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I am in my mid-twenties and I frequently use public transit in my city. Sometimes I notice someone get on the bus who appears to be much older than me but still seems young enough to have no problem standing (maybe in their 40's or 50's). Assuming they have no invisible ailments like arthritis or chronic pain, is it rude of me to offer my seat up to them?

Many people in my city would take offence to being called old/incapable and I don't want to offend anyone, but I know I should be offering my seat to older patrons.

Context: I am in Canada and in many cities there are priority seats which may be taken by anyone but priority is given to seniors (EDIT: "older patrons" typically, implying seniors), pregnant ladies, people with young children, or disabled people. No one enforces these rules, you are just expected to give up your seat when you see someone get on the bus.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Ælis, avazula, sphennings, ElizB, Rory Alsop Nov 16 '18 at 14:42

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Related, broader question: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/q/309/36 – Catija Sep 4 '17 at 22:01
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    Cautionary note: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/1057/… – apaul Sep 4 '17 at 22:34
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    Why would you offer your seat to someone in their 40's or 50's? – user3573 Sep 5 '17 at 14:16
  • @Monica Cellio I was referring especially to priority seats but it applies also to all seats in my opinion. If the priority seats were full with "priority users" I would default to acting as though the "ordinary" seats are now priority seats. – kem Sep 5 '17 at 19:04
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    @Dr Eval I would offer because there are signs saying those seats are reserved for older patrons. It doesn't typically say "older than 65" or "elderly". People in their 40's and 50's are not "old" in my opinion, but they are twice my age. Hence it comes down to me making a judgement call based on an ambiguous expectation. – kem Sep 5 '17 at 19:11

11 Answers 11

82

No - it is not rude to offer your seat. To anyone.

If a particular individual decides to be offended, that is up to them, but you are within your right to free up your seat for any reason you like. Maybe because you liked their smile. Maybe you just wanted to stand up for a bit. It really doesn't matter.

Don't second guess this, just give your seat up if you want to, and accept any thanks with a smile.

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    This isn't a reasonable answer, apart from perhaps the first sentence. Of course the OP is 'within [their] right' to get up out of their seat. However, this question isn't about rights, but about how people should behave to make the world a better place for themselves and others. No-one 'decides to be offended'. People who are offended are upset, and would have preferred to not be upset. It's childish to think that we should ignore how people might feel, including if they are irrational, provided that 'rights' are on our side. – user3537 Sep 5 '17 at 10:40
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    Jwg - that's dissembling a little. You cannot predict what will offend me, so you cannot plan for it. If you do something perfectly normal and I'm offended, that's really my fault and my problem. In this case, the OP has no way to predict, so the only logical route is to offer the seat whenever they want. It's like holding doors open - if someone decides to be offended by me holding a door open for them, that's up to them. And silly. – Rory Alsop Sep 5 '17 at 10:45
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    Just don't do what amused me yesterday; I guess you'd call me middle aged? Anyway a kid and a young teenager were about to sit down, saw me and my (similarly-aged) friend. One said to the other (rough translation) "leave the seats for the old ladies" :-) :-) OK, we had a great laugh -- and two seats! But someone might have been offended.... – Basya Sep 5 '17 at 12:26
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    It is not true that you cannot predict what will offend people. Some things will clearly offend many very reasonable people. Some things are likely to cause offense to at least a few somewhat sensitive or vulnerable people. And other things are very unlikely to offend any except possibly a tiny minority of people who have exceptional opinions or attitudes. Everyone makes these assessments all the time - they are the basis of politeness. – user3537 Sep 5 '17 at 13:39
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    Basya - the offence would have been taken from the wording there, not the act of giving up a seat. Similarly Dr Eval - you don't need to say why you are giving up your seat. Jwg - this is very specifically an act of politeness... Getting offended by it is entirely your remit. – Rory Alsop Sep 5 '17 at 14:26
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It isn't rude, it is nice. However, as a 55-year old woman, I prefer people don't give up their seat for me as I really want to be treated like others. I wear jeans, am in great shape and not tired looking. I give up my seat to younger women who are overweight and/or tired looking, and especially if they have a child.

If this isn't too complicated, try to make a judgment call about if the woman wants a seat. If she, like me, is not looking anyone in the eye sitting in a reserved seat she probably does not want a seat.

  • Welcome to Interpersonal Skills! I invite you to take the tour and visit our help center to learn more about the site and its guidelines. A good first answer, by the way. :) – NVZ Sep 5 '17 at 6:09
  • Thanks Dawn! As a female software engineer myself I can totally relate to what you've said. I actively try to not make assumptions based on stereotypes and I know there are a ton of perfectly capable people who are my senior. I try to avoid giving anyone the sense that I feel they are weak! – kem Sep 5 '17 at 19:00
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    I agree - I likely wouldn't think to give up my seat to someone if they didn't look like they wanted it. But if someone looks tired or is carrying lots of stuff, they'll be offered my seat whoever they are :) – Dewi Morgan Sep 5 '17 at 21:12
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    Interesting as someone deep in tech and leadership I don't see how common politeness can be construed to apply weakness or strength! As a spiritual man it is the essences of our being to consider others, its not about competition but outward consideration. peace – elliotrock Sep 5 '17 at 23:34
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I can speak as a follow Canadian public transit rider.

I have also received condescending / insulted looks for doing this, even from people carrying lots of stuff. Canadian politeness ("No, you take it, I insist"), personal pride, and the almost British keep-your-eyes-to-yourself attitude on public transit are all at play here.

My solution is often to make the seat vacant with no fanfare or chivalry. ie simply stand up and move over a few paces so that they are the closest person to the vacant seat. This way you are not forcing a reaction from them: it's their choice whether to view it as an offer, open a dialogue with you, or to completely ignore it as you wanting to stretch.

9

My own policy is, when I am seated and the conveyance has no empty seats (or none nearby), and there is a person who apparently needs the seat more than I do -- because of age, physical condition, children (inside or out), or any other reason -- I get up and move closer to the door. I don't inform the person of my opinion of them or of my motives generally.

One time on BART, a young woman said to me, "Excuse me, I'm pregnant. Would you mind if I took your seat?"

Of course, I sprang to my feet, but as she sat, I noticed that she was quite lithe, not at all pregnant to look at her. "So," I enquired. "How long have you been pregnant?"

"About a half-hour," she answered sweetly, "and boy, I am pooped."

7

My grandfather, even when he was over 90 (!) told me he doesn't like it when people offer their seat to him on the bus, and he would refuse. He didn't like to be reminded of his old age, I think.

So it is a very subjective thing, as there is no "rule" or a way to predict the reaction of a person whom you offer a seat to, based on their visible physical characteristics.

What I do is just free the seat without saying anything. Then there is no pressure on the person, no emotions involved, and they may really make a genuine choice whether to sit down or not.

I assume that in the case of my grandfather, if someone just freed the place without saying anything, he would have sat down. So this technique might even be more effective to aid those who are struggling, rather than complicating things for them with politeness.

If it matters, I am talking about Israel. Bus rides get hot and bumpy.

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    Problem with just freeing your seat is, it's quite as likely that somebody else who has no physical need and hasn't noticed the situation at all will then sit down there. – leftaroundabout Sep 6 '17 at 20:48
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I think it would just depend on the situation. Even if I saw someone around my age who had a lot of stuff with them, I would offer my seat. Same for anyone who looked beat up and tired from working hard. People are different, no matter what, so you can't really know or presume what they will think or how they will react.

Some people might thank you, some may take offense. But either way, it doesn't really matter. As long as you're happy with yourself. Most people wouldn't even think about it, so you're better than most by default. lol

4

I can't speak exactly for Canada, but perhaps it's close to the UK where I am. Here I do this without a second thought.

Presumably you're wondering if it comes over as implying they are old or frail. I doubt at all it comes over like that, and if you think someone else may benefit from a seat more than you do, then go for it!

2

I'll share how I handle this, mostly in subway trains:

  • Option 1

I kind of wait for the person to come close enough to my seat, so that when I get up, it is obvious that they should have a claim on it. Then I get up slowly, making it obvious that I'm about to do so, to allow that person to move closer and occupy the seat, with some eye contact between us.

  • Option 2

I just ask " train is about to arrive at my station, would you like to take the seat?" If they do, I simply walk out of visual range so that they don't feel obliged because I got up many stations/stops before my drop.

The second option is exercised when I'm certain someone else might grab the seat before the "target", which happens at times.

1

I think offering your seat to another person for the reasons you suggest is a kind gesture. I remember years ago when I was in my thirties, my 60-something mom was with me at Jiffy Lube. All the chairs in the waiting area were occupied. Everyone seated except a mother and daughter (I assume) were older ladies. An elderly lady came in and looked around rather worriedly for an empty chair. The mother and daughter I mentioned looked down their noses at the lady as if they were better than her, and they were NOT getting up for her. I said, "Ma'am, you can have my chair." I got up, went to the picnic table out front, and had a couple of cigarettes. I've never forgotten those two ill-mannered creatures.

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I'm male and 65 and probably look it. 5 years ago I was really grateful if anyone offered me a seat because my hips were in bad shape. Now that I've had a hip replacement I can stand comfortably for an hour if I need to. But I look just the same. So: you really can't tell whether someone needs to sit down just by looking at them.

That then leaves the question, is someone going to take offence if you offer them a seat and they are actually young and fit? Well, it first happened to me when I was about 50, and (especially because it was a girl making the offer) it does give you a realisation that you must be getting older, but it would be a very stupid person to take offence at that.

0

No, it isn't rude. I'm "only" 60 and don't consider myself a "senior citizen" - but the arthritis in my knees has distinct and negative opinions on the subject of standing or walking much. (And to show I'm a complete fool - I'll even offer my seat to someone older than myself or someone younger if it looks like they need it (e.g. pregnant or with young kids) - habit :-). If you notice that someone, even someone as young as me, appears to be uncomfortable standing by all means offer them your seat.

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