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Germany

Rude Bus And Subway Manners, Deconstructed

An old man, a pregnant woman, a crowded bus. Why doesn't anyone give up their seats anymore? There are as many theories as there are people, polite and otherwise.

Whatever happened to good manners? (Dale Harvey)
Whatever happened to good manners? (Dale Harvey)
Alan Posener

BERLIN - I actually hate it when older people write about the bad manners of the youth of today. But one thing really stands out nowadays: nobody on the bus stands up anymore to offer their seat.

Indeed, this isn't really about some young person who is somehow convinced that whoever gets there first has a God-given right to the place. Nor is it the Usual Suspects, like the kinds of guys who sprawl provocatively on their seat apparently daring you to tell them they're not a Real Man. To tell you the truth, I kind of sympathize with such blatant losers who get to have a moment of splendor by hogging up space on the bus.

But at peak hours my subway is full of men no longer young, wearing suits and ties. They push and shove to a place, and no sooner is butt on seat than the iPhone earpiece goes in and the newspaper opens -- effectively shielding these commuters from having to notice that nearby a mother with a young child and shopping bags, or an old-timer slightly unsteady on his pins, are having to travel standing up.

Why is this? Well, the theories are many:

1. They are the spoiled kids of my generation, whose affluent parents always made sure they got the best places and could never say "No." (Anti-68er interpretation.)

2. These are the children ofMargaret Thatcher's dictum: "There is no such thing as society." In the movie "The Iron Lady," Meryl Streep playing Thatcher has a scene in which an old, addled Thatcher goes shopping and is pushed aside in the check-out line by a bum. In our Age of Egotism, concern for others has been replaced by nasty, elbowing "me-first-ism." (Conservative left-wing interpretation.)

3. This is what the welfare state leads to,what happens when people think they're entitled and can help themselves to everything. It breeds an odd sense of "justice:" Why should I be the one to stand up? Somebody else should do it. I have a long trip, and it's not fair. (Conservative right-leaning interpretation.)

4. Thank you, Alice Schwarzer contemporary German feminist and gender mainstreaming -- proponents of whom/which might reject standing up as a concession to patriarchal values. (Culturally critical interpretation.)

5. Our worship of youth is the culprit here -- some of these people may have tried offering their seat, and they've been burned. Not only did they have their offer turned down, but they were yelled at: "Do I look that old?!" (Self-critical interpretation based on my own behavior when a young girl once offered me her seat).

6. It's the fault of teachers. When they board a bus with a class, they tell the kids: "Find a seat and be quiet!" (Blame-the-teacher interpretation. Always valid.)

Maybe all these theories are wrong. Maybe all these theories are right. Meanwhile, the old and weak stand and the strong sit. On public transportation and pretty much everywhere else these days.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Dale Harvey

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