Adil Says: Its OK to Touch me [on the TTC]

6 Jan

Photo from Greg G. in the Toronto Flicker Stream

In Tanzania, a popular way to get around the city is on a ’10 seat’ mini bus called a ‘dalla dalla’. Riding a dalla dalla is always memorable because the concept of set seating simply does not exist. People literally pile on top of each other and although initially alarming, you get used to the reality of sitting in people’s laps or resting your head in another’s bosom. Rest assured, it’s uncomfortable and smelly, but there’s also some camaraderie and people are genuinely okay with the situation.

I mentioned the dalla dalla because of how sharply it contrasts with my experiences on the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) in regards to human contact. On the TTC, you’d think the middle seat might as well come equipped with a SARS + H1N1 fused needle given people’s aversion to sitting in it. Ironically, it’s something that’s always bothered me and yet something which I’ve done myself. I’m not sure why, but more often than not, I chose to stand rather than to sit in between two people.

On my morning commute yesterday, some guy left his seat beside me to claim another for a few stops and on the ride home, an elderly lady stood and stared at the empty seat beside me on a crowded bus. Frankly, it hurt. The combination of the two experiences implored me to consider why people are so afraid of the possibility of touching another person on the TTC with the hopes of easing my hurting confidence and perhaps considering if my own previous behaviour is irrational.

Just to confirm, I don’t have an odor problem, I’m not overly big and I don’t make babies cry when I smile. I had these things confirmed with others to make sure it’s not just me. This problem is endemic. Why? What’s so wrong with your knee touching someone else’s?

Most people I asked these questions to didn’t have a great reason to support their decision and generally, it came down to either feeling uncomfortable with the idea of touching a stranger or feeling like you were more vulnerable to some sort of illness. Neither is a good reason if you consider our proven innate desire to want to have contact with another human being and that we are generally complacent with handling money, which is probably the dirtiest, most illness-causing thing out there.

Normally, once I’ve concluded that we’re pretty silly for our behavior, I’d make a plea that we reconsider our actions and create change. I’m not going to do that this time. Why? Well let’s just say that now that I’ve released the ills of my own actions, I’m not going to avoid the middle seat anymore and the more of you who decide to kick it solo, the better chance I have at sitting down!

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9 Responses to “Adil Says: Its OK to Touch me [on the TTC]”

  1. Azra January 6, 2010 at 12:29 pm #

    So true, I always scan for the spot with the least amount of people sitting there.

    It also reminds me about somthing I’ve experienced a few times on the subway. Have you ever sat beside someone and then a new seat somewhere else becomes free, and so they move there. You wonder to yourself what was so wrong with you that they rudely had to move to an entirely new seat. Maybe we really are afraid of contact.

    • adildhalla January 6, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

      That’s exactly what happened to me yesterday morning. I would have probably taken more offense had I not witnessed this same guy sit beside me after getting up from another spot where he was sitting beside someone. Despite noticing this, I was still miffed to see him go.

      I think we’ve all had instances sitting beside someone who might not smell right or invade our space a little bit too much. Interesting though because we’ve probably had far many more times when the person beside us was cool or perhaps (after coming home from the gym), you were the person smelling a bit. And yet, in anticipation that it might be a bad experience, we risk discomfort and stay standing or removed. Its unfortunate in that by doing so, we rob ourselves of the potential of a great situation entirely.

      Thanks for the comment Azra. I would not get up if I was sitting beside you!

  2. Milan Davidovic January 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    You might want to look into the notion of “civil inattention”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_inattention

    –Milan

    • adildhalla January 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

      “civil inattention… it is characterised by elaborate modes of pretending that we do not look, we do not pay attention, we do not listen or we assume a posture that conveys we do not see or hear what others are doing”

      I’ve heard these instructions articulated before actually…except it was regarding how to avoid the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park 🙂

      Seriously though Milan, its an interesting concept. An impressive (albeit not surprising) recommendation and I’m interested in digging deeper as there is some validity behind it and perhaps might help me see some positive in why we don’t ever smile (or acknowledge existence) to one another in the city as is done in smaller communities.

  3. romeh January 6, 2010 at 6:34 pm #

    I feel like I was a lot more willing to take that middle seat after I got my H1N1 shot 🙂

    I am definitely part of the status quo on this one, not enjoying the close company of strangers. I’ve become a more comfortable with it lately though mainly because I don’t care as much and I just want to sit down.

    I definitely do not enjoy those with body odor though. That’s worth me moving or standing. I was on a bus a couple weeks ago and a smelly man sat next to me but I was in the inner seat so I couldn’t get out…for an hour. And that’s my 2 cents.

    • Adil January 7, 2010 at 10:18 am #

      Check out the vid I posted on the post below. Imagine having an hour trip on that.

  4. fahmida January 7, 2010 at 1:00 am #

    So true.
    I’m taking the TTC tomorrow and will be paying closer attention to this.

    • Adil January 7, 2010 at 9:19 am #

      Let me know what you see! In the meantime, check out this vid. I can’t believe I didn’t remember to include this video in my piece. Its not great quality but one of the funniest videos I’ve seen (especially in the context of one’s space and public transit)

  5. Adam January 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    i have found this almost everytime i go on a busy subway car (generally twice a day) . i don’t think ive ever sat down beside someone and i most certainly do not sit between two people on the middle seat.
    I think that this is for 3 main reasons. 1) when the subway is busy enough to require people to occupy every seat, it is generally hot and stinks and the last thing i want to do is cuddle with an overweight sweaty stranger 2) there is never enough room to sit comfortably (im not big, but im also not a 110lbs girl…) and 3) ive always, i mean always wondered why it is ok to sit so close to someone on the subway or a bus when at no other point in my life is this considered acceptable.
    I would like to be on record as saying, to all those middle seat sitters – next time you sit partially on my lap in order squeeze your way into a very uncomfortable position, im going to follow you off the subway and spoon you as you walk down the street and see how you like it.

    GROSS

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