seats all to yourself. The train is fairly empty now, sure, but pretty soon a horde of loud, sweaty people will pile on and take whatever seats they can. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and you’ve got to think fast if you want a row of seats to yourself.
In this scenario, a couple of two-seaters and a few tables are free. A table all to yourself is the most attractive option, but it carries the heaviest risk: there are still three seats free and the probability of someone taking one of them when the going gets tough is highly likely. If someone sits directly across from you at the table, you’re doomed to spend the entire journey awkwardly glancing anywhere and everywhere to avoid eye contact. You will stare out the window but soon realise that you’ve accidentally been gazing at their reflection for a while, and sure enough, they look a bit uncomfortable.
You might think, then, that taking a two-seater is the safest option. You couldn’t be more wrong. If someone sits next to you then sure, you’re both facing the same way and thus avoid any chance of awkward eye contact. But it can quickly turn sour. If a particularly loud or smelly person flops down in the aisle seat, you’ll be trapped forever with no hope of escape.
I sometimes consider sitting next to a quiet-looking person even if there are sets of seats free, as it eliminates the risk of a random idiot sitting next to you and shouting down the phone for the entire journey:
“Hello? Yeah. Yeah. I’m on the train. The train. Hello? Yeah, I’m on the train.”
And so on, to infinity.
However, sitting next to a complete stranger when there’s an entire carriage free is nothing short of social suicide. They’ll invariably think you’re a mental case, and so the awkwardness comes back in full swing.
What to do, then? Many advocate the “take a two-seater and put your bags on the seat beside you to stop people sitting down” approach, which works to a degree, but in the case of the train filling up completely you’re faced with the “Is this seat taken?” scenario. Obviously, you have to admit that it isn’t, and you’re back to square one.
The tactic I often adopt is to put my headphones on and try to look as stereotypically teenage angst-y as possible. By making the people around me think I’m a degenerate hoodie with a knife stashed in my jacket, I can cut down the probability of someone taking the seat next to me considerably. I am also informed that crying on the train instantly prevents anyone from sitting next to you, and when used in combination with a phone call can even allow you to take an entire table for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong. I love train journeys – when I get a window seat to myself, and get to read or listen to music (quietly, with consideration for fellow passengers, which I feel I’m alone in doing. The number of times I’ve been able to identify the song and artist that someone’s listening to three rows down is staggering). But at rush hour the etiquette of seat-taking transforms into a savage psychological mind-game that can reduce grown men to boys and little old ladies to snarling, hate-fuelled powerhouses. I’ve seen people change in front of my very eyes.
At the end of the day, there is no single tactic known to man that will ensure you get a row of seats to yourself. Every breath you take with nobody sitting next to you should be a blessing.
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