Unpleasant experience on public transport
February 17, 2017 3:13 PM   Subscribe

While taking the bus, someone stood right next to me when (I believe) there was no need for them to do so. I didn't notice there was so much free space further down and would have said something if I had. I am not happy about this: am I overreacting?

A few days ago, I was taking the bus in the morning. It's almost always crowded on that route, so when I went in, I moved as far down as I could. All the seats were taken.

The person after me moved further down the bus each time I did (two or three times) and finally stood right next to me, holding the handrail. I held on too, although on the higher vertical one. The people seated were immediately next to me and to him on both sides.

Thinking nothing of it, I kept standing as the bus drove to and reached my stop (maybe ten minutes later). When the people seated got up to leave and asked me to move, I did, walking further down. The person I mentioned took a seat.

I realized at that moment that perhaps the entire standing area past me towards the entrance to the bus was empty. Maybe this was the first time this has ever happened at that time of day.

I was and am a little shaken, since there was essentially no need for the other person to stand next to me for as long as he did. He could have moved and held onto the higher handrail. (I don't think there were other horizontal rails to hold). Had I noticed beforehand that there was so much empty space, I would definitely have asked him to move.

Am I overreacting here?

There are other explanations on his part, e.g. the rail or lack of social awareness.

More generally, I seem to find myself in places that appear safe/politicized but are not. I am a male. I was in a cafe in another country when someone started taking photos of me (I moved away as soon as I could). At work, I have had manipulative people get what must be some kind of pleasure from finding an excuse to abuse their authority and to shout at me or behave in an aggressive way, with full deniability. I don't give in and try not to react.

Thoughts welcome. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If it's generally a crowded line/time then maybe they were assuming that it would fill up. Then they tuned out for awhile and didn't realize that the dorky space-invading way they were standing wasn't necessary.
posted by amanda at 3:16 PM on February 17, 2017 [25 favorites]


I'm confused. You moved all the way down the bus because the seats were full and there would likely be more people getting on and wanting standing room. And he did the same?

It sounds like he was just trying to be considerate, but maybe just slightly underestimated how much personal space he should have afforded you in his attempt to leave maximum standing room for future passengers?

The buses that I ride on have signs specifically asking people to move all the way to the back when they board.
posted by 256 at 3:16 PM on February 17, 2017 [19 favorites]


If that's the worst thing that's ever happened to you on a bus then you're pretty lucky.

There are other explanations on his part, e.g. the rail or lack of social awareness.

Sure, there are lots of explanations. The most likely being that it's considerate to move to the end of the bus and leave space for people to come on without having to move down every time. The person's behaviour from your description of it doesn't really strike me as all that odd.
posted by GuyZero at 3:20 PM on February 17, 2017 [22 favorites]


Yes, based on the information you've shared here, you are overreacting. Big time. And I say that as someone who loathes personal space encroachment.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 3:21 PM on February 17, 2017 [19 favorites]


It's almost always crowded on that route, so when I went in, I moved as far down as I could. All the seats were taken.

I realized at that moment that perhaps the entire standing area past me towards the entrance to the bus was empty. Maybe this was the first time this has ever happened at that time of day.

It really sounds like he had the same idea that you had - move to the very back in anticipation of the bus filling up.

I mean, I would applaud passengers like you and this stranger. It sure beats wasting time at a stop while the bus driver yells, "MOVE TO THE BACK! ALL THE WAY TO THE BACK!" over and over again, while people reluctantly kind of shuffle their feet a bit. And then after all the fuss and waiting the bus drives off with the back half empty anyway, while angry people are left standing on the curb.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:23 PM on February 17, 2017 [11 favorites]


Just from your description, yes, I think you're overreacting. On most public transport if you are standing, you are expected to move in as far back as possible to allow room for people to get on. If it was crowded I probably would have done something similar on autopilot. I might have left more room between us, but if that line is usually crowded, he may just have proactively moved as far in as possible-- correct from the pov of others who might enter.
posted by frumiousb at 3:24 PM on February 17, 2017


I realized at that moment that perhaps the entire standing area past me towards the entrance to the bus was empty. Maybe this was the first time this has ever happened at that time of day.
I was and am a little shaken, since there was essentially no need for the other person to stand next to me for as long as he did. He could have moved and held onto the higher handrail. (I don't think there were other horizontal rails to hold).


And if you had noticed earlier, you also could have moved up. The reason you didn't notice the empty space sooner could be the exact same reason he didn't.
posted by kimberussell at 3:29 PM on February 17, 2017 [7 favorites]


I hate the squished-sardine people-in-my-space feeling of a crowded bus, so I sympathize, but I would have done the same thing as far as following you down the bus and standing next to you, if I knew as you did that the bus was likely to be crowded. Sounds like you were both doing exactly the right thing. He could have left a bit more room until the crowding began, but I don't think not doing so is a wrong or norm-breaking thing.

I can't quite picture the handrail setup so I can't say whether that's a problem. But I will say that there could be innocent reasons for someone to choose a lower vs. higher handrail. Personally, I am a little unstable when I have to stand on buses (but not so unstable that I feel I can evict someone from their seat), and holding to a lower handrail helps me stay steady around curves and keep from bumping into people. I've also sometimes picked a hand-hold based on my carpal tunnel flaring up and requiring me to avoid certain angles for my wrist. I imagine it's not entirely clear to someone paying close attention why I would do that, as a fairly tall person who would probably otherwise be holding the high rail.

You could be picking up on a negative vibe or something that isn't actually to do with the body language, and it's worth paying attention to that instinct when you feel unsafe. But based solely on the details given here it does sound like an overreaction, and like it would have been much weirder for you to ask him to move further toward the entrance, than for him to stand where he did.
posted by Stacey at 3:29 PM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


(I should have noted that my answer comes mainly from experiences of Pennsylvania, New York, and DC public transit. Other cities or countries may have super-different transit norms, so there's your grain of salt to take with my response.)
posted by Stacey at 3:31 PM on February 17, 2017


So, from your post it's going to be anyone's guess if this situation was meant to be threatening or innocuous. We weren't there. But what I'm getting from you is that you don't feel safe anywhere. I can very much sympathize, as I've struggled with this too. What's helped me most is (1) learn to be trustworthy to myself, and (2) trust that if something happens, I can handle it. The second guessing that you've described is incredibly mentally taxing and not worth the energy. Instead, do what you need to learn when and where you feel safe.
posted by A hidden well at 3:49 PM on February 17, 2017 [17 favorites]


You didn't overreact because you didn't react at all. You may have been wrong, and if this person was trying to intimidate you he was very timid and low-key about it. but you would have had to press the situation a little bit to find out for sure and if you weren't being touched, probably not worth it.

I am a woman to whom this happens probably less than the average, so no more than every month or so, on the DC metro. The way to find out if the close person is a menace or just an innocent person like you packed into too small a space is to deliberately turn your face towards them and stare RIGHT into their eyes with a blank death expression in your eyes. just for a moment, in case they are a regular person. if they are not, they will take this as their cue to stop sidling up and start talking, guaranteed. the second your eyes meet. and whatever they have to say, you will not like it. so your curiosity has to outweigh your apprehension.

what you do after that is really up to you (yell CREEPER, NO CREEPING, say EXCUSE ME and shove forcefully right past him back the way you came, something more creative, or just ignore. while holding the death hate gaze if you can, although I never have the nerve.)

If you are worried about violence in retaliation, I might add that I have several times seen a guy looming at somebody in the metro and talking insistently at them and getting either "mmm" or total silence in reply, and every time, I try to catch the eye of the victim to try and see if they are being bothered by a complete stranger and want help or distraction or if they just have a terrible terrible boyfriend that they are happy with for some reason. it's been pretty hard to tell. So if you find yourself in a public situation that isn't ambiguous like this but is a clear and present danger, say something loudly and clearly. because otherwise people might think about helping you but not do it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:28 PM on February 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I, too, am a bit perplexed as to why you felt so shaken by this experience. I am no stranger to public transportation and loathe having my personal space reduced to the bare minimum, but nothing described here seems strange or unusual. Other than giving you a bit more space, I'm not sure what you expected him to do if there was hypothetical extra room (which you didn't notice & very well may not have been present). Move past you or somehow signal to you there was more room? I understand he followed you the first few times you moved further into the bus, presumably for the same reason you kept moving further into the bus, but when he had an opportunity to sit down and separate from you, he did. I would say that yes, you are overreacting, and, given the additional info about the picture taking and work sabotage, maybe you should talk to someone about how you are perceiving and reacting to these uncomfortable situations. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 4:52 PM on February 17, 2017


Another reason why they probably moved so far back is because they wanted to get as close to the back doors as possible, so when they reached their stop they wouldn't have to shove their way through a crowd of people to exit.
posted by littlesq at 5:02 PM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


To me, given the info here, this definitely sounds like overreaction. It sounds like both you and this guy had the same instinct to move to the back of the bus to make room for entering passengers, and just for whatever random reason the bus turned out not to be crowded that day. This doesn't make him a bad person! There could also be other reasons you aren't aware of, such that he has a shoulder injury and needed the lower down hand holds or similar.

Honestly I would try to get some outside perspective from other folks in your life who can maybe observe these situations too and give you their input. For example, on the photo thing, are you actually sure the person was taking YOUR picture rather than a photo of the decor or coffee or whatever? For context here, I have a friend who once flipped out on a guy taking photos in a cafe...he ended up showing her the photos he had taken, and as he had claimed, he was literally just taking a photo of his coffee cup for Instagram, and not targeting her in any way.
posted by rainbowbrite at 5:03 PM on February 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


I will say that there could be innocent reasons for someone to choose a lower vs. higher handrail

For a while I had an issue with rotator cuff tendinitis and it was just NOT feasible for me to hold onto an above-shoulder handrail. Especially not on a moving bus that would inevitably jerk me and my poor shoulder around.

If the person was following you, it doesn't seem likely that he would then sit down as you moved away.

It sounds to me like anxiety is causing you distress in multiple areas of your life and you would probably benefit from discussing this with your doctor.
posted by praemunire at 5:56 PM on February 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


I kept waiting for the story to get to this person trying to touch you or talk to you inappropriately, but really it just sounds like this guy was kind of weird and you have anxiety.
posted by bile and syntax at 6:18 PM on February 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


Your reaction, and what you describe in your next to last paragraph, make me concerned that you're experiencing some health issues that could be affecting your thinking. It's not really normal to constantly feel like you're not safe, or that strangers are doing... something... to you?

Moreover, all the incidents you mention could happen to me, and I would experience them as normal daily oddities--and NOT connect them all together into a pattern of threats.

It may be helpful to talk to a neutral 3rd party about this. Therapists are great for this, since it's literally their job to be objective and nonjudgemental.
posted by danny the boy at 6:19 PM on February 17, 2017 [31 favorites]


I think the bus has been covered (overreaction based in information provided)

Re the picture taking - it'd be nice if they'd asked but not required in most countries. And in some countries you'll stand out more than others so you'll draw more attention. Nothing to be concerned about as such.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:47 AM on February 18, 2017


I'm going to go way off the deep end here and suggest that you consider learning how to do psychic shielding. The description will sound very woo, but it works because it's basically a psychological hack on your own psyche (a.k.a. headology).
posted by heatherlogan at 5:55 AM on February 18, 2017 [2 favorites]


Followup from the anonymous OP:
Thank you very much for your thoughtful answers and for your time. I appreciate it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:35 PM on February 18, 2017


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