Accepted wisdom is that the British know how to queue and that foreigners could learn a lot from us. Perhaps, but there are aspects to modern life that goes beyond such simplistic reduction.
I have recently started going by bus. I felt I should, not only because of the free pass I now enjoy, but also in order to cut congestion on the roads and pollution. I was reluctant to do so but have found it rather like going blind, at least according to my aunty Maud.
She suffered from vision loss where she could only see things to the side of her. As she grew older it got worse. She told me that she really dreaded going completely blind. I used to take her to the post office once a week for her pension and when she was blind she told me that it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be.
So just like travelling by bus.
The problem with buses is the other people. Not the driver so much, although some can be a right pain, but passengers. I don’t mind them being there if they feel the need to go on the same vehicle as me, but I do wish they would sit in just the one seat.
It is not just bus travel of course, but that brought it into sharp focus. With modern bus design some seats have restricted leg room and for a bloke who used to be 6’2.5”, these are no-go areas. Anyone who gets onto the bus before me would have sat in the more roomy seats – so far no problem – but many, and most women, will put some object on the seat beside them.
I don’t like sitting next to strangers but if it was a massive problem I’d go by car. At first I would squeeze into the tight fitting seats but lately I’ve taken a stand. Or should that be seat.
If the only vacant seat with decent leg room is occupied by someone’s bag I now go up to the person, ask them, politely, to remove it so I can sit there. This has generated a number of reactions. These can be classified under two types: those that show their reluctance and have to be encouraged by me making a move to sit in said seat, and those who remove said item but show their resentment by looks and noises.
There has been one instance of a third way, where I was blanked despite repeating my request twice, but all I did was to lift said item from the seat, stuffing it underneath and then sitting down.
It puts me off going by bus as I don’t like standing when there are seats that are not occupied by people, and I don’t like confrontation. However, I feel someone has to do it.
Lately I have seen the same system in coffee shops. Only yesterday I was in Neros at a time when it was so crowded that some people came into the shop, estimated the likelihood of there being someone to sit, decided there was none and left. However two people had coats on seats they were not occupying.
This struck me as selfish. My only regret was that I had already secured a table for myself whilst my wife queued for the coffees. And then I realised that I was as bad as them.
There was a long queue. Seeing a couple getting up from a table I left my wife and sat in their place, keeping it warm for when my wife was served. I had little to do other than stare at the very selfish woman across the way with a seat she had dedicated to her coat.
Then it came to me. I was occupying two seats that customers with coffee could have occupied whilst my wife was being served. That too is selfish. I feel a bit guilty.
But not so guilty that I will change my conduct.