If a crazy person sits next to you…
People have similar psychology. I live in Gyeonggi and take a metropolitan bus to Seoul every morning. Since my stop is close to the end of the line, I usually find many empty seats. Especially when I am one of the first to get on the bus, I get more choices.
Other passengers seem to have similar preferences when choosing a seat. After the window seats are taken, people quickly scan the remaining aisle seats. When you take up too much time, you will slow down the line. But you don’t want to pick just any seat and regret it for the whole ride.
People behave similarly on subways. When a train leaves from the origin at Daehwa Station, passengers generally prefer the seats on the ends of the bench. Then people sit in the middle, leaving some distance between them and others. People hardly sit too close to other riders when there are empty spots in the car. So you are constantly comparing different seats and making a series of choices.
It is not much different in other countries. American media recently reported on an interesting article published in the journal, “Symbolic Interaction.” Yale University doctoral student Esther Kim has written a paper on the “non-social transient behavior” of long-distance bus passengers. In order to study the behavior and habits of bus riders, she took trips on Greyhound over the last two years from Connecticut to New Mexico (which took her two days and 17 hours), California to Illinois, Colorado to New York, and Texas to Nevada.
When the bus is not full, riders make delicate gestures to discourage people getting on board from sitting next to them. You would avoid eye contact, put a bag on the seat or pretend to sleep. Or you would sit in the aisle seat and look at an iPod, pretending not to realize someone wants to get to the window seat.
You may blankly look out of the window. But when there is no empty row and someone has to sit next to you, you would expect a “normal” person. You want to avoid a person who is too fat or dirty or talks too much. Kim claims that race, class or gender is not a major factor.
Everyone using public transportation wants to travel safely and keep discomfort to a minimum. That’s why the violence at Euijeongbu Station last weekend was especially shocking. The heinous crime is unforgivable, but the offender who brandished a knife was financially struggling.
I am concerned that society may have been pretending to be sleeping in order not to let him sit next to us.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun