New Yorkers are known far and wide for their specific (read: occasionally pretentious) tastes and preferences, as well as for their exceptional ability to let those preferences be known to each and every person in their midst. Pause too long in the middle of the sidewalk to take a picture of the skyline, and you’ll get an earful.
Of course, once you live in New York for a while, instead of feeling rude for telling someone to shove it, you feel entirely justified — everyone has somewhere to be, and, as we saw this past summer with the F train catastrophe, one tiny breakdown in the order of things in New York and the whole city (and then the whole global economy) feels its ripples.
So, as trivial as they may seem, the rage you’ll provoke through any of these small subway sins is real. Very real.
1. Eating smelly food.
You’ve just picked up the perfect Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich from one of the many trucks dotting Midtown, but you’re in a rush to get to your next appointment. There’s no time to sit down at an outdoor table and enjoy that cheese steak in the leisurely manner you might in any other city!
So you take it on the subway, thinking that’ll be the perfect seated moment to take that first bite.
If you’ve ever been closed into a subway car with someone eating Chinese Food or wolfing Popeyes, you know that I’m talking about. The air supply is limited enough without someone ruining the ride with that to-go container of fried onions!
2. Lounging across seats.
Some call it lounging, some call it manspreading (as men are the worst culprits on the imaginary basis that their junk is too massive to fit comfortably between their legs). Either way, if you’re taking up any more space than is physically necessary, you’re doing it wrong.
You may feel that your comfort is just as important as anyone else’s, and you’re not wrong… until you start taking up more than one seat. Of course, different body types require different amounts of subway space, but, on average, your belongings, butt, and legs will likely fit into the allotted seat. Keep your knees pointed straight forward, keep your body upright, and make sure the seats next to you are accessible to people entering the car.
3. Putting your bag on a seat.
Some idiots call this “womanspreading” as a response to their generally misogynistic outrage at being called out for manspreading across multiple subway seats, but this is something everyone does in equal measure. If you’ve got a beautiful briefcase or you’ve just gone shopping, you may want to keep your treasures close. Keeping them on the seat, however, says to the other passengers that you consider your worldly belongings more important than your neighbor. I’ve seen little old ladies, pregnant women, and sleepy children standby while someone neglects to move his luggage from an otherwise available seat. It’s just plain rude!
4. Bringing your bike.
It’s awesome that New Yorkers bike so much. It keeps you healthy, reduces your carbon footprint, and reduces subway traffic. But that’s just the thing — if you brought your bike, use it. It sucks sometimes to face biking home after a long night, or if your travels took you farther than anticipated. But bringing that bike onboard takes up a huge amount of space that could make all the difference between a comfortable ride and someone’s shin bruises after being cramped against your bike hardware. You made your bed!
5. Playing music aloud.
You may have the sickest beats anyone has ever heard, you may be entirely sure that your music is the best in town. But chances are, few, if any, people on the subway agree. After (or before) a long day, most people want a little peace and quiet, or, you know, want to listen to their own music at a reasonable volume with headphones.
Of course, we’ve all been there when we don’t have headphones and have an hour long subway ride ahead of us. But that’s what iBooks is for! That’s what Fruit Ninja is for! And Candy Crush! Don’t make anyone else listen to your tunes.
6. Pushing past to get a seat.
Getting to sit down on the subway can be a real roulette. I’ve taken the train to the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night and had it packed to the gills without a free seat for an hour and a half. When you’re tired and you’ve been on your feet all day, it can be physically painful to see a seat fill as soon as it’s empty. But just because you’re tired doesn’t mean you have more of a right to that seat than anyone else.
Unless have a physical disability (visible or invisible) that requires you to sit, pushing through the closer people to snag the seat doesn’t make you look tired — it makes you look like a jerk. Wait in hopeful silence like the rest of us!
7. Yelling with your friends.
You’re young, you’re alive, you’re feeling your oats in the greatest city in New York. I love seeing people have fun, and getting the most out of every minute of the day, even those moments in transit between destinations.
That doesn’t mean anyone else is having as good a time as you and the shouting only makes it worse. The crowding and anonymity of the subway can, counterintuitively, make it feel like an anything goes environment. In reality, it’s a confined, indoor space, full of people trying to get do their own thang.
8. Leaving your backpack on.
You know how I feel about taking up more subway space than your fair share, and the face is, there is way more space around your legs than around chest height. That’s why it’s infinitely more polite to remove your backpack and place it between your feet than to leave it on your back. For starters, it clears up the airspace. But perhaps more importantly, you are guaranteed to whack people with your backpack every damn time you turn or adjust. As careful as you think you are, it’s a promise, you will whack, and you will not realize you’ve done it. Take off the backpack!
9. Blocking the door.
This whole subway system relies on people getting on and off quickly. In some cities, like Paris, the doors close after a few seconds and if you haven’t gotten on, you’ll just have to wait for the next one — which comes pretty quickly, because they’re on a reliable schedule.
In New York, the conductor has to wait for as many people to get on as seems possible. If you’re blocking the door so that you don’t lose your precious leaning spot, it slows traffic flow to a stop. People getting off have to get around you, then those waiting to get on have to do the same. It seems like a small difference, but those seconds become minutes, which turn into hours over the course of the day. You heard it here, first.
10. Getting on before they get off.
This math is so simple that it almost makes me feel crazy to have to explain it once again. How is this still a question? Am I taking crazy pills every time I see people push to get onto the subway before others get off?!
If you want to get on the subway, you presumably want a comfortable place to stand, right? Now, all those people waiting to get off are all standing right where you could be standing. If you wait for them to get off, you will not only have that much more standing room, but you won’t have to move around to let them off if you’re not standing in their way.
11. Unnecessarily touching other people.
We all know that subway sexual harassment is a real thing, and it’s incredibly serious. I’m not talking about anything as extreme as unwanted sexual contact, though, of course, that would be on the list if it weren’t so incredibly obvious that it should never happen.
I’m talking about the lesser, yet infuriating offense of just allowing some part of your body to unnecessarily press or rub or touch against another person on the subway. I understand that when it’s crowded, when you’re packed in like sardines, some touching will occur. We all understand that, and no one will blame you. But if there’s room, and you’re choosing to rest in such a way where there is any physical contact whatsoever, you’re using the subway (and probably all of New York) wrong.
12. Coughing or sneezing without covering up.
Covering your nose and mouth when your sneeze or cough isn’t just subway etiquette: it’s the one true path, the real golden rule, in all circumstances of dwelling among others. Everyone in New York gets sick enough, touching so many surfaces every day with such a dense population, but you can help reduce those outbreaks by keeping your germs to yourself.
It’s hard to know where to aim when it’s that crowded, but into your elbow is genuinely good enough for your fellow subway passengers to know that you put in the token effort to prevent us all from getting whatever cold is passing through you.
13. Walking slowly while blocking a path.
Once again, unless you have a physical disability preventing you from putting the pedal to the metal, there is no reason for you to take this opportunity to mosey and see the sights. Walking slowly on the subway platform, or even worse, slowly picking your way down the subway stairs, causes foot traffic jams and just generally slows everybody down. Anyone who has ever missed their train while stuck behind a slow walker knows the rage of this experience. Just because it isn’t your train doesn’t mean you should cause everyone behind you to miss it too while you slow down from the relief of not having to rush.
14. Being generally oblivious.
You’re supposed to remain a little blank and oblivious while riding the subway. Keeping your head down and pretending you’re somewhere else is just about the only way we can keep the packed subway cars civil. As soon as you start paying too much attention to the people crammed in around you, other people follow suit, and boy will they ever find something to dislike about the situation.
But that does not mean you should tune out to the point of actually forgetting where you are. We may all envy that state of zen, but if you’re that focused on your phone or engrossed in your book, you’re likely blocking traffic or failing to notice when someone enters the subway who needs your seat more than you do.
15. Letting your kid run loose.
Being a parent in the city is full of challenges that no one who hasn’t done it can really fathom. Keeping track of your kid on the sidewalk, or making sure they keep pace with you while you traverse the busy streets is nearly impossible without kid leashes and tiny scooters.
So when you reach the confines of a subway car, you may want to just let go and let God for a few minutes between stops. Unfortunately, a crowded car can seem like a veritable playground for little kids, who love climbing the poles and trying to stay standing on the moving car. Keep ’em in check and keep em close, even when they can’t go that far.
16. Leaving garbage behind.
If you’re producing garbage on the subway, that probably means you’re eating on the subway, which is already almost always against the canon rules. But let’s say you’re eating something neat, clean, and scent free. Okay, fine. We’ll let it slide.
But when you’re done, you take that wrapper with you! I understand that no one wants to carry a bag of garbage around, but there are trash cans literally every twenty feet on subway platforms, and on every corner in the city. Leaving your garbage behind makes you look entitled, and like you truly believe it’s someone else’s job to clean up after you (hint: it’s not).
17. Plowing through to exit.
This subway crime goes hand in hand with being generally oblivious, as that’s often how it happens. If you are too busy on your phone, or you’re too engrossed in your book, too focused on your conversation, or just generally zoned out, you likely won’t notice that it’s your stop until seconds before the door closed.
If you’re being considerate, you’ll be aware of when your stop is coming up, and get ready to exit the car with a little time to spare. Your body language (gathering your stuff, standing up, looking toward the door or shifting your body) will signal to those around you to make a path. But once you notice it’s too late for that, a simple “excuse me” can work wonders, while pushing through makes everyone uncomfortable.
18. Leaning against poles.
Leaning against poles is a classic subway sin. For starters, you are taking up an entire pole as one person, when many people likely want to hold onto it. If it’s a tight squeeze, and they have no choice but to hold on anyway, you’re forcing others to more or less dig their knuckles into your sweaty back just to avoid falling over. I can’t tell you how many times people have given me dirty looks for taking what’s mine: exactly one hand’s width on the pole.
I understand not wanting to touch the thing yourself, but sadly, that’s how it is. Short of bringing a handkerchief with you, touching the subway pole is a fact of riding the subway.
I am genuinely so happy for you that you have found love, or a date, or maybe just a hot person at a bar. But If you want to live the kind of life where you can have a quickie between destinations, you’re going to have to be making the kind of money where you have a driver who can roll up the partition. I am not advocating for messing around in the back of an Uber or Lyft, but, actually, if that means I do not have to watch you make out, then yes, I suppose I am advocating for messing around in the back of an Uber or Lyft.