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Streetcar Roundtable

Eventually, I made it to the back of the crowded streetcar. The woman who'd made it there just before me took the last seat, but that didn't bother me. I didn't need to sit. A polite young man offered me his seat, and I declined. I was willing to sit, but I certainly didn't need anyone giving up their seat on my behalf.

The woman who'd just sat down commented on how rare it is to hear anyone offer to give up their seat on transit, on how rare the gentlemanly spirit is, how many pregnant women with children on their back go seatless. A good-natured pessimist sitting in the corner pointed out that women can't have it both ways, that a generous offer is often taken the wrong way. At this point, I joined in to observe that politeness should be true regardless of gender: you never know which of your fellow streetcar passengers is ill, has been on their feet all day, is feeling dizzy... If you're willing to stand, it never hurts to offer up your seat.

The young man who'd offered me his seat was an idealist working in commerce. The pessimist thought he was giving in to an abusive and corrupt system. The first woman and I, the optimists (but not idealists) of the group, pointed to how it was more effective to change the system from the inside. If he had dreams of changing the way commerce and capitalism works, he was in exactly the right profession. The pessimist - a pleasant fellow - pointed out the fundamental flaws with every system we mentioned but, when questioned, admitted that human beings are fundamentally corruptable, that there is no workable system in the world. Somewhere along the line, the discussion ended up moving from parenting and day care models for consumerist young people learning to be polite to others in the world, to the role of government and commerce in society at large, and their role in providing role models for the generically-identified "young people of today."

A woman in the row in front of us turned around to exclaim, "Only in Canada would you have this discussion on a streetcar!" Shortly thereafter, when a seat became free, she joined us. She'd done her Masters thesis at the London School of Economics the previous year on one aspect of the topic we were discussing - sustainable development for the young people of tomorrow. She gave her business card to the outspoken idealist. Another man in the corner, who'd been occasionally joining in, gave her his card. At some point, the pessimist asked if we were all in business. I wasn't, and they asked me what I would do with my degree.

The idealist left us first, and then it was my stop. "Same time next week!" said the man in the corner, only partly kidding.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
curtana
Apr. 19th, 2005 02:37 pm (UTC)
Speaking of pregnant women being offered seats on public transit, I saw a story a month or two ago that the London Underground was offering pregnant women badges they could wear to indicate their state, in order to encourage other passengers to offer them a seat. Presumably this was meant to cut down on offering inadvertant insults to women who aren't actually pregnant, as well as to encourage politeness. I seem to recall the Guardian suggested (tongue-in-cheek, of course) that they could start a whole line of similar badges for various categories of people - those who are just feeling sick and/or tired, for instance.

Incidentally, I've only been offered a seat in London, never in Toronto - but then, I don't take transit here very often, and rarely at rush hours, so I can usually get a seat without needing anyone else to give theirs up ;)
littleowl
Apr. 19th, 2005 04:31 pm (UTC)
Heh. Yes. I've not been offered a seat all week, but once and I'm quite visibly pregnant at this point, being a good 6 months along.

It's gotten to the point where, if I'm in pain from my lower back, I ask whatever young male is sitting in the handicapped seats to let me sit.

Ironically, it's usually women my own age or older who offer me a seat when I do get offered one.

Everyone else hides behind their newspapers.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 22nd, 2005 03:36 pm (UTC)
Istambul bus riders
Without a doubt, the most courteous bus riders I have ever encountered were in Istambel. During the month we spent there in 2001, we rode the city buses nearly every day from the suburb of Rumeli Hisari along the Bosphorus into the center of town. Men routinely got up to offer me (a non-pregnant female) a seat. It was really nice.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )