Okay, it just seems to me if he’s polite enough to pick up her handkerchief, you’d think he would have offered her his seat in the first place.

Or should I not be trying to make sense of Mutt and Jeff at 4am?

Thinking about this — because, again, it’s 4am — I still offer my seat to women, even though it’s long out of fashion, because that’s how I grew up. But only to adult women: offering my seat to a woman forty years my junior just seems weird (not that this is usually a conscious decision).

You know what really made me feel old? The first time somebody offered me a seat. Maybe I looked particularly aged that day.

Interesting how these things differ regionally: when the extended family was in Boston a few years, I noticed that nobody was offering my octogenarian mother a seat. My son, who lives in Boston, explained that Bostonians rarely offer their seats to the elderly, but seem happy to give them up when asked.

(He himself always offers, because he’s still a New Yorker)


  1. I tend to offer my seat to absolutely anyone (in the sense that on a halfway crowded train I almost never sit down in the first place). That’s just a personal quirk, though.

  2. As a person somewhat younger than you, Bill, I have the impression that it’s dangerous to imply that someone needs your seat. I suspect that’s why Bostonians wait until asked.

  3. Yes, he probably would have given up the seat, for the reason offered. But the joke is that she didn’t wait to see. I’m given to understand that a woman who acted on her own, for her own benefit, was not commonly depicted in popular culture.

    For contrast, NBC has been running a promotion for the Olympics, in which the female athletes encourage each other to “always be faster than the boys”. I don’t think that would have been… approved? supported? much before the 1970’s. Oh, I’m sure women said such things to their daughters, but they wouldn’t have put it into a TV commercial.

  4. I’m with Powers. I’m happy to give up my seat if asked, but am somewhat leery about indicating that I think someone is old enough to need my seat.

    My wife worked at a retail job that had senior discounts. She found it unpleasant to guessing who would be mad that she asked if they were eligible for senior discounts, and who would be mad that she didn’t check if they were eligible for senior discounts.

  5. As far as I’m concerned, suggesting somebody apply for a senior citizen discount is right up there with mentioning a woman’s pregnancy without knowing whether she’s pregnant.

    Our family’s store had a sign by the register saying “Ask about our Golden Age discount!” Problem solved.

  6. Funny how different cities differ: in New York, I can’t remember anybody ever asking for a seat. Maybe because New Yorkers on the subway seem to have a aversion to speaking to one another. Or even overtly acknowledging one another’s existance.

    On one hand, I guess that’s part of what makes other people think we’re rude. On the other hand, we don’t need to be asked before giving an 80-year-old woman a seat.

  7. Bill, one problem was that some customers would later find out that they had missed out on senior discounts, and then get angry that they hadn’t been told about them. (I don’t recall if there was signage up – I suspect there was, but customers don’t always read all the signs.)

    More importantly, her employer said that she was supposed to ask if the customer looked like they might be eligible. She was actually supposed to ask “are you available for any discounts?” But that didn’t really solve anything, since the inevitable response was “Huh? What sort of discounts?”

    I suppose my wife should just have been happy that they didn’t have pregnancy discounts. 🙂

  8. BTW, the way I’ve usually handled the bus seat issue has been to stand up without making explicit that I’m giving up my seat for a particular person. Ah, just feel like stretching my legs. . .

    Not usually an issue, though, as the buses I take usually aren’t that crowded.

  9. Winter, your wife’s employer sounds life a fool. Rather than asking old-looking customers, you might as well just quietly give them the discount automatically: if they are actually old enough, you’ve accomplished what you intended to; if they aren’t, at least you haven’t offended them.

  10. Unless I’m in the accessible seats (which happens fairly often when you use a hiking child carrier & bundle buggy on a city with crappy busy layout), about the only class of people I’ll offer a seat to are parents/caregivers travelling with small children. (Obviously this is really only when I’m not travelling with a toddler). But our buses are so underused here that it’s rare that one needs to offer a seat, unless it’s for having two together. (And seriously, parents never ask, because we don’t really *need* a seat, and we sometimes forget how much the kid appreciates us sitting down beside them.)

    My husband has pointed out to me that, by the time you’re old enough to wish that you looked younger, you’re much more used to having things go your way. In other words, calling every woman “Miss” is a safe thing to do, because those of us who aren’t old enough to ignore the rudeness in favour of pretending to be young are more used to things being annoying. I’m not sure that applies with riding the bus though, as it’s a lot harder to pretend that you’re a teenager if you’ve got balance problems that are acting up.

    Being of a generation where I’d be annoyed if someone older than me offered a seat on the bus just because I’m a woman (that one hadn’t happened, but I’ve had someone refuse to go through the door because he shouldn’t make a woman hold it, and yes, I was ticked), I am not about to try and understand the actions here.

  11. Think of it this way: there are people who, because of the generation in which they were raised, might extend courtesies you find unnecessary. And there are people who, because of the generation in which they were raised, think there’s nothing wrong with certain racist and misogynistic attitudes.

    Neither are likely to change, and please be understanding if someday I offer you my seat on the subway: I mean no harm.

  12. As long as you’re ok with the fact that I don’t take the seat (assuming I’m travelling without small children, haven’t broken my foot recently, etc), it’s all good. Lots of things that people do annoy me, it’s generally only when people double down that I get actually offended. (Some people seem to feel that because they offer a seat I’m obligated to take it. And if I’m only going three-four stops, it’s far more hassle to sit down than to stand, because taking the carrier off is a job and a half.)

    Offering/accepting seats is a particularly fraught one, because it’s so drilled into one’s head as a youth that you offer a seat (you could always tell when the high school let out early, because the bus was jam packed, but no one was sitting down). I initially had a hard time taking a seat when I broke my foot! With something like being pregnant, because I had no health issues, I had to work hard to stop offering my seat to people (most people don’t take well to having a visibly pregnant woman offer them a seat…), let alone realising that seats were being offered to me. (We’re just barely a big enough city that most people here follow the “get up and the seat is available if the person wants it” school of offering seats instead of actually saying something.) So I suspect that part of the annoyance is being forced to shift mental gears from offering to accepting seats.

  13. Female, 24. I don’t get offered seats a lot, but I have been, mostly by men at least twice my age. I decline, and it’s all good.

    Holding doors open for me, that’s another matter. It sometimes feels if I could go the rest of my life without ever opening a door for myself in a public place, despite being both strong enough and clever enough to open my own doors. Is it worth getting upset about? No. As Bill said, there are worse things.

  14. See, Christine gives another good reason to not offer your seat. What if I offer a seat to a woman and she gets annoyed because she thinks I’m sexist? Then I have to explain, no I’m not sexist, it’s just that you look really old. Not an improvement! 🙂

  15. B.A – it’s not when they open doors for me that I get annoyed. It’s when he opens the first door, resulting in me being ahead of him for the second door, and then refuses to go through when I hold the second door, insisting that I go first. So I suppose, looking at the parallel, it’s not offering a seat just for being a woman that would annoy me, it’s if they insist I sit down. They just so often happen in tandem.

  16. Winter Wallaby – I’m in my thirties, have two kids, and get called “Miss” all the time. I still get carded if I go alone (i.e. without the kids) to the liquor store. You say you think I’m old and I’d be flattered, except for the fact that I clearly don’t, and I’d want to know why you’re trying such transparent flattery.

    CIDU Bill – see, I often am looking for the chance to not be sitting. And/or (lately) the chance to not put my still-not-recovered coccyx on a metal seat when I don’t get to shift position due to the people on each side of me. If I don’t have a reason to stand, I’ll often take the seat just to be polite, but I frequently actively don’t want one.

  17. Winter Wallaby, I promise never to get annoyed if you offer me your seat.

    I think the woman who would give you a hard time over it is the kind of woman who’s just looking for a fight. “Hey, are you staring at my ass? No? Well why not then, isn’t my ass good enough for you?”

  18. OOh, I figured it out! (BA, thanks). It’s like when you get carded. I’m not necessarily annoyed at the person doing it, I’m annoyed at the fact that they had a reason to do so. Just because I know that I look 25 doesn’t mean I like the reminder. Just because I know that I look like I’m about to fall down doesn’t mean I like the reminder.

  19. I was quite bewildered when I requested a ticket for the movie I was planning to see, and the box office person asked me “Will that be adult?”. She couldn’t think that I wanted a children’s ticket! Was this a peculiar way of “warning” me that it was a R rated movie? Why? Did I look hypersensitive?

    Well, I said something like “Oh I’m fine with whatever the rating is” and it was her turn to be confused (and irritated). She kept repeating “No, I’m asking if your ticket is ADULT.” Eventually, when I was asking what the heck else it could be, she blurted “Senior!”.

    So “Adult” is a particular ticket category, not justg a cover term for “not child”. And their system is to be indirect about asking if the customer expects a senior discount. Wow, what a waste of everybody’s time and good mood.

  20. Christine (5 comments up,unless somebody just posted something or Bill’s about to take a comment out of moderation): You’re very right, offering a seat inconveniences nobody while holding the door can make more trouble for everybody concerned. A small price to pay to bring a bit of civility into the world though, right? We need all we can get these days.

  21. Though GoDaddy erased the evidence, I now I previously mentioned the first time I was given a senior discount at the movies (although I was far too you which, alas, I no longer am): I was seeing Hollywoodland, and the audience was neatly divided between people old enough to remember George Reeves, and young enough to be Ben Allflack fans. The girl in the booth just assumed anybody who didn’t seem to be in the latter group was in the former. And I refused to feel insulted.

  22. Christine, did you ever see the Mary Tyler Moore episode where Mary freaks out because she was just called “ma’am” for the first time rather than “miss”?

  23. Mitch4, was this the ticket seller’s first day on the job, or were you merely the first potential senior citizen she’d ever sold a ticket to?

  24. CIDU Bill, I believe I mentioned that I’m in my thirties? (As someone who owns all of M*A*S*H* on DVD, I know that’s not a good excuse.) Wasn’t that show from an era where women didn’t have professional jobs, and therefore didn’t care if they looked young? (In fact, looking young was good because woman == someone to take care of, therefore the correlations that persist even today between things for children and things that are coded feminine?)

    Also, I am aware that there are some parts of the English-speaking world where “ma’am” and “miss” are never used in the traditional fashion, and are only used by age, but the age cut-off is really old (relatively speaking), not just adulthood. (I’ve tried convincing myself that all the people who call me “Miss” are immigrants, but it’s just not plausible, especially since most of them are in a position where one would expect them to be negging and/or are being equally rude to my husband.)

  25. B.A. @6:27 PM: Why would you assume the indirectness was due to inexperience? As I mentioned above, my wife was told to only ask indirectly, because some customers get unhappy when they’re asked if they’re eligible for senior discounts. I definitely see why this was an annoying waste of time for mitch, but I understand why the ticket seller did it that way, too.

  26. On the flip side, when I went ice skating, the ticket seller teased me when I asked for an adult ticket, “thanking” me for letting her know that I was over twelve. (I’m in my 40’s.)

  27. Christine, unlike websites hosted on GoDaddy, old television shows never really disappear: I’m familiar with most episodes of Jack Benny and Burns & Allen, and I’m not THAT old.

    Besides, I rarely go wrong when I assume people who visit here know things.

    I’m not sure I really follow the reasoning of “an era where women didn’t have professional jobs, and therefore didn’t care if they looked young”: do you mean that looking young would be a detriment for a professional woman?

  28. Wasn’t the whole concept of MTM that the times were a-changing and she was trying to find her place in it?

  29. Fair enough, I’m using a more narrow definition of “professional” than is necessarily appropriate. I’m thinking engineering, law, medicine, clergy, etc (I don’t know enough people in accounting to know if that needs to be included.) I normally wouldn’t include academia under “professional field” (at least, not unconditionally), but it applies there, and for working as an independent designer. I mean it’s really only a detriment professionally – I’m capable of looking my age (although obviously older would be better) if I dress up for it, even though I can pass for mid-twenties normally, so it’s not a huge issue. But it’s just that, given how much of a problem it is to look young, and how much work one puts in to look older (some of which is long-term, e.g. getting a shorter haircut), it becomes a source of frustration.

  30. Speaking as somebody who entered the work force last year… am I consciously trying to look older? No, but… I did cut my hair, so maybe a little.

  31. B.A. – I have a lot of friends who look young, so we are more aware of it than normal. Generally it’s not really something you notice on your own until a few years have passed. (My mom didn’t clue in until she got a pixie cut and looked 10-15 years younger, and all the contractors started giving her a hard time again). There’s also the fact that, since you’re just out of school, you kind of expect to not be taken seriously, so you aren’t at a disadvantage.

    That said, I bet you’re still doing things like wearing makeup, wearing actual trousers, switching to an umbrella instead of a raincoat, etc. They’re presented as being professional. The fact that they all make you look older is just a bonus, right?

  32. B.A. My wife’s experience was that it was always awkward to ask if customers were eligible for senior discounts without being allowed to suggest that the customers might be seniors.

  33. “Wasn’t that show from an era where women didn’t have professional jobs”

    Nursing is a profession, and nurses are professionals. So no. Although many professions were largely if not entirely closed to women, the category of “professional jobs” was not.

    That said, I think the point was that there were (and are) a number of jobs where being older is perceived as better, or more precisely, that being too young is detrimental. An older aspect is viewed as “experienced” and a younger one as “inexperienced”, even if they say the exact same thing.

    Interestingly, there are a few professions where appearing older is detrimental. Some fields of engineering, particularly in information technology, discriminate against people who look older. Science research actually has both forms of age discrimination simultaneously… older scientists get funded, but much of the progress comes from scientists early in their careers.

  34. B.A., I’d probably hold a door open for you. I’m twice your age, too. (Actually more.)

    Thing is … I also hold doors for men. And transgender people who I don’t know how they identify. Also children. For that matter, I hold doors for both cats and dogs on occasion.

  35. I hold doors for anyone nearby and burdened people even if
    they’re further. I know someone who still holds doors only for
    women, and would feel insulted if someone held one for him.

  36. Yea, I’m with you Arthur. I hold doors for anyone who’s close enough behind me, really. If I notice that the door might close in their face just after I’ve entered, then I will hold it open. Who cares who it is? It’s not being sexist, ageist, or anything else…it’s simple courtesy.

  37. I haven’t followed the right order I guess for the comments that relate to my anecdote about “Adult ticket”. But to answer B.A.’s question, I’m confident that asking that way was policy / training, not her invention.

    The aspect that I do suppose was down to her, was not being able to see what was throwing me off, and find a way to correct for it. No, I’m not asking her to be a mind-reader, but to be a little more alert and insightful. And definitely I’m not calling myself blameless either.

    As an example of better recovery style, I one early morning went to an appointment at an outpatient clinic at my University health center. The guy at the check-in desk opened for business and started processing the people in line. When it was my turn and I stepped up to his desk, he asked “And who are we seeing this morning?”

    I was confused, because I took his “we” as the medical “we” that means the patient, as in “So how are we feeling today?”. So in that reading, his question would mean “Who are you seeing this morning?”. So I answered with my doctor’s name!

    The clerk of course knew I wasn’t Dr. Ksiazek, but was good natured about correcting me without condescension. He even offered a quick explanation: “We might just ask ‘What’s your name?’ But often the person who comes up to the desk isn’t the patient with the appointment.”

    So back at the movies, I thought she could have followed the script for one go-round, but then just cut thru it one way or another.

  38. I tell you this with all humility and some minor hyperbole: back when i was around 20 I went to Korea because why not? This was not the korea of today. and i lived outside any major urban area. Korea in the early 80s was rising from poverty but still poor. I was unsurprisingly also poor, and, surprisingly, not lazy. Therefore I availed myself of shanks’s mare when traversing the downtown and buses when I had to go out to the train station or the surrounding country. The buses had all the charm they have now, but with no air conditioning, smaller seats and 20 times the passengers. I saw young women faint standing and be held upright by the press of bodies every time I rode. Every 4th passenger was an auntie going to or coming from market with approximately 30 kilos of semi-preserved fish and several cubic meters of vegetable products. Another quarter of the passengers were farmers — farmers from their red, creased necks, to their cuffs rolled to bony knees, to their muddy, green wellies. They always seemed to be on their way back from drinking makoli and eating garlic with their buddies, and they rode asleep, breathing rhythmically through their mouths.

    The lack of air conditioning and the farm products – not to mention farmers – meant the windows were open, OPEN. To say dust flew in would be wrong; nothing this heavy and dense could be called “dust”. It would be more accurate to say that ground asphalt flew in. During the rainy season it was common for people to walk through the pouring rain under homemade umbrellas rather than brave the buses. The drivers were apparently resentful of other vehicles sharing the roads, so each ride was a barreling adventure and a religious experience.

    This is not all to say that the buses were unbearable; some things were better than now. I paid just pennies to ride it. Someone would always offer to hold my bag on his or her lap and I could trust him or her to return it when I got off. In fact, although I was sure to be separated from my belongings for most of the ride, it was nigh impossible to leave belongings on the bus – someone would be sure to remind me and on occasion hunt me down and come to my house to deliver them if forgotten. Seats were yielded to the elderly with no resentment. The atmosphere was friendly and jovial and terrifyingly uncomfortable: Imagine a sauna in which you were fully dressed and standing with 200 of your closest friends and family and you all have been drinking — now imagine that sauna hurtling through space with asteroids coming in the windows.

    But that is all digressive background scenery. I was young and callow. And Hirsute. I had a beard. not the fantastic majestic one I sport now but one of the reddish unkempt patchy full beards you see on young Hassids. Anyone who had ever seen a westerner before would recognize that I was what Officer Obie (he of the 27 8×10 color glossy photos) would have rightly called “Kid”. Beards were very rare in Korea and most men could never grow one as full as mine (even though it wouldn’t fill in completely until my 30s). In fact only the truly old would try to grow one. at first i was proud But in Korea that beard was a humiliation: 90 year old men, 150 year old ladies, wizened 1000 year old grandfathers would all creak upright on their canes when I got on a bus and try to give me their seats — fight for the honor of giving me their seats. it was damned embarrassing to sit and damned near impossible to refuse.

    FOR I WAS CLEARLY AN HONORED ELDER BROTHER BECAUSE I HAD A SHAGGY BEARD! They couldn’t tell my age by any criteria other than the beard

  39. I generally avoid taking the bus in Berlin (because the rail systems are much better), but there’s one glaring exception: it is impossible to get to the (current) Berlin airport on rails: you either have to drive, or take a bus (or taxi). The airport busses are usually pretty full (going there), or jam-packed like a sardine can (leaving the airport). This means that the question of offering seats rarely occurs on those busses: it’s simply unlikely that a qualified recipient would be capable of moving far enough to get to a seat that someone would be willing to offer.

    However, the place where I run into trouble with “politeness” issues is when entering a restaurant. In American custom, it is normal (or at least acceptable) for the gentleman to open the door for the lady, let her enter, and then follow her into the restaurant. The German standard is different: the gentleman enters the restaurant first (perhaps the idea was that he would want to check whether it would be safe to enter). The result is that every time my father has visited us here, I run into the same conflict of sensibilities: my dad expects my wife to go in first, whereas she expects him (or me) to take the lead. The result is that no matter what I do, it’s always “wrong” by at least one definition (and what I think I should do simply doesn’t count).

  40. Kilby, that’s really interesting. I think I did sort of half-notice that men weren’t opening doors for women, but I didn’t consciously make anything of it.

    If we’re ever back there, I’ll have to tell my wife “sorry, you’re on your own door-wise; but I will shout an all-clear so you can enter.”

  41. I had a cat who did something similar to me. He thought the rocking chair in the living room was his, and would glare at anyone who was sitting there when he wanted it. One day when I was sitting in “his” chair, he glared at me for a couple of minutes, then went to the door like he wanted to go outside. As soon as I got up to open the door, he jumped in the chair. Outsmarted by a cat!

  42. Post 1 – Mom
    Ladies from back then not carrying if they looked older-
    When I was around 20 my mom and I were watching a, even then, old movie. There was a couple celebrating their 25 anniversary. My mom kept looking at the movie and then looking away as if thinking. Finally she asked me “Do I look that old?” I told her she didn’t – and she didn’t. Heck I am 64 and the couple looked older than I do now.

    So women were concerned about looking “old back then”.

  43. Post 2 – Robert
    Robert’s hair went salt and pepper back in his mid 20s. He started having senior discounts offered to him by the time he was 40. And yes – he accepted them. Senior soda at Wendys for both of us was offered when he was in his early 50s.

    He will ask for senior discounts since he was 60 almost everywhere we go if there is any chance that there is one.

  44. Post 3 – Me

    When I was in my late 20s and a lot heavier than I am now, a woman was sitting and talking to her friend who was standing and they looked at me and the seated one stood up and offered me her seat. I figured that they were getting off at the next stop. I took the seat. They did not get off. I then realized that between my weight and the style of blouse I was wearing they thought that I was pregnant. I never wore the blouse again.

    In my 30s we were on the bus that circles Colonial Williamsburg at the end of the day. It was, of course jammed. We were standing. A boy of maybe 7 or 8 years old looked at me and offered me his seat and stood up. I thanked him. I also told him that since he was so nice and so polite he should keep his seat.

    Last week I was riding the NYC subway. Since we had bedbugs I always stand on the subway since there are bedbugs on same. For the first time a man stood up and offered me his seat. I thanked him and turned the seat down.

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