Male commuter: “Excuse me love, would you like this seat?”
Female commuter: “Oh, that’s very kind of you, but I’m not actually pregnant.”
Male commuter: “I know, I just thought you were old.”
If there was enough room in a tube carriage for tumbleweed to pass, this would have been the very moment when it slowly rolled down the aisle in stony silence.
The unfortunate exchange (which a member of the Commuting Expert team witnessed in its full unadulterated horror), was hopefully a rare and extreme example of commuting etiquette gone badly wrong.
But whilst the gentleman in question was likely more tactless than most (feel free to contradict us), it does raise the wider question of when and how you should relinquish a seat to someone whose need you perceive to be greater than yours.
One technique is to try making eye contact with the person in question and see if it’s returned with a hopeful expression.
But stare too long and your generous spirit risks being misinterpreted like some inappropriate and unspoken chat up line.
On the flip side, it can be a challenge for those who genuinely do need a seat to make it clear that that’s the case – especially when everyone in the carriage appears to be ignoring them.
Surely this shouldn’t be so complicated!
Perhaps the reason that the answer’s not entirely straightforward is that the divide between chivalry and insult can be a very narrow one:
After all, in our youth-obsessed culture, at what point is it not just plain insulting to offer your seat to someone who you think looks old?
And how unequivocally pregnant must someone be before it’s clear-cut that you should ask if they want to sit down?
Comedian Jimmy Carr put it in his habitually blunt style when he quipped: “I’d rather see a pregnant woman standing on the bus than a fat girl sitting down crying.”
Well, thanks for the insight, Jimmy, but take that too literally and those in genuine need of a rest from their two feet get ignored and chivalry’s dead.
So what’s the answer to avoiding this most embarrassing of commuting etiquette faux pas?
Baby on Board
Leaving the age question aside for just a moment, some believe that what’s needed is a way for pregnant passengers to remove any biological ambiguity and make it clear to their fellow commuters that they’d genuinely appreciate a seat.
This is especially important for the benefit of the chromosomically-challenged male who is really, really bad at judging it.
Well, you may not be aware, but help is at hand as TfL mulled over this very problem and have addressed it by making available “Baby on Board” badges to pregnant women so they can make their pre-maternal status explicit.
They’re available from station ticket offices, or can be requested by emailing your full name and address to email@example.com
But hang on – we’re curious: would you seriously want to wear one?
We can’t help wondering whether donning such a badge reduces pregnant women to the ambulatory equivalent of a car with a bumper sticker.
Not the most flattering comparison, surely?
On the other hand, comfort and safety may trump the need for subtlety, in which case – get emailing!
Your advice, please
No doubt there will always be a small minority of passengers who deliberately ignore the needs of everyone around them, however much they should give up their seat.
Other more well-intentioned individuals meanwhile simply fall into the age-old commuter trap of being so focused on their own commute that they quite unintentionally miss what’s happening around them.
Perhaps we could all do with looking up from the Metro a little more from time to time.
Is there anything else that can be done?
Whilst there may be no hard and fast rules, we’d really like to hear your views, comments and advice on this most delicate of subjects.
If you don’t want to leave anyone crying, just how and when should you give up your seat?
Follow Commuting Expert on Twitter @CommutingExpert