Do you give up your seat for the needy?

In one of my recent twitters, I posed the question of how to gauge an elderly person’s eligibility to be offered a seat on the MRT or bus.

Nobody answered my twitter, of course. Nobody ever responds to my twitters via Twitter.

But reader Mike M did answer the question in my blog comments, so I’m throwing it out here to get more answers from twitter-shy people.

First, the question.

How do you know who to give your seat to on the MRT or bus?

The loose guideline is what’s printed on signs: “Please offer this seat to someone who needs it more than you do.”

We know that “someone who needs it more than you do” typically refers to the elderly, the pregnant and the handicapped, and maybe little toddlers who are wont to topple over if the train brakes too fast.

[A toddler]
Photo by Beate W

Yes, most of the time, it is easy enough to identify persons belonging to the above categories.

But what about borderline cases?

You know they exist.

In the first place, how old is “elderly”? 40? 50? 60?

I don’t know what’s the average age at which a person really needs a seat each time he gets on the train.

40? 50? 60?

What makes it even more complicated is that it’s hard to tell people’s age these days because more and more people are getting younger as they get older.

[An old man]
Photo by Gustavo Bueso Padgett

Besides, some “elderly” folks take better care of their healths than us young ‘uns. They don’t go clubbing or play computer games overnight like we do, so they are able to wake up every morning at 6 am to do qigong.

[A woman practising Qigong]
Photo from Wikipedia

If old people are healthier than youngsters, do they really “need it more than we do”?

I know there is no fixed rule and we’re supposed to make intuitive judgement calls case by case. But what about offending people?

Yes, offending people.

There was this case on the MRT once: Someone had offered his seat to a pregnant lady. The lady glared at him and said, “I’m not pregnant, you doofus.” (Not in those exact words, but thereabouts.) She just happens to have a very large belly.

Photo by Jonathan Willmann

So much embarrassment is at stake when you offer your seat to the wrong person!

What if I offered my seat to this man whom I think is old because his hair is all white and his face is all wrinkled? And then he feels slighted because he is not actually old but just suffers from an unfortunate case of premature aging? And he has wrinkled skin because he sun tans too much and doesn’t use sunblock and moisturiser?

Also, there are people who are kind of prideful and hate to be thought of as weak, so if you offered your seat to them, they’d hate you.

Personally, I don’t get into situations like that very much because when I’m on the train, I’m usually buried in a book or in my DS Lite, oblivious to my surroundings.

Well, I can’t help it if I get absorbed in my own activities to relieve the boredom of commuting!! I think it’s for the better, anyway. Then I don’t have to suffer a dilemma every time a borderline case boards the train.

But I’m not 100% selfish! I have given up my seat a few times when I happened to not have a book with me and encountered clear-cut cases who really needed my seat.

What about you, then? Do you give up your seat at all and how do you deal with borderline cases?

26 thoughts on “Do you give up your seat for the needy?

  1. Avatar

    Normally I’ll be sleeping on buses and stuff to notice any.
    But if I did notice, I’ll probably just go by my gut instinct by how old they are or something.
    My defination of old is similar to yours: White hairs all over the head, wrinkly skin.
    But luckily, I’ve never met anyone with premature aging. Yet.

  2. Avatar

    I try to make eye-contact with the person whom I have perceived as ‘borderline needy’, and mouth something like “do you need a seat?” or signal that they can have the seat if they need it.

    If they give me an affirmative answer, the seat’s theirs. Simple as that.

    There was once when I got up to tap the man on the shoulder to ask him because his back was turned to me. Guess what? Some bugger took the seat in the meantime… WIN!

  3. Avatar

    It’s always a headache to deal with stupid thing like this especially when in HK where the MTR is my main mode of transport.

    Usually, I just stand even if there are empty seats. That way, I don’t have to bother about having to give up my seat.

    What’s the point. Sit down 2 minutes and I have to give it up to some one older or some little kid or some mother to be or some damsel with a lot of things to carry….etc….


  4. Avatar

    interesting question. sometimes i’m worried if i might offend that er borderline person…they might think in their head “si gina, think im so old…@##$%&!”

  5. Avatar

    Hmmm… you got that point there.

    Sometimes, I myself caught in a mist whether to give up my seat, is because the way the ladies wear, like the baby top clothing.

    oh ya that remind me..

    There’s one time I saw an old man on the bus, which was too bad he was far from me and my bf seat. Nobody NOBODY actually give up their seat, and instead that poor old man sat on the bus’s staircase. =(

    Now that’s ugly! I feel sorry for that old man. =(

  6. Avatar

    But~ watching out for details of a person may help. Like the way they walk or act etc.

    There’s no harm to look and obverse at the person first before acting on a kindness. =D

  7. Avatar

    for the borderline cases i usually give up my seat to those who hold, or rather, stick to the bars or handles so tightly as if they’re taking a rollercoaster ride. otherwise i wld assume that they dont need the seat more than i do since i only sit when im damn tired n lugging a stupid heavy laptop ard

  8. Avatar

    omg. please dont feel pai seh abt this kind of stuff!! just ask the person with an indicative nod if they want the seat. if u’re so unlucky as to meet one of those siao grannies who scold u instead, so what?!! u did the right thg, & not as if the other passengers are gonna give u dirty looks cos u tried to give ur seat up!
    always ask even if u’re unsure. it really doesnt hurt u, but it means a lot to the other person to get a seat.

  9. Avatar

    Same here as Jaywalk. As long as I’m not wearing killer heels that’s tempting me to amputate my own legs or too exhausted for whatever reason, I tend to stand in the MRT.

    I don’t think you should give up seats to those who are old or young or fat or thin or pregnant or to people of any special category.

    Just give it to whoever who looks like they need it more than you do. The old aunty wearing scholl sandals may not need it as desperately as the young female executive in Jimmy Choos.

  10. Avatar

    I only give up my seats to old folks, who I think, look like they are really not capable of balancing well on train even with handles and support. I also give up seats to people who carry lots of stuffs.

    However, most of the time I stand on train. If I sit down and I’m tired, I’ll most likely fall asleep like a pig.

    Anyway, most of the time it really depends on the situation. =)

  11. Avatar

    I only give seats to clear cut cases (e.g. old folks, pregnant ladies and ppl carrying babies/small kids).

    If its not a clear-cut scenario, but I feel like giving up my place…sometimes I just pretend I’m about to get off…and go another corner to lean.

    Other than that, it really depends how tired I am. Afterall, everyone has equal rights to the seats. No need to feel paiseh just because you got in the train earlier and has a place to sit down.

  12. Avatar

    I give them to kids, elderly, women (pregnant or not) — except men. The reason, it just feels too good… The reason I don’t give to men, I just don’t feel like it, it’s so “gayish”… :D

  13. Avatar

    I think its about playing by year. If you see a 40 year old who’s very frail looking, no harm giving up your seat even though he’s “only” 40 right? And even though the 80 year old looks like he could run a triathlon, no harm letting him have your seat too right?

  14. Avatar

    Normally, I give up seats to old folks, mums with little babies and pregnant ladies but with pregnant ladies, I have to be a little careful, my chubby sis has been mistaken a couple of times for being pregnant. But…..I hate to give up seats to old folks who run and catch the bus even though its crowded and then, is there an expectation for people to give up their seats to them? I’m talking about the shuttle bus that I catch in HK to get home. The shuttle bus that I catch is only a 10 mins ride and the frequency is like every 10 mins and there are these old folks that will do their sprints to catch the bus and then puff like they are going to drop dead when they are on the bus

  15. Avatar

    Normally I stand throughout the journey in MRT, sit only when there is really alot of seats.

    But when people looks like in trouble of standing, definitely will give up seat.

    Botherline cases, well If he/she ask, she will get. Else probably stand up and see if the person wants it or not.

    If someone else took it, then no choice bah, its a cruel world out there normally.

  16. Avatar

    when im carrying lots of bags/bulky stuff, or wearing killer heels, i wish that the signboard would also include a picture of a girl wearing killer heels and carrying many things clumsily. Haha.

    I think the age doesnt matter. It’s only whether the person looks fragile or look like he can’t stand for another minute or not.

    i’ve seen some old people standing there balancing even better than young adults.

  17. Avatar

    It is a difficult one. I tend to offer my seat to anyone who looks like they need it more that I do – a woman with shopping, anyone with kids, old people, pregnant women etc… You do run the risk of being wrong, but I hope that most people would take it as politeness rather than a comment on their stomach size.

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  19. Avatar

    rn: That’s a really interesting scenario. I haven’t actually encountered that myself!

    Pingping: Haha. Yeah, if info is lacking, I guess we have to go by gut feel. But my instincts aren’t always good. Sigh.

    Sicarii: Lol, your story of the snatched seat is so common that it’s amazing. I mean, I’ve heard so many of those cases and I can’t believe that there are so many rude Singaporeans acting this way!

    Your eye contact method is great. But I think it’s something most Singaporeans aren’t comfortable with. We’re not used to making eye contact with strangers because we were raised to be wary of strangers! :P

    JayWalk: Haha, that’s very true. I sometimes also just go stand one corner instead of try to fight for seats with people. But sometimes I need the seat myself!! Cos my legs are tired from walking around in high heels all day, or I just want to play my DS comfortably. Haha. It’s a bit hard to play DS when one hand has to hold on to a railing. :P But if I’m reading a book, standing is fine cos I can hold a book with one hand.

    chris: Yeah! Exactly what I’m thinking! I’m glad to know I’m not the only one thinking that way!

    Hui Hui aka Tara: OMG that’s horrible. He really sat on the bus steps?? I wonder why the bus driver didn’t do anything about it. I thought people are not allowed to sit on the steps.

    Yeah, being more observant is a great skill to have. I think some people are more observant than others, and they can tell better who needs a seat. Maybe I’m not one of them. Haha.

    shin: Cool, that’s a good thing to look out for. Great suggestion! :)

    lulu: Heh, ok, I get your point. It’s ok to be thickskin if the motivation is to help someone. :)

    precious: You do have a point there, about how an old aunty wearing Scholl might need a seat less than a young female in Jimmy Choos. But that’s what makes it so difficult to determine because there are so many factors involved in such cases.

    Actually, I think it just boils down to a simple matter of how you feel about the situation at the particular moment and acting on instinct.

    Problem is many times my instincts fail me. lol..

    Mike M: Yep, thanks for your comment! :)

    desmond!!: Wah. Ok, if you ever see me on the train carrying a lot of stuff, you will give your seat to me ah? ;) ;) I really hate carrying loads of stuff on a crowded train. It’s so inconvenient and heavy!

    Mother: You do have a point that everyone has a right to keep the seat they got first. But then people will still judge you if you don’t give your seat to a “needier-looking” person, especially if you’re a young man! Heheh.

    modchip: Hahaha. Fair enough. So what’s the age range of the kids you give your seats to?

    Derrick: Well, there’s only “harm” in giving up your seat if it offends someone in the process! But I’ll admit that that probably won’t happen too often. Give you seat should be damn happy already, complain for what, right? :P

    Monster: Hahaha. You know, I think if they have the ability to sprint to the bus, they should surely have the ability to stand in it. So, good call!

    Ashtar83: I wish you had been on the train once when I really needed a seat! I was on the way to work in the morning and suddenly I felt really dizzy and nauseous and felt like I was going to faint, and I was like clutching onto the pole and almost keeling over and my face was all pale and white.

    But no one offered me any help at all!!! Hahaha. Stupid people!

    ice-angel: HAhaahaha! That’s a great thought, to include women on heels and carrying bulky items. But I think the men will just complain. Heh.

    Justyn: lol. I hope the same thing, too. And I guess, judging from all the responses here, overall, it’s better to err on the side of being helpful.

  20. Avatar

    So what’s the age range of the kids you give your seats to?

    As long as they look as a kid and they are not “rude”, then the seat is theirs. :D

  21. Avatar

    honestly i dont usually notice your twitter updates. in fact, never, lest it’s mentioned in the blog entry. it’s like drowned out on your sidebar leh.

  22. Avatar

    modchip: Ok. Just wondering how you define “kid”, that’s all. :P

    shin: I don’t really advertise the fact that I have a Twitter widget. I guess you can treat it as sort of an Easter egg bonus for more observant people. :P

  23. Avatar

    Why need to set borderline?

    Small little things why make it so complicated? Even they are young ones, when see they carry alot of heavy things, i will also give up my seat to them.


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