Monday, February 22, 2010

Going Postal: On Subway Etiquette

Seeing as Emily Post lived in New York for much of her life, I'm flabbergasted that she never wrote a missive on subway etiquette*—after all, there is no place in which social graces are more tested than a small enclosed space smelling vaguely of urine and french fries. In the absence of any definitive guidelines, I think it's fitting to extrapolate a few lessons from chapter five—"On the Street and In Public"—of Post's 1922 bestseller Etiquette:

"Do not attract attention to yourself in public."

I would love to share this tip with the man who stood next to me on a packed express train recently. He was silent for a few stops and then, suddenly, began to yell "My vagina is on fire!" over and over. Had he possessed a vagina and had it actually been ablaze, I would have forgiven this transgression, although striking a match to one's genitals on a crowded subway car seems a violation of social mores in and of itself.

"Never take more than your share—whether of the road in driving a car, of chairs on a boat or seats on a train..."

Apparently a great many men have never bothered to read Etiquette; if they had, perhaps we wouldn't see so many seated with their knees spread so wide that they form a ninety-degree angle, suggesting a very sensitive case of elephantiasis of the testes.

This is like an urban mating call: "I have giant nuts."

Also in violation of this rule are women and men who feel that their bag deserves its own seat, and who roll their eyes when asked to move it to their laps. Has it paid the $2.50 fare? Perhaps it would have a more authentic riding experience were it to stand, wedged between two surly strap-hangers, during rush hour.

"The small boy’s delight in drawing a stick along a picket fence should be curbed in the nursery!"

I once shared a subway car with a toddler who banged a spoon against the pole repeatedly while his mother pretended not to notice. I do not normally think babies can be fairly called "assholes," but in this case I must reconsider.

"People who picnic along the public highway leaving a clutter of greasy paper and swill...choose a disgusting way to repay the land-owner for the liberty they took in temporarily occupying his property."

Given the dazzling array of portable, bar-shaped foods available at grocery stores and newsstands, I find it puzzling that people find it acceptable to eat meals that require utensils on public transportation. Chinese food and fried chicken are ubiquitous, and I once even saw a woman eat soup. It goes without saying that trash is left all over the floor, which is offensive to everyone, not just the "landowner," unless it provides temporary entertainment value, as during one recent ride in which my friends and I got to play that classic children's game "Mountain Dew or Pee?" with an unmarked, half-empty open cup of yellow liquid. Whichever it was, I'm sure Emily would not have approved.

*I am totally going to write one as soon as I finish watching season five of The Real Housewives of Orange County...


  1. Being from the west I've never been on a subway. I've ate a subway which was as bad an experience as your train ride, tasted like cardboard soaked in mayo, processed cheese and mystery meat, yum!

  2. maybe you should be watching The Real Housewives of New York City.. you know THE COUNTESS Luanne is big in etiquette. apparently she is recording songs now.. how bout that.

  3. I blogged about this sometime back, but a favorite offender of mine is the person who, during rush hour, leans their whole body against the pole so you can't grab it.

  4. I hope everyone reads this so they get the hint that they are probably an offender of something you've stated. Great post.

  5. Emily Post didn't likely ride the subway. I'm certain she pulled a Harold Ford Jr. and got her pedicure whilst helicoptering from home to work.

  6. @Amy: Believe me, Subway's mystery meat doesn't hold a candle to the NYC subway's mystery liquids (and suspicious packages! Fun!)

    @Ashley: Oh, I do, Ashley. I do. I watch them all, which is why I haven't found the time to write a book.

    @Inflammatory: OMG, yes. STEP OFF, YO, IT IS NOT YOUR POLE.

    Other people I hate:

    People who get out of their seat on a crowded train 30 seconds before their stop and expect you to move, saying "Getting off." OH REALLY, DUDE, YOU'RE GETTING OFF RIGHT NOW? BECAUSE LAST TIME I CHECKED WE WERE HURTLING THROUGH A TUNNEL OF DARKNESS.

    The shoulder-sitters. When you are sitting at the end of the row and someone uses the shoulder-height bar as a seat. EXCUSE ME, DO I KNOW YOU? THEN WHY IS YOUR ASS ON MY SHOULDER?

    @Scientific: Thanks! And yes, everyone is an offender. I'm generally the bitch who steps on your foot or drops her magazine insert cards all over the floor.

    @Recessionista: So true. Sigh. If only that were me.

  7. DublinWriter2:00 PM

    That's all (sadly) too true, Sassy, but I'm afraid you failed to mention public masturbation... This is a phenomenon I've been witness to more than I care to admit.

  8. Do not, I repeat, do not ride subways in Japan, at rush hour.

    People are very polite and would never do the things they do here.
    However, during rush hour you can forget about the "personal space" concept. You are full-on spooning with whomever is next to you (on every side).

    If you are lucky enough to get a seat, you expect the nether regions of several people to be in your face...

  9. In the world of cars and roads, my pet peeve is people who flick their cigarette butts out the window. KEEP YOUR BUTT IN THE CAR, PEOPLE!

    P.S. Sassy, you are my new guilty pleasure!

  10. I'm a daily loser-cruiser (aka takes the bus) so i have similar experiences from people with a smell so heinous your almost impressed by their will to continually wear underwear they soiled in 1995, to the "special" people that start singing "ding fries are done" every time the stop bell sounds.
    my biggest pet peeve is the ppl with annoying cell rings that gab the whole time in loud shrill voices about this party, that drug, or screwing that guy/girl/lamppost. If ur sex life is so crucial to be on public display thats what the interweb is for :P

  11. Anonymous2:27 PM

    I can't stop laughing about the line, "I do not normally think babies can be fairly called assholes"...........muhahahahaha

  12. "urine and french fries"

    Hilarious again...

  13. I'm again reminded why I love reading your blog...I can get some great laughs and think about the fun (and scary) experiences to be had living in New York.

    Yet I am also reminded how blissfully lucky I am to be firmly ensconced in West Texas!

  14. OMGGGG HATES when males sit like that. I have never had balls so I don't know what they feel like, but I'm guessing it's probably fairly comfy to close your legs a good majority of the time.

    So close 'em, motherfuckers.

  15. My most recent "Oh my God are you really doing that on the subway?!?!" moment was when the girl across from me pulled out a bottle of nail polish and decided that very moment was the perfect time to put a clear coat on. This was after she decided to blot her face with some shine control powder. If you would do it in the bathroom, the subway is not the place to do it!!!
    Thanks for posting this!


  16. And let's not forget the assholes who pretend to studiously ignore pregnant women. I used to unzip my coat and stick my massive, twin-holding belly right in the nose of the nearest seated, suit-wearing, twenty-something on the way to midtown. Still amazing to me how infrequently that tactic actually worked.
    Love the blog - glad to have found it.

  17. You know what they say about kids on subways with spoons right? They grow up to me adults on subways with knives.

  18. This was FUNNY! Loved your commentary re: vagina on fire guy.

    Meanwhile the housewives fascinate me this season - especially religious wife and controlling husband.

  19. These rules should apply for any kind of public transportation. I hate riding buses because of those d.bag kind of people.

  20. Anonymous10:41 PM

    Babies are always assholes.

  21. oh the subway... i'm so glad i dont have to deal with that. this was genius. :)

  22. the "Mountain Dew or Pee" game made me gag & laugh. One of my most favorite emotions. Like when my husband farts. What a joy!

  23. I happen to think there are many asshole babies out there. My babies will be perfect angels. Without a doubt.

  24. Anonymous12:03 AM

    oh man...the food thing gets me every time. I wish there was a bit about bus etiquette many times I've boarded a bus in London only to find a half eaten box of greasy takeaway chicken from 3am rolling under my seat. blech!

  25. I took the bus to work in Dublin Monday - Friday, for five years, and at least once a week, while standing on a crowded bus, a man would take the opportunity to grind against me. It's just not that crowded!!!

  26. :-) funny.

    People who want a whole seat for their bag, when they know full well it's rush hour - Grr.

    I use the London Underground every day and it's just the same, do you have the issue with the people who think you are standing in their spot?

    On the platform, if you just happen to stand in the space that someone else knows full well that "his" doors will be opening. In London they will just come and try and push you out of the way. There will be loads of space along the platform, but they will come and press right up against you until you move over. Else they will stand right up behind you tutting, only to barge past you as the doors open!

    Then there are the coughing idiots, who have never been taught that covering their mouth in public is generally considered human!

    I could rant on for days!!


  27. Anonymous7:03 AM

    Oh yes, the PGTS... Phantom Giant Testicle Syndrome. What is with those guys who do that? You wish dude!

  28. You just made an Ohio girl laugh out loud. I have only been on a subway a few times in my life, and it has always been an anomaly. One can't find people yelling about burning vaginas in the suburbs of Ohio! Although, I could add a few things about grocery store and parking lot etiquette.

  29. Anonymous1:10 PM

    I think you're awesome!
    I read your blog posts almost everyday, love your sense of humour!
    *Reader from India*

  30. I have a two year old and all though I don't have a subway in my area, I ride public transportation with her every morning to daycare then I ride on to work, this blog is great and the things you write about happen just the same . The Urban mating call... seen that more then I like to remember.

  31. "elephantiasis of the testes"...that is friggin' hilarious! You could ask the same question as the hand bag, "Has it paid the $2.50 fare for the extra seat?"

  32. I have a feeling Emily's a snob (in the best way) and would say, "At all costs, never ride the subway," but for those who have no other choice, those rules are perfect.

  33. Sassy, firstly, you have changed my life for the better, so thanks for that. Project Runway is now a trifecta of greatness: 1. the show itself, 2. Tim's extended critiques on (See: last week - Anthony: "Tim, calm down."), 3. Your re-caps. Secondly, I think perhaps Warners should hire you to consult on THIS: Thank you for being awesome.

  34. XD

    I must tell you, your writing is brilliant. I wish I had a fraction of your wit. All I have is vocabulary no one uses.


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