You Can’t Sit There!

People say no English person talks to another person on the tube. Not true. Last Friday evening while some people were on their way home from work and others going into central London a somewhat older woman empathetically said to me “You Can’t Sit There!.”

The lead up is that I got on the tube, it was very crowded, I made my way to what I thought was a vacant seat. It was vacant of a person but had a newspaper and a leaking juice carton in a shopping bag on top of it. Many people had looked at the seat, saw the stained newspaper and leaking carton and disappointingly remained standing. People muttered between themselves, “leaking”, “stained” shook their heads. When we stopped at the next station someone pushed forward to get to the vacant seat, to be told by a chorus “oh, no, can’t sit there, stained.”

After 3 stops and more people squeezing in like sardines and my back tired from a long day I wondered “is it really leaking? Has it stained the seat? The newspaper doesn’t look saturated.” I found myself urging myself on to check, was the seat really stained? As I leant down to gently pick up the newspaper keeping the carton level so not to leak more I felt I was opening myself up for ridicule, not listening, risking. That’s when the elderly woman looked aghast at me and said “no”, “they said not to sit there”. As I continued to move the paper onto the floor in front of the seat, she kept saying “no.” I felt the seat with my hand, it was dry, and I felt it again to make sure. Yup, it was dry, cool because no one had been sitting in it but it was dry. So I pivoted around, sat down, and put my feet either side of the carton and newspaper. She then said “you can’t sit there.” Not wanting to point out the obvious, that I was sitting there, I innocently said “it seems like the juice only leaked onto the newspaper not the seat.” Her demeanour shifted to justification, “but they said not to.” Others looked at me incredulously. And some averted their eyes. Amazingly how someone either assumed or said the seat was unusable and that was passed on to others despite it not being true and the space being needed. Fascinating how I felt I was risking ridicule by even thinking of checking it had leaked.

What assumptions would serve you well to challenge?