This photo is entitled “Pet Peeve.” It’s easy to see why. (Photo by flickr user animalvegetable)
Let me tell you a secret: When I ride the subway, I judge people. I judge the way they board, where they stand, how they sit. I judge what they read and the way they read. I judge their headphone qualities and the volume of their music. I am, in other words, a people-watcher.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m not a ruthless critic of New York’s straphangers and their approach to their shared commutes. I watch — and judge — because I enjoy seeing how other people relate to the subways. Do they treat it with respect as they would their own car or apartment or do they eat and discard without regard to the communal nature of it? Are they aware of leaking headphones and music that’s too loud? Do they recognize that taking up two seats is frowned upon and that the elderly and expectant mothers should be offered seats at the right time?
The answers to these questions vary. Many people ride respectfully. They aren’t pole-huggers or door-blockers. They throw out their leftovers in the trash cans and listen to music at volumes that do not disturb others. They don’t spread their newspapers out across three seats during the morning rush, and they do give up their seats when appropriate. The rude ones always stand out, but by and large, New Yorkers are more respectful of each other than the stereotypes say we are.
Yet, etiquette aside, New Yorkers exhibit behavioral tendencies of all stripes on the subway, and in one of her last amNew York pieces on transit before heading to The Post, Heather Haddon and a behavioral psychologist examined those tendencies. What, Haddon asked, does the way you ride say about your personality?
Haddon and her panel of experts — a body language instructor, an etiquette maven and the aforementioned psychologist — looked at six different styles of subway riding: the door-blocker, the pole-hugger, the seat hog, the wanderer, the pole avoider and the corner sitter. As you might expect, the answers are obvious and amusing.
Of the door-blocker, for instance, Haddon and the experts say:
Typically, this is someone who wants to keep his or her options open, is claustrophobic or is a “business guy with complete disregard for others,” Brehove said. These riders spark widespread disdain among commuters. “It drives me crazy when people stand right next to the door,” said Lisa Wagner, 40, of Manhattan. “Usually there’s room in the middle of the car but they just won’t go there.”
The person who takes up more than one seat, they say, is either confrontational or inconsiderate (or both). The pole hogs, says one rider, are the worst. “Clueless and ignorant immediately come to mind,” Regina Iulo of Brooklyn said. But my favorite is their assessment of those who seek corner or aisle seats:
Our experts agree that this is likely an anxious person seeking refuge from the masses. “It’s like crossing your arms in front of yourself. They want to be as far away as they can get,” Fitzpatrick said. “I am a big fan of personal space,” said Danielle Marie, 24, a Manhattan rider who prefers the corner. “I don’t want anyone to crowd me and I don’t want to crowd anyone else.”
Who can be faulted for wanting to take a bit of refuge from the maddening crowd? The middle seats, after all, are a recipe for a sandwiched and uncomfortable commute.
New York’s subways are, as I’ve said in the past, a great social incubator. Millions of people come together for the shared experience of riding the rails every day, and this diverse crowd comes from all walks of life and all backgrounds. How we ride speaks volumes about the way we interact with others. Whether we like it or not, someone else is always watching and probably judging too.