Jessica Gross

Giving Up Your Seat

In musings, people watching on January 28, 2009 at 11:23 pm

On the subway, the woman sitting next to me was kinder than I. A lady with wispy, light blonde hair and a lined face came on board and stood in front of us.

“Do you want to sit down?” my seatmate asked, as I spread my newspaper over my lap.

The standing lady laughed. “That’s okay — I’m not as old as I look!”

There isn’t a better place to observe American social norms than subway-seat offerings. A girl offering a guy a seat is akin to slapping him in the face. A guy can offer a girl his age a seat, but a girl offering another girl her age a seat would get funny looks.

The real judgment call comes with the almost-elderly. Is it an insult to offer someone on the cusp a seat? — Is it like asking a round woman when the baby is due? Or should the seat-offering be a default question for anyone in the vicinity of old?

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