Friday, 27 November 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 27 November

How do you deal with a space-hogging ‘manspreader’ on a crowded train? Thomas Blaikie comes to the rescue

Dear Thomas,
I’m rather dreading going by train to visit my relations this Christmas. What if I encounter a bad case of ‘manspreading’, as I believe it is called? Or some other undesirable behaviour? The trains tend to be terribly crowded all the time these days, and even worse at Christmas.
Angela Curtis, Ipswich

Dear Angela,
Let’s deal with manspreading first of all, because it’s rather fun and you really can do something about it. I only heard this expression a few weeks ago. It refers to the habit, only exhibited by men, of sitting on public transport, or anywhere for that matter, with the thighs describing an aggressive V-shape. The aim is to occupy as much space as possible and certainly more than is necessary. According to some, it is also a display of virility embarrassing to anyone sitting opposite.

But the manspreader can easily be knocked back into place, as it were. Your handbag or any moderate-sized piece of luggage might be useful. Otherwise why not be direct? Ideally before occupying a seat next to a manspreader, say, ‘Is this seat free?’ When the manspreader grunts disobligingly, repeat the question. Finally, in your best more-in-sorrow-than-anger voice, you can say, ‘But how can I sit here with your leg across the seat.’

Once settled, with the manspreading at an end, you can chirrup, ‘You were manspreading, you know. You probably didn’t realise it. I read about it in The Lady magazine. It’s been going on for years, but finally women are rising up against it.’ This could be the start of something that doesn’t usually happen on trains – a conversation with a stranger. Or an agreeable exchange of hostilities.

In other areas, it might be more of an uphill struggle to get improvement. In Britain, the more packed in we are, the more embattled and battened-down we become. Unlike Japan, where the more crowded the train, the more quietly they talk. Also, they never speak on their mobile phones in the carriage, never eat, only drink water and never leave litter.

In Britain, it’s different. The champion of better behaviour quickly becomes a busybody. If on your railway journey you’ve already made an issue regarding manspreading, you will have probably used up your quota for criticising other people, however justified. We need cultural change. It ought to be easier to say, ‘You really don’t need to shout into your phone… the person at the other end will hear you at normal conversational level.’ Or, ‘If you took off your rucksack and carried it, you’d be less likely to wind someone by accident.’

The solutions are so simple but it isn’t easy to point them out, is it? Can readers of The Lady lead the way to change?

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER

WHAT TO DO ABOUT… Giving Directions

Here’s another pre-Christmas item. Are you likely to be giving directions? My tutor, Dr Walker, late of University College London, always said, ‘Don’t give me directions. I won’t be listening.’ This was long before Google Maps or satnav. Whether he then phoned up from a phone box saying, ‘I’m lost. The nearest landmark is a tree,’ history does not relate. Perhaps he just never arrived.

If you live at the bottom of miles of mud track uncatered for by smart technology, it is only kind to give directions, ideally in written form, however annoyingly organised that might seem. But it’s no use expecting all visitors to follow them. On the other hand, curb the urge to give them if you live in the middle of a motorway or at Buckingham Palace.

People have got their quirks regarding routes or a feeling of superiority concerning short cuts known only to them. Of course, if you hold back on directions, you’ll get someone demanding them and you’ll have to stifle the impulse to say, ‘Ever heard of Google Maps?’

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