FUNNY how it's always the little things that vex you the most.
What, for example, is the etiquette on giving up a train seat to a woman?
Obviously, if she's elderly, infirm, pregnant, or laden with kids and/or shopping, you give up your seat. If it's someone who looks as though she could just do with a seat rather than standing for 20 minutes, ditto. But do you risk offending her by presuming that she's in need of a seat?
And – apologies for the rash of question marks, incidentally – what if it's a woman your own age, or younger? Is it chivalrous to make the offer? Patronising? I've often been caught in two minds in such a situation, half-rising from my seat, trying to catch her eye and hoping she'll understand the gesture and that I'm not trying to be patronising, though the downside is that she doesn't show any sign of noticing I end up spending the rest of the journey in that frozen indecisive position, like a half-opened Swiss Army knife, and getting a curious glance from the ticket collector. Sometimes you wish ScotRail would just provide written guidance on the matter.
Online, there's no shortage of advice. One female blogger writes: "Why shouldn't men be able to sit down if they're tired? Why should they feel obliged to let a woman sit just because she's female? Older or pregnant women? Sure! ... But a healthy woman should have no extra dibbs on [a seat]. Women want equal rights, but some expect old standards to prevail when it suits their needs." That's an argument, but not one I'd necessarily care to have on the crowded 8.15 to Queen Street. From Washington DC, a Metro user says a younger passenger giving up a priority seat spreads karma; a chivalrous gesture "can brighten the day for the recipient of the gesture, as well as those witnessing it."
Yesterday morning I got on to the train, swaddled against the cold, and a young woman of about 19 immediately offered me her seat. Good God, I thought, how old does she think I am? Did I remind her of her ageing grandfather? I stammered my thanks and declined politely. But I realised afresh that this whole situation is a minefield. From now on, I'm giving up my train seat to a woman. Whether she wants it or not.
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