Today, a stranger in New York shamed me for refusing to give up my train seat to a child. And I can’t figure out if this is a cultural difference – if Australians just have different seat etiquette rules– or whether I’ve inadvertently been acting like a jerk on public transport my entire life.
Here’s how the seat-shaming incident began. I was sitting on the subway, reading a book in a minding-my-own-business-like manner, when commuters started packing in as we approached Times Square.
I looked up and noticed a blonde woman in her mid-30s giving me some serious side-eye.
I glanced around to make sure I wasn’t doing anything offensive. My bag was surreptitiously tucked under my feet, so I wasn’t taking up more than my fair share of space. I also wasn’t clipping my nails, sporting some funky BO, or blasting music from a set of portable speakers (although God knows enough people do all three on the New York subway.)
So I wasn’t sure why she was giving me serious scowl-face, but I figured maybe she’d just experienced a spot of indigestion or been asked to work a weekend shift. Fair enough.
I then noticed the blonde woman had a child with her, who looked about six years old. He was grabbing onto a pole near the train entrance and babbling away to his mum about some show they’d apparently just seen.
The woman continued with her glowering until she finally spoke.
“Can my son sit down?” she barked at a teenage boy sitting next to me. “He’s very little. He needs a seat.”
The teenager obliged, and the six-year-old happily took the teenager’s place.
“Sorry,” the teenage boy earnestly told the blonde mother, as if he was truly upset that he hadn’t noticed the little boy there earlier.
The blonde woman looked at me pointedly: Take note, you rude little woman, her admonishing glare said.
That was my thought as the exchange took place. I felt like I was taking crazy pills-- Because, I mean, is giving up your seat for a child actually A Thing?
If so, I’ve been breaking that unwritten rule, well, ever since I was a child myself.