The 11 Unspoken Rules of the Subway

So, recently, this video got a lot of attention in New York City. There’s an unspoken rule that it’s inappropriate to eat food on the subway. Of course, people do all the time. I have. (Not spaghetti though- usually a granola bar or McDonald’s.) Granted, it’s not the most sanitary place to consume food, but sometimes it’s just necessary. You probably eat in your car when you’re traveling from work to someplace else. Same thing, right?

When the story broke about the fight on the train over the woman eating spaghetti, people began to discuss the rules of the subway.  New York Magazine had a great article about other things besides food that the MTA could (and should) ban.

But there’s another component. There are certain unspoken rules that the majority of train riders (or “strap hangers,” as the nightly news so affectionately calls MOST NEW YORK RESIDENTS) generally follow, without even being told they are rules. Most riders follow these, but some haven’t picked up on them. They’re pretty obvious if you ride the train for even a short amount of time.

The Unspoken Rules of the Subway:

1. Don’t make noise during the morning rush hour. Look, we’re all tired. We’re either just starting our first doses of caffeine for the day, or won’t get to that until we get into the office. This time is for quietly catching up on Twitter on your phone, listening to your iPod, or reading the free AM New York newspaper (or Metro, if you prefer that). Don’t be loud. Don’t talk on your phone if you’re above ground.  No one wants to hear you.

2. Take up as little space as possible, especially if you’re sitting. No one wants to stand up on the train. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat- just take enough space for one seat. Don’t put your bag or newspaper on the seat next to you. Jerk.

3. If a tourist on the train asks you for directions, kindly direct him or her to the Times Square 42nd Street stop and get them off the train ASAP. We don’t need them running wild anywhere outside of that. It’s best to keep them all contained.

4. If you are listening to your iPod- keep the volume reasonable. When the people sitting around you can hear your music over the train noise, it kind of defeats the purpose of headphones. PS, your music sucks.

5. If you are pregnant and would like to sit down- indicate it somehow. Especially in the winter. MTA encourages riders to offer their seats to pregnant, disabled, and elderly riders. Which is a good idea in theory. But in the winter, when people are bundled up, sometimes it is difficult to tell if someone is actually pregnant. Someone I know was standing, and someone offered her a seat because she looked pregnant (she wasn’t), and was really bundled up. Embarrassing all around. So, either way, the sitting person looks like a jerk by offering or not offering a seat. Preggos- wear a sign or something, please.

6. Don’t hug the pole. Take a ballet position and hang on tight- with one hand. Preferably one wearing a glove, because you don’t know who else has touched those poles. Also, carry hand sanitizer.

7. The only acceptable PDA is resting a tired head on a shoulder- with someone you know. Anything beyond that really requires a cab. Unless of course, you’re both totally wasted and being entertaining.

8. If the train is full, don’t push your way on. Trust me. Everyone on it will hate you and be secretly plotting your death.

9. JUST LET THE PEOPLE GET OFF THE TRAIN BEFORE YOU PUSH YOUR WAY ON. Hey look at that- there’s more room when you do that!

10. If you feel like you’ve made a possible love connection on the train- don’t worry about getting the person’s name or contact information. A simple missed connection on Craigslist will do the trick.

11. If a stranger sitting next to you keeps dozing off and landing on your shoulder, it’s acceptable to stand up, jerk your shoulder around, or do other things to wake them up. Because what choice do you have, really?

And then of course, there are suggestions for those other train riders:

If you are going to just ask people for money and food:

  • Don’t do it during evening rush hour. Some of us worked all day and are tired. Besides, any food we would have had on us has likely been eaten during the day.
  • If you don’t have teeth, don’t ask for food. Just ask for money. True story- last week on the train, a guy was asking for food and money. A guy a few seats away from me offered him a sandwich, and he declined it. When the guy got to me, I offered him a small bag of airplane peanuts I had in my purse, and he smiled and said he didn’t have any teeth. Oh, I’m sorry. I already gave out the protein smoothie and jello I was carrying around.
  • If you’re going to ask for money, be like the Astoria basketball guy. His speech (I’ve memorized it because I’ve had him on my train so many times):

    “Ladies and gentleman, most of you know me, so I’ll keep this quick. I only have 5 fingers. I coach a  basketball team in Astoria to help keep our youth off the streets. If you could donate anything to help me out, I’d really appreciate it. If you can’t, all I need from you is a smile.”

Lovely. He doesn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable, and then he walks through telling all the girls they have pretty smiles. (If this sounds really weird to you- yes, it is. But I promise it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as 99% of the other people asking for money on the train).

  • If you choose to (ILLEGALLY) earn your living by performing on the train- there is a time and a place. The time and place is NOT on a train going to an outer borough at 10 pm on a weeknight. We’re tired. We want to close our eyes and just get home. We do not want to see a breakdancing show or a mariachi band. These performances are acceptable on weekends and mid-day, but only if your act is actually good. But if someone offers you money to STOP playing- take a hint. Please.

Yeahhhhh.
(Despite what this post may imply, I actually don’t mind riding the train. Most of the time.)

In case anyone was wondering, here are the actual rules of the MTA.

Stand clear of the closing doors, please.

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7 Responses to The 11 Unspoken Rules of the Subway

  1. Seashell says:

    How very interesting! I’ve only ridden the Metro in DC, and then only on weekends. It’s not near as interesting as the New York subway sounds.

  2. Stace says:

    I have never ridden the Subway in my life, but that was really funny.

  3. Seashell says:

    Kristin – I think you deserve a Versatile Blogger Award! Congrats!

    http://seashellbytheseashore.wordpress.com/2011/03/29/my-first-award/

    ~ Shell

  4. Kristin says:

    Aw, thanks Shell! Congrats on the award! 🙂

    Stace- I’m sure you’d behave better than the people who inspired this post. 🙂

  5. ashley says:

    somehow stumbled on this blog (am very familiar with the quote, being a native new yorker myself) and just wanted to add, the NYPD made it a punishable act to take up more than one seat with your feet, or your bags, etc – enough for a fine at least – so it’s not necessarily an etiquette thing anymore but instead is now law. just helpful hints (athough questionable at best?) for a settler from a native.

    glad to see you live in astoria though – true nyc, no doubt.

  6. Pingback: Mom, Stop Talking to Strangers on the Subway | The Settlers Give it Passion

  7. Pingback: In which I get a new job for my birthday. Again. | The Settlers Give it Passion

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