Breaking the rules

Social codes are funny things. Unwritten as they are, one can never be entirely sure who’s in the right of it if there is a disagreement over what is acceptable and what is not. Or rather, the departure from the “agreed behaviour” has to be rather glaringly obvious before one can define it as a breaking of rules.

Since I’ve recently started a new job which entails travelling a little further every day to get to the office I have started getting an earlier bus in the morning and have suddenly aquired  all new travelling companions. Significantly fewer travelling companions, too, whereas the later bus tends to be standing room only shortly after I get on (I normally got a seat, but by the next stop or two all the seats would be taken), I now frequently get a double seat all to myself. This makes any odd behaviour all the more noticeable, obviously.

My most faithful companion on this new service is a lady in, uhm, her fifties I think. I noticed her immediately, as she was the only one waiting at the stop when I arrived on the first morning of my new schedule. When the bus arrived we were still the only ones there, and I moved from the bus shelter to the side of the road to signal to the bus that, yes, indeed, I did want it to stop and pick me up. My companion, however, stayed in the shelter until the bus had actually stopped. It was not raining or anything and the shelter is quite far from the roadside, but there is only one bus service that passes this stop, so the drivers tend to assume anyone standing at the stop wants to get on whether they signal or not. I put it down to “slightly odd but not unusual” and got on with the getting on the bus and finding a seat and all that.

Some mornings later I’d noted that this was her normal behaviour, and though I found myself wondering if she would alter it were she alone at the stop I had filed it away as “not very interesting”*.  Then, one morning, I found a window seat, as usual in an almost empty bus, and seconds later this woman sat down next to me.

Uhm. Ok, lady, I don’t know you, the bus is almost empty and you actually chose to follow me onto the bus and sit down next to me?

For your eddification, here is a summary of the accepted rules hereabouts for where to sit down when you get on the bus, as far as I understand them:
1. If the bus is empty, have a ball, sit wherever you like.
2. If you’re number two, get a seat reasonably far from number one.
3. If you’re number 3 upwards, get a seat in one of the free double seats (or, obviously, one of the single seats if the bus has them), making sure the passengers are spread nicely throughout the bus. Exceptions to the spreading principle are old people/people with crutches etc. who are allowed to take any seat they find convenient, even to sit beside someone else before all the doubles have people seated in them.
4. Once all the double seats in the front of the bus and most of the ones in the back have people in them, you may sit down next to someone else. If you get to the back and discover a free double, you should choose that, however.
5. Never ever sit down next to the person who got on the bus just in front of you.

Unfortunately (well, for me, since I’m terrible at smalltalk), you ARE supposed to sit down next to any acquaintances, even if the bus is mostly empty.

Back to the morning in question:

While my mind is screaming “Psycho!” I gave her the benefit of the doubt and ignored her. She in turn ignored me, so that was all very well. Still, I tried to work out what had caused this complete breach of accepted behaviour and concluded I’d somehow sat in “her” seat.

The following morning I chose a seat a bit further back and watched her sit down in the window seat I’d been in the day before. My assumption that this was “her” seat was thereby confirmed. This morning the bus was practically empty, but someone was already sitting in the window seat of the double preferred by our friend. Our friend sat down next to her.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, you know. Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Interestingly, due to this woman’s consistency in her choice of seat she has effectively stopped me from choosing that particular one in the mornings as surely as if she’d got on the bus in front of me and sat down first. In other words, once you obey the rules they even work backwards, so to say.

* What is defined as interesting in normal terms and what may seem interesting early in the morning when you’re sitting on the bus and have nothing better to do are, of course, quite different things. That said, I find it rather fascinating to watch other people’s behaviour, even at the best of times, so even trivial oddities may catch my attention.  

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