Tuesday 4 July 2017

Let's Talk About...

distance. As in the distance required to be considered safe. Take public transport, for instance. It’s off-peak time, so the expectation is that there will be plenty of empty seats on the tube. The issue is that they are all randomly placed. That means that you have a split-second decision to make as soon as you board the train. Where to sit? Or more specifically, where is it appropriate to sit?

In the grand scheme of things this dilemma can be filed away under the category “First World problems”. Yet, if you get caught in the middle of it, you are painfully aware of what I have just described. You rush into the carriage and without a second thought sit next to a woman immersed in her book, or as it is more common these days, glued to her mobile phone. It is only when you look at your surroundings that you realise what you have done. There are twenty-odd empty seats in the rest of the carriage. You suddenly feel self-conscious. What is worse, you now feel her eyes on you. Is she thinking the same thing? You do the only honourable thing. You get off the train at the next stop and wait for another.

Another example is open spaces, like parks. With the recent high temperatures we have had in London, it goes without saying that we have been enjoying the outdoors a lot more. Plonking your personal self in a park should be hassle-free. After all, London is probably the city in Europe with most parks and green areas. The only problem is when the thermometer hits 34 degrees and you find half the neighbourhood down your local park. Space becomes an issue and distance between sun-seekers awkward. This situation is more difficult for adults on their own. I count myself amongst those. Many a time I have been cycling, when all of a sudden I have decided to rest my weary bones on the soft grass of one of the many parks that dot my adopted city. The look I get is a mixture of distrust and hostility. Especially if you should happen to choose a space in between two Prosecco-guzzling groups. Eventually eyes are turned towards me, voices are lowered and belongings moved closer to owners (this tends to happens in the leafier parts of London. I live in a deprived area. No one bats an eyelid if I decide to sit on my own next to them). Luckily, I usually carry the weekend Guardian or a copy of The Observer with me. As if by magic bags go back to where they were before.

Distance is just another bone in the skeleton of social awkwardness, a structure that underpins the way many denizens on these isles interact with others. There are more components such as conversations about money (as in salary) and class. Distance just happens to be more visual.

Going back to my first example: where is it appropriate to sit? Well, whoever talked about sitting? I usually remain standing.

© 2017

Next Post: “Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music… Ad Infinitum”, to be published on Thursday 6th July at 6pm (GMT)


  1. As an older woman I now sit on the tube whenever I can - I've given up worrying about who I sit next to. (One advantage of being an older woman - nobody takes any notice of me!)

  2. It can get awkward when the whole neighborhood decides to come out into open spaces. On the train, during rush hour, there is a split second to think of where to sit -as any time wasting would lead to standing for the best part of the journey. The idea of personal space is limited on the tube during this time.

  3. Interesting! In the context of living in Los Angeles, my mind is wandering toward yoga class -- a particularly crowded one. Where to put your mat? Up by the teacher? Hogging space? Right next to someone or too close? At the back? Next to the obnoxious person who breathes too audibly? The one whose sweat flies? Hmmmm.

  4. Sigh. Yes. And my personal space requirements are large. Which adds to the problem.

  5. During my taking the bus years, I always stayed away from the smelly people lol

  6. Well, I'm an old broad. I get tired. The first seat I come to is the seat I take unless there is a particularly bad odour coming from it. I have no problem with anyone...the problem is all theirs (if indeed there is one at all) Personally, I think people are WAY too touchy these days. Thanks for dropping in to Mumblings.....you can sit anywhere...no problem.

  7. A very thought provoking post. I am better one on one or in a small group. If there are a lot of people around I get very quiet. And although I enjoy the company of people, I also enjoy some alone time as well.

  8. I thought of distance, when it comes to sitting, while riding the NYC subway... and I giggled.

  9. It's called 'the changing society'. I promise you it was never like that in my younger days. Attitudes, huh! I can live without them. I remember when people talked to each other on buses, strangers included. I wouldn't dare now because I have been indoctrinated by modern views, otherwise known as 'unfriendliness'.

  10. I don't use public transportation these days but when I did I wasn't too particular where I sat.

  11. The subways in New York have all sorts of unwritten rules, but the service has been so terrible lately that I don't care whom I sit next to, as long as the damn thing is moving.

  12. Each one of us has a personal space. When someone moves into it we begin to feel violated. It is a natural occurrence. When we are prepared to share it for a while we can adapt as you have seen. Perhaps a friendly greeting before sitting next to someone would make it easier for that person to share their space.

  13. Very thoughtful and provoking post. Nowadays everybody need a personal space...

  14. Hi Mario - yes sometime deciding where to go and stand, or plonk oneself can be somewhat difficult - I don't want to disturb others ... and often get on the next tube, rather than the one that's just appeared ... if it's hot - I'll probably get the bus. But I do prefer my personal space without offending others ... great examples you've given here ... cheers Hilary

  15. sometimes I am happy to be retired :)

  16. Interesting. I think the only time I would prefer to remain standing would be if the only empty seat would be next to a drunk person.
    I would say that in Finland, if a person doesn't keep the seat next to him/herself occupied with a bag or something, it's totally OK to him/her that you go to sit there. When the empty seats start to be few, usually a short glance is enough to make the person to move the bag. I wouldn't have a problem to ask a person to move his/her stuff... haven't met anybody yet who would have bought a ticket for his bag too. :)

  17. We don't have the tube system here though we should. Being both older and a wheelchair user, on buses, I have designated seating...and most people are polite about it.

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