Wednesday 21 March 2018

Smug married: Age-old problem could put youngsters in the hot seat

A friend encourages Aine O'Connor to sit up and take notice of the tricky world of public-transport etiquette

Aine O'Connor

A childless friend was complaining about a situation on public transport, where he had seen a father urge his son to take a recently vacated seat.

The son was 12-ish and did as he was bid, but my friend felt the child should have stood and left the seat to a more worthy aspirant -- ie, an adult.

He blamed the father for urging the boy into this seat-rustling behaviour.

As he told it, my friend -- who is happy with his offspring-free state -- rolled his eyes and said he knew that I, as "a breeder", would disagree. I had only really thought about public-seat donation in terms of the obviously worthy such as the elderly, disabled or pregnant. But when I thought about it some more, a child standing because they are a child smacks ever so slightly of a Victorian age.

When my children were little, I'd put them on my knee in a crowded bus so someone else could sit, but that's no longer an option. The boy child has been taller than me for some time; the girl child is catching up fast.

As the breeder who has paid for the child's ticket, I don't really see why they should stand instead of a healthy adult. I wouldn't expect a child to give me their seat. These are short trips, first come, first served -- when it's full, an adult is as well able, better able, to stand than a child.

But it's never that simple. Number One travels alone on public transport quite a bit now, so I asked him his policy on giving up a seat. Who knows what they do when you're not there?

He described one recent day on the Luas when an elderly, very elderly, couple got on and there was some kind of scrum of people trying to give up their seats. People shouting from all over the tram: "Have my seat." "No, have mine."

But, said Number One, most cases are not so clear- cut. If someone looks frail and 90, no brainer, or someone has a clear baby belly, ditto -- up he leaps and offers his seat.

But what happens if it's not too clear if it's a baby belly or a beer belly? What happens if someone is a hale and hearty proud-looking 60-ish? Or 50-ish. Or, er, 40-ish.

Age is so often in the age of the beholder. I see people who are middle aged and think of them as different to me. Even if I know that to everyone but the woman in my head, I, too, am middle aged.

Cops have been younger than me for years; apparently the next phase is when you're older than priests. My father hears about "elderly" people on the radio and realises with horror that he'd fall into that bracket, too, if he inspired a news story.

And my mother still can't quite come to terms with being offered a seat on the Luas. Just as I am not "middle aged", my parents are not "elderly". But to a kid, what difference is there between 30 and 80, really? It's all just vaguely old, possibly with varying degrees. Possibly not.

Number One says he doesn't think kids should have to stand for all adults, but sometimes -- especially when he bears in mind the sensibilities of his mother and grandparents -- in giving a seat he wants to be kind, not to insult: "Because I just don't think of you guys as old."

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