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The Urban Etiquette Handbook


Rules of the underground: (1) Knees may be no more than six inches apart. (2) If you can't control your offspring, watch as a stranger does it for you. (3) What did we say about checking out the girls? (4) The Post is only 25 cents—buy your own. (5) Holding the subway door makes everyone on the train love you. (6) As does loud music. (7) Lie down on subway only if dead.  

{mass transit}
Breaching Subway Decorum
When it’s okay to annoy strangers on a train.
By Adam Sternbergh

Crime: Not offering one’s seat to an obviously pregnant woman or obviously elderly person.
Rudeness Factor (out of 10): 10
Why It’s Inappropriate: If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s the continued propagation of the species (within reason). And if you don’t give your seat to an elderly person, when you grow old you can expect to be cast out and set upon by wild dogs. It’s called karma.
When It’s Appropriate: Maybe if you have a serious, demonstrable impediment. Such as a wooden leg. Although even then—she’s pregnant! On your feet, pirate.

Crime: Staring.
Rudeness Factor: 7
Why It’s Inappropriate: It’s a subway, not a bar.
When It’s Appropriate: Let’s face it—this is a city full of beautiful people who sometimes wear noticeably revealing clothing. But always observe the two-second rule: Never let your eyes linger longer than a two-count. It’s a fine line between flirt and perv.

Crime: Holding the closing doors.
Rudeness Factor: 2
Why It’s Inappropriate: It’s the perfect illustration of Spock’s famous tenet: Sometimes the needs of the many (people already on the subway) outweigh the needs of the few (person rushing to catch the subway).
When It’s Appropriate: When you’re the person rushing to catch the train. Hold that door!

Crime: Plucking eyebrows, curling eyelashes, flossing teeth (!), or clipping fingernails (!!) on the subway.
Rudeness Factor: 8
Why It’s Inappropriate: Because a civilized society is measured by the delineations between its public-transit vehicles and its bathrooms.
When It’s Appropriate: If it’s your absolute last chance to freshen up before a job interview, funeral, or proposal of marriage.

Crime: Eating messy food or consuming a perilously sloshing drink.
Rudeness Factor: 9
Why It’s Inappropriate: Because subways were practically invented to send your sloppy foodstuffs onto the shirts and laps of the people around you.
When It’s Appropriate: Only if your drink container has a cap and you’re eating a type of food—say, the vacuum-packed chicken NASA prepares for astronauts—that, in the event of a sudden subway lurch, won’t leave a splatter pattern on the people around you.

Crime: Riding with a large, space-consuming backpack or suitcase or stroller.
Rudeness Factor: 4
Why It’s Inappropriate: The smooth operation of the subway requires that people be able to (a) board the car, (b) disembark the car, and (c) ride and not get smacked in the face by the travel mug lashed to the back of your pack as you traverse the continent.
When It’s Appropriate: Packs should be kept on the floor between the legs. Strollers are granted extra leeway, though people with extra-large models that include cup holders should consider a more crowd-friendly mode of transporting their young.

Crime: Turnstile hopping
Rudeness Factor: 6
Why It’s Inappropriate: If you need to ask, we’ve already lost you.
When It’s Appropriate: Hopping, never. Ducking under the turnstile if you are short enough and under 5 years of age, all right. But we’re watching you, junior.

{solo transit}
Stealing a Cab, Politely
How to outmaneuver your competitors on the curb.

Illustration by Kagan McLeod  

If you’re the second cab-needing party to the corner and don’t want to simply wait, it’s entirely acceptable to cross the street (as long as it’s two-way). Asking about sharing a ride is a rarely used but effective technique. And if your predecessors aren’t pregnant, carrying luggage, or otherwise visibly mobility-limited, walking against the flow of traffic to gain a positional advantage is permissible under the “it’s a jungle out there” ethos—but you must walk at least a block before putting your hand back up; otherwise, the other group is within its rights to chase you down, call you a jackass, and attempt to jump in the cab in front of you.

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