Disarming things one can say when giving up a seat on the bus?
March 26, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I regularly run into a semi embarrassing situation when offering my seat to someone on the bus, and I would prefer to give both myself and the stranger in question easier outs.

I now have a commute that requires bussing when it's raining and I can't safely motorcycle. I have a great express bus option, but standing is a complete bitch of a time because it is city streets, and even the most conscientious bus driver still feels almost malicious on the frequent hard braking. So, I sit.

Manners and my upbringing and whatever else dictate that I get up and offer my seat when a lady, elder, or disabled person is standing. I'm healthy and frankly could use the standing more than most, but I would prefer for this question just not to get into whether or not my presuppositions in this regard need realignment. The general situation I am looking to avoid is when I stand and embarrass the other person or myself or both when they refuse the seat and I remain standing. I realize not getting up in the first place could resolve this but for the sake of argument please assume that is off the table.

What would be fantastic is ideas and options for things to say or do when getting up from my seat to make it clear to the other person that the seat is theirs if they want it and it's fine if they don't too, but I will stand all the same. And if we could both laugh it off, more the better. Ok, go.
posted by allkindsoftime to Human Relations (52 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Half stand while gesturing at your seat and making a neutral-curious face. If they shake their head, smile and nod. If they accept, get up.

Source: was a woman in NYC for 7 years, sometimes with child
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2014 [27 favorites]

Why can't you just remain seated while you ask them, "would you like my seat?" That's what I usually do.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Yes, it's awkward when you stand and the person doesn't want the seat and everybody just keeps staring at the desired empty seat. I always ask "would you like to sit here?" while still sitting, and that seems to help. But that means you still have to remain seated.
posted by Melismata at 11:03 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I do this fairly frequently, so I just make it clear to the person -- tapping them on the shoulder or gesturing at them and then at the seat or whatever -- that I'm offering them my seat. If they don't take it, I sit back down because that's the thing that makes it less awkward for everyone (i.e. the person who didn't take the seat doesn't feel put out because now I am standing.)
posted by griphus at 11:04 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: (Also, I always get up first just because there's a lot of people who won't say "yes I'll take your seat" when verbally offered but will take it if you stand up and point at an empty seat they could have.)
posted by griphus at 11:05 AM on March 26, 2014 [22 favorites]

The general situation I am looking to avoid is when I stand and embarrass the other person or myself or both when they refuse the seat and I remain standing.

So wait, they refuse the seat and you don't sit back down? That's confusing to me. It seems like logic suggests that you should not sit at all in the first place since surely someone "more deserving" is going to get on the bus at some point on your commute.

Could you just, you know, sit down again? If you're making a big production out of your gentlemanly qualities, you risk coming across as affected and showoffy rather than polite.
posted by Frowner at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I'm sorry you've had so much trouble with this. Personally, I've found standing, using a simple "Ma'am" or "Sir" to attract attention, combined with a nod at the seat tended to suffice.

Personally, I think remaining standing makes it less awkward for them to take the seat, as the understanding is that you're standing either way, so they may as well sit, rather than feeling like they've put you out.
posted by corb at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

If your goal is to be standing regardless, and for the seat to be open for whomever wants to sit in it, but specifically perhaps one particular person, here is what you do:

1. Stand up
2. Gesture at the seat
3. Say "I'm getting off soon anyway."
4. Continue standing, but GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE WAY OF THE SEAT so that anyone else interested (me! me! I am interested!) can sit in it without making it weird if the first person doesn't take it.
posted by phunniemee at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2014 [23 favorites]

You're really overthinking this (because you sound like a nice person). Are you sure you're actually embarrassing the person, or is this a hypothetical? Because I've only ever been on either end of this in a non-verbal exchange, and it's [almost] never been awkward.*

Make eye contact, smile or nod slightly, and get up. If they want the seat, they'll take it, if not, someone else will fill it at some point or another. Frankly, it only gets awkward (in my imagining of it, as a participant on either end) if you call much more attention to what you are doing or try to engage personally more than might be comfortable by saying anything.

*EXCEPTION: it will probably be a bit odd if you offer your seat to a healthy-looking lady just because she's, well, a lady. Female secondary sex characteristics are not a physical disability. I once had 2 different men in their 70s try to give me their seats on a bus (I was 20) when, frankly, I was mortified because I felt I should be relinquishing any free seat to someone like them.
posted by blue suede stockings at 11:06 AM on March 26, 2014 [31 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a middle aged female. Sometimes people offer me their seats sometimes not. I'm never insulted. Sometimes I say yes, sometimes no.

I will absolutely shame any young person sitting in a "disabled access" seat who does not rise for an elderly (i.e., older than me) person despite having not risen for me without my reprimand. That's because I think I'm young heh heh heh.

But if someone offers me the seat and I say no thank you in a friendly way and they rise anyway, I wouldn't think twice about it, and I might or might not take the seat they vacated.

Don't overthink it. You're being polite and us old folks like polite boys.
posted by janey47 at 11:10 AM on March 26, 2014 [12 favorites]

I also recommend the half-stand/gesture/friendly look combo.
posted by ethorson at 11:11 AM on March 26, 2014

Giving up your seat is about them, not about you.

Do whatever you like, and stop over thinking it.
posted by gsh at 11:12 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

I often sit in the front seats of my regular bus, because I ride it for a pretty short part of the route and it's typically empty-ish. When the bus is unusually full (with enough other people that I'm taking up a needed disability-priority seat), what I usually do in your situation is just get up as I see people getting on, and move farther back so that it's clear I'm leaving the seat. Whether anyone sits in my former seat or not is up to them, and this avoids the embarrassment of it turning into a "no, you sit", "no, you sit" situation.
posted by augustimagination at 11:14 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

If it helps, I've been the other person in this question (generally under the "lady" rubric*), and have on occasion declined the seat.

I did not feel anything negative at all towards the seat-offerer.

On the off chance that the moment felt awkward, it was forgotten within about thirty seconds.

This is really not something to worry yourself about. In general, I think actually speaking to the other person is way more mortifying than just standing up and vacating the seat. If in doubt, I can assume you're getting off at the next stop.

*I feel exactly the way blue suede stockings does, though on occasion I have accepted the seat, because, sure, dude, who doesn't love sitting down after a long day of work?
posted by Sara C. at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2014

I think, "May I offer you this seat," said in a low tone, with a partial stand should do it.

A warm smile helps too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:17 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

If I were the standing person in your situation (youngish lady), it's worked best when someone makes eye contact with me, gestures toward their seat while rising and saying please. I am most likely to take the seat at that point. I do NOT recommend that you touch someone to get their attention. I've been tapped on the shoulder or arm before and I understand the intent, but it really raises my hackles.

I also agree with the earlier comments about if it's a youngish woman you're offering your seat to, it may be more likely you'll end up in this "embarrassing" situation. I am just as able to stand for a train/bus ride as a guy.
posted by bibbit at 11:19 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Spoken as a lady and probably your elder, get up from your seat, offer it to me, and when I politely decline (because I'm fully able to stand, thanks), walk away from it anyway.

That allows someone else who really wants it (despite age, visual gender, or ability) to take it.
posted by kimberussell at 11:19 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I'm healthy and frankly could use the standing more than most, but I would prefer for this question just not to get into whether or not my presuppositions in this regard need realignment.

Age, gender, (apparent) "disability" -- there is a lot you can't know about them and they can't know about you. In a situation like that, there isn't time to get into their life story (or yours). I am 48 and female. Most people misread me as lots younger than I am (someone recently guessed that I was 30, oh ha ha). I also have a medical handicap which comes with significant impairments. But I walk about four hours (or more) most days, so I am actually pretty physically spry. Most people would not know by looking at me how old I am or how much pain and physical limitation I live with.

If you want to rise, that's your choice. You can make it less awkward by not saying or indicating anything about them. Instead, say something about you, like "My stop is coming up" or "I have been stuck at a desk all day, it's nice to stretch my legs" or anything else you want to say about why you personally choose to stand, having nothing to do with them and any presumed infirmity/age/whatever on their part. Then you don't have to argue with someone who isn't as old as you assumed and is taking offense at that idea or someone who has their feminist rage hat on or whatever. If they try to make an issue out of your choice to stand for personal reasons having nothing to do with them, you can look sort of nonplussed and then turn away from them, because it really is none of their business if you decide you would like to stand up.
posted by Michele in California at 11:21 AM on March 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

In the long grand scheme of things, I think of the women you encounter, more of them will either appreciate it or have Sara C's take on it "Yay! Seat! Man am I exhausted." I wouldn't worry too much on that score. (Disclaimer: as a lady, I was raised in a culture where men stood for women) But it is important to distinguish that you're not trying to hit on the woman in question. Thus, after she's seen the seat and responded if it's her desire to do so, make sure to avoid eye contact - turn slightly away even, as though, you've done your duty and no have no need of further appreciation.

Oh - and never, ever, look at a woman's stomach before you make that determination. The potential for embarrassment I see is if someone thinks you're giving them a seat because you think they're pregnant, when they're merely heavy.
posted by corb at 11:23 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I think average cultural standards in this area have shifted from "stand for a woman or an elderly or disabled person" to just "stand for an elderly or disabled person." So if you're offering your seat to a woman who is neither elderly nor disabled, she may simply not understand that that's what you're doing.

Anyhow, if you've resolved to stand, make brief eye contact with the person, smile, and nod towards your seat as you rise. (In my experience most buses are too loud for verbal communication for anyone who's not right next to you.) Then, crucially, stop looking at them. (If you currently keep looking at them to see whether they're taking your seat or not, this is probably where the awkwardness is coming in.) You've abandoned the seat, and they've hopefully gotten the message and if not somebody else will take it, so enter a Zen-like state of seat-renunciation and look out the window.
posted by ostro at 11:24 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You could claim, with a smile, that the view is great from your seat, or that it affords excellent back support. An old-fashioned phrase like "Would you care to sit down?" brightened my day a little bit as a formerly pregnant Chicago El train commuter, even if I didn't actually want to (and didn't) take the seat.
posted by homelystar at 11:24 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've been on both ends of this exchange and have never found it awkward either. (And I can find just about anything to be awkward.) As a fat lady who has been mistaken for pregnant a few times - I mostly say no thanks, shrug, and get on with my day. It sucks a little, but you know, I get enough crap for my weight in the world that someone trying to be nice to me because of it barely registers as awkward. Or I have occasionally just taken the damn seat because again, I get enough crap for my size that I might as well get a free bus seat out of it once in a while. Either way, no big deal.

Just stand, offer seat, sit down again if they say no. Or if you want to stand regardless, that's fine too - but then if possible, move away from the seat a bit so if that particular person doesn't want it, someone else who does want it can get at it.

If I'm offering, I usually just say "Excuse me, would you like to sit here?" That seems to be clear and work well.
posted by Stacey at 11:27 AM on March 26, 2014

I am frequently read as a woman. I am not a woman. I have trans woman friends who are sometimes read as men when they are not men. It behooves one to be a bit thoughtful about offering things to "ladies" - if you offer me something because I am a "lady", yes, we will all be embarrassed. Also, I don't feel safe being singled out for my [perceived ] gender in a group of strange men.

I would not mention this, except that it is generally assumed that everyone feels awesome having their gender validated in this manner.
posted by Frowner at 11:28 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

corb's point is a good one. When I was 30 lbs heavier, I was frequently offered seats on the subway in NYC due to people thinking I was pregnant. At first it was mortifying and I would be all "ugh, no, i'm not pregnant" and then die of embarrassment, but after years of commuting, I kind of grew to like it and would just take the seat and let them keep on thinking I was.

I don't get mistaken for pregnant anymore, and sometimes nice gentleman will just offer a seat if I am the only lady standing, which I do think is chivalrous and nice, but as a man doing this, you do run the risk of a woman misunderstanding...corb's suggestion to ABSOLUTELY not look anywhere near their stomach is a safe way to go I think.
posted by syrenka at 11:29 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and, as far as the general "getting up for a lady" thing: I was raised to do that. My grandmother taught me Public Transportation Etiquette (and not in a particularly gentle way, so the lessons are pretty ingrained) and every time there is a lady standing in front of me with nowhere to sit, I basically have to sit there and actively get over myself.

I don't think there's a lot of women who would get straight-up offended if I were to offer them my seat but I don't want to behave in a "please, accept this gift as a token of my acknowledgement of your gender" way so, again, I sit there and I get over myself.
posted by griphus at 11:30 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: In terms of specific quips that might assist with your situation, what I have seen from men is kind of this excessive yet charming formality - kind of an understanding that these mores are held as somewhat old-fashioned, but you're doing them anyway, and isn't it nice? So things like, "Madam, your chariot awaits" or "Allow me" with a graceful hand gesture.

On the other side of griphus' point, (and I don't usually admit this, but will, because I think it may be valuable for you) I will note that having been raised with the understanding that men should get up for ladies, pregnant, elderly, and disabled, I sometimes, when I'm standing with a lot of bags or something, actively think dark thoughts about all of the men sitting down and avoiding eye contact, who raised them, and why they have terrible manners. If you need a feminist interpretation of it, try thinking of it as partial and tiny reparations for the terrible things that some men do in the world.
posted by corb at 11:35 AM on March 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

"I sit down at work all day anyway. I'm happy to have a chance to stand up." Then just keep standing, possibly turn away slightly, and effectively abandon the seat to anyone who wants it. If the specific person you had in mind doesn't take it, don't worry about. Someone will.
posted by alms at 11:46 AM on March 26, 2014

I feel like the way you make it not awkward is by just getting up and walking away from the seat, and if the person feels like they need it they take the seat. If some other person grabs the seat before the person who you intended the seat for gets to it first, it's on the other person at that point and you can give them a dirty look if you feel like it will get your point across.

A simple "Would you like to sit?" is not bad but the only time I personally would bother is if the bus is so crowded that leaving empty seats makes it worse, so you want to make sure someone is going to take the seat if you get out of it.

All this "I sit down at work all day" or "I'm getting off soon anyway" is weird to me. No one cares why you *don't* want the seat!
posted by mskyle at 11:49 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I wish you were on my buses and trains when I was a very heavy pregnant person with a toddler and no one would give my toddler a seat. I mean, I could have used one, too, but for crying out loud, a two year old definitely needs one.

My advice is to stand and be nice but direct. "Hi, would you like this seat?" and then gesture to it as others have suggested. If someone says no, graciously nod and sit back down --- and HERE'S WHY: In case at the next stop someone who needs a seat more than you (and maybe the other people on that that) time can get one. I've noticed that when I stand up, if the intended recipient doesn't want it, someone else will often voice that they want it. In which case, I let that person have it. When no one else indicates wanting it, I sit back down. Inevitably less than halfway through my ride, someone who really needs the seat gets on, and nobody but me offers it.

Well, now I ride a different train at off-peak hours, so there's never not a seat on 90% of the trains I take these days. But back in the day.

And, please, people, give little kids seats!
posted by zizzle at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2014 [10 favorites]

You could say, getting up, "I'm think I'm going stand for the rest of the way, and you are welcome to my seat, if you would like it."

If you say it such that it sounds like you are standing so that they can have a seat, you'll potentially have awkwardness, if they decline. If you let them know that the seat is available by virtue of another decision that you are making (to stand, for whatever reason), it alleviates potential concerns you may have.

I do agree though that at the end of the day, it's a small thing. But I understand wanting to get a particular social nuance right and not quite being able to work it out. I have these come up all the time at parties and large group gatherings.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:50 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the key, if physically possible, is to move at least a few feet away from the seat you are vacating (and preferably to another part of the bus) to signify you are fully releasing the seat. Then others will feel more comfortable to take the seat if the first person doesn't. You could simply ask the next closest person if they would like the seat, regardless of their age/gender, as a way of signifying to the crowd that whoever wants it should take it.
posted by dahliachewswell at 11:53 AM on March 26, 2014

oh I should also add that when I would like someone to go ahead of me, or take my seat, or whatever, what I do is gesture appropriately and say, simply, "Please." That makes it them doing me a favor and they often seem to feel more inclined to just do what I tell them to do lol
posted by janey47 at 11:54 AM on March 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Agree that it's best to move away from the seat after standing. Then nobody feels awkward--if the person you are giving your seat to does not consider themselves a priority-seat-recipient, they just think that you are getting off the bus, and no worries.

As an additional data point on the gender issue, I am a woman and while I enjoy sitting down on buses, I would probably be offended if a male-presenting person offered me their seat. And I can play the "No, After You" game longer than you can, trust me.

I offer my seat to elderly people, people with small children, people who appear to be having a hard time standing, and people of any gender who are carrying groceries.
posted by snorkmaiden at 12:22 PM on March 26, 2014

Personally, it doesn't bother me much if people stand or not stand, or even offer me a seat or whatever (this does not usually happen). What I do mind is when people do a thing with regard to addressing me, and they make it clear that they do it because 1) this is a thing that they do for ladies 2) I am a lady 3) this is a polite thing to do for ladies 4) such as me 5) observe now the florid gestures that need to be made to ladies 6) which are now addressed to me.

There is a problem with the even-numbered propositions.

For this reason, I don't recommend making florid gestures to the people you're giving up your seat for, that include explicit references to why you're doing it -- it could be embarrassing to them for any number of reasons. I'd go with the stand-and-leave-immediate-area or stand-smile-and-indicative-head-nod, with optional hand gesture.

If any awkwardness remains, I think maybe that's part of the burden of politeness.
posted by sparktinker at 12:25 PM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was raised by my mother to give up my seat on public transportation to ladies, the elderly and the infirmed. I usually say "Would you like a seat" and gesture toward the seat with an open hand. People will usually say either say "Yes" or "No", and either answer is fine with me. I was also taught by my mother that sometimes people can take offense at an action meant as a courtesy, and that is their problem, not mine.
posted by Rob Rockets at 12:28 PM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

*EXCEPTION: it will probably be a bit odd if you offer your seat to a healthy-looking lady just because she's, well, a lady. Female secondary sex characteristics are not a physical disability. emphasis added

Preach. FWIW, and in case it might affect how you handle these circumstances in future, I feel exactly the same way, OP.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 12:35 PM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

It seems rather old-fashioned to offer a seat to a person who appears to be as able-bodied, young, and unburdened, as yourself, simply because of their gender. Perhaps this is why you sometimes sense awkwardness. I can't imagine it would be as awkward to offer a seat to someone who is elderly, disabled, or who has babies or young children in tow.
posted by mr vino at 12:40 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

After having had some awkwardness with this in the past, I resolved, that, if someone else might want the seat, but they're not obviously pregnant or in a cast or with a small child, or carrying a million bags (i.e. visibly and unmistakably a person whose reason for sitting is clear), I would just stand up and walk away from the seat. If I offer and they seem embarassed, I feel embarassed. If I just sit there, I feel like a bad person. If I stand up, I will burn a few calories and it's not going to kill me to stand.

On the flip side, I was a pregnant lady who declined offers since sometimes it was very difficult for me to stand up again after sitting down once I hit a certain point of pregnancy. But I always, always, always appreciated the offer! (As a commuter with a small toddler, ditto. Sometimes it is easier to stand but I appreciate the offer).
posted by chocotaco at 12:42 PM on March 26, 2014

One more little comment and then I'll stop chiming in: Female secondary sex characteristics are not a disability, but high heels are and while I would never ask someone to give up their seat because of my choice of footwear, the fact that I'm on the bus at all usually indicates that I'm not in walking shoes (and by walking shoes, I include heels that I walk to and from work in). So sure, don't make a big deal out of your gentlemanliness, but please don't stop offering me a seat despite the fact that I'm identifiably female.
posted by janey47 at 12:44 PM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I sympathize. I am a woman and have definitely had awkward situations where I offered my seat to an older woman and she was offended (perhaps rightly). The one time I didn't offer it for fear of offending another lady and she was offended that I hadn't offered it!

My strategy, after a decade of living in the cold hard city, is just to vacate the seat if there is someone who seems to need it more than me. I don't say anything or gesture, just get up and hope that no one snakes the person it was intended for.

I also try.to sit as far to the back as possible in the first place in order to leave the seats in front open.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:45 PM on March 26, 2014

Wow. It never even would have occurred to me that this could be awkward. I take transit regularly and in general my habit has always been to pre-emptively stand up if the bus or train is critically low on empty seats. I have never verbally or gesturally "offered" someone a seat; I figure if I create a vacancy, anyone is free to either move in to fill it or remain standing themselves.
posted by aecorwin at 12:47 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Why can't you just remain seated while you ask them, "would you like my seat?"

Often: headphones. Sorry, should have included that in OP.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:00 PM on March 26, 2014

Stay seated until the bus is almost full, then stand (say, when there are still 2-3 empty seats). That way, you leave a seat free for anyone that might need it, without an awkward social interaction, and still get to sit most of the time.
posted by Jabberwocky at 4:47 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

The young rope-rider gave the perfect answer on the first shot. Here's the script:

You make as if to stand up, while looking at the person with an inviting and questioning expression. Once you have their attention you gesture at your seat with a nod or an open hand. If they don't notice you but you would feel bad if they couldn't sit (i.e. they are very elderly, obviously disabled, or very pregnant) then you offer a "Sir?" or "Ma'am?" to draw their attention your way.

They will then begin moving toward your seat (possibly with a "thank you") at which point you stand up the rest of the way, or else they will either ignore you or say "no thanks", at which point you sit back down.

The interaction is then complete, with a total elapsed time of approximately one second. You then resume standard public transit demeanour, in which you pretend that nobody else on the bus exists while simultaneously avoiding eye contact, minimizing body contact, and maximizing personal space. The person who you gave your seat to may opt to engage you in conversation at this juncture, but this is not mandatory (although again, a "thank you" is considered polite). You may not initiate conversation with them, however – if they do not choose to continue the interaction, you are obligated to drop it.

It feels really weird to put all of that into words. The whole interaction script is one of those things that I feel is governed by fairly prescriptive social mores, but which is rarely discussed or explicitly taught. People usually just seem to know what to do automatically, assuming that they have enough cultural overlap that they're both following nearly the same script. All bets are off if one or both parties come from a culture governed by social rules other than those which pertain in urban America, or if one party is mentally unstable, socially inept, or just having an off day.
posted by Scientist at 4:48 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I just get up. If no one takes it in 30 seconds or so I sit back down.

simple and easy, minimal human interaction.
posted by jpe at 5:00 PM on March 26, 2014

Response by poster: Female secondary sex characteristics are not a physical disability

FWIW, if I for a second assumed they were, I wouldn't have bothered naming the three distinct groups of "lady, elder, or the disabled." Please don't put words in my OP that aren't there.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:38 PM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

If I'm sitting, I'll just get up if I see a bunch of people start to get on. If your route has people just trickle in, and this would potentially happen quite often, I'd still probably rather put up with standing despite the jerky ride. I'd go crazy trying to determine whom I should/shouldn't offer seats to.

And I wouldn't think it'd be best to stay seated while asking, because it might make the other person feel awkward about coming off as "Yes, please take the effort to get out of that seat for me." If you're already up (of half up) and they decline, there's nothing for them to feel bad about.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 9:50 PM on March 26, 2014

I'd just like to thank you for offering to give up your seat, and I don't think you can go wrong no matter how you go about it. If someone objects to your offer, they're the one with the problem - not you. It's not up to you to make all the politically correct moves when offering your seat to someone else.

I ride the bus all the time, now in an electric wheelchair, but with a walker or cane for many years before the wheelchair, and I'm old and female. I see men offer their seats to others and it always sends me off for the day with a feeling that things aren't so bad after all - that can't be anything but good. I see plenty of young or obviously plenty healthy (carrying skateboards or wearing 4" high heels, for example) people who don't offer to move for a disabled person or a person carrying a baby, a stroller, and a big bag - nope, they'll just sit there looking out the window and pretending they don't notice. Well, that's okay, too - one day they'll figure it out. Once in awhile the bus driver will ask the person to give their seat to an elderly or disabled person who boards, but it's not a guaranteed thing. I have, several times, offered to let a standing, unsteady person hold onto my shoulder to help with their stability, and the offer hasn't been refused yet.

I'd just say eye contact, a smile and a gesture is what you want to do. That's good enough, and anyone who doesn't appreciate it as a simple courtesy needs to learn about simple courtesies.

Again, thank you. You are much appreciated.
posted by aryma at 11:16 PM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

You should pick a point in the opposite end of the subway car to stare at. Then get up and make your way toward it. If you were seated in the middle of the car, you might even cross to an adjacent car. The important thing is to establish a comfortable distance between you and your former seat. After reaching your point, you may quickly glance at the person to see if they claimed your offer. Regardless of their decision, you may not return to your seat until they exit the car. I have not run into any issues with this strategy. Admittedly, I am a bit shy. You may prefer a bolder approach.
posted by yaymukund at 8:40 AM on March 27, 2014

I will absolutely shame any young person sitting in a "disabled access" seat who does not rise for an elderly (i.e., older than me) person despite having not risen for me without my reprimand.

Hi. I'm a fairly young person, and I have an invisible disability. You can't tell it from looking at me because I don't carry a cane or use a wheelchair, but I have an autoimmune degenerative condition that makes it impossible for me to stand up for more than a few minutes at a time without intense pain. I've been chastised for not standing for people that I absolutely would stand for if I were able; I've been ordered out of the disabled/elderly seat on many a train/bus, and had to explain myself while others looked on. It is humiliating to have to justify your right to disabled seating on public transportation. Please don't ever make anyone do it.

That said, when people offer me their seat I'm incredibly grateful, and almost always accept unless we're close to my stop. Personally, I would say make eye contact, start to stand up, smile, gesture at the seat, and sit back down if the person you're offering it to doesn't take it. If you mean it kindly, do it with very little fanfare, and don't do it automatically just for women, there shouldn't be any awkwardness on anyone's part.
posted by kythuen at 10:02 AM on March 27, 2014 [7 favorites]

kythuen's comment above is exactly why I deal with giving people seats in a very non-confrontational way. I cannot always know just by looking at someone whether they need to sit in the front priority seats on my bus. So to make it a non-issue, I just get up out of those seats any time they start filling up at all - I know that I do not actually need the seat, and I don't really get to make the judgment on who does need it. This way anyone who needs the seat can take it without awkwardness for them, and the whole thing stops being about my own assumptions of who counts as "disabled".
posted by augustimagination at 10:35 AM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another line has occurred to me:

"One of the nice things about taking the bus instead of a car is that I can stand and stretch my legs whenever I feel like it."

I will add that because people can't tell my age and my handicap is also invisible, I am okay with people offering me their seat due to my gender (again: I am female). If I accept or not depends on a lot of factors that I don't care to explain to a stranger and would not have time to explain if I wanted to. So I really do not think you should try at all to justify your decision to offer the seat. I applaud your efforts to live by your personal values while trying to avoid stepping on toes socially. I think that is as good as it gets. Again: There just isn't enough time to hash out the other person's life story, your life story, blah blah blah. Being polite in an old fashioned way is not something you should feel bad about. But, yeah, go ahead and look for ways to avoid a shit show or even ugly glare. You never know when you might run into these people again and all that. And who needs the hassle for trying to be nice? Geez.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2014

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