How to Behave on the Subway: A Comprehensive Guide


In lieu of the latest video of people doing things they could really do elsewhere and not bother anybody instead of doing these things on the subway and bothering hundreds, possibly thousands, we feel it’s important to issue a friendly reminder of how to behave on the subway. After all, it’s back to school time, and the summer has been long, and bewildering. Perhaps we’ve forgotten all the things we learned at the end of last year! Herewith, how to behave on the subway, in three mostly simple steps:

1. Pay attention to yourself, and to other people. We’re all taking up space in this world, and there are a lot of us in the city. If you pretend someone doesn’t exist, do it while, deftly, acknowledging with space and your body that they do exist. This is a complicated way of saying: Don’t walk right into someone, even if you don’t make eye contact. That is, in most instances, preferable! Let people get OFF the train before you get on. The pole is not for your entire body to lean against, even if you haven’t felt another human’s touch in more than a fortnight. If you have long, luxurious hair, whether attached to your head or some portion of your face, know that tossing it about and combing it may result in it sweeping across someone’s arm or hand, and that they may not be able to eat their lunch later. Watch where you put your hands and feet, because someone else’s may already be there, and that’s awkward for everyone involved. Learn to swipe. Learn to wait for others to swipe. Spreading your legs wide and straddling three seats is not only rude and annoying, you will probably go to hell for it, as you will for holding the subway doors open, unless you are holding them for someone in desperate need, or someone just behind you who’s about to have the doors shut in his/her face. If you have to go out through the emergency exit, and someone with a baby or huge bag is coming behind you, be nice and hold that door, even if for but a second. This is called Good Karma. It is also called “being human.”

2. The subway is for getting you to where you want to go. It is not for…Fighting. Eating. Talking on your cell phone loudly so everyone knows your husband or boyfriend or wife or girlfriend or whatever-person is a real jerk, and, frankly, so are you. Making death threats. Selling things. Buying things. Stealing things. Licking your own shoes. Licking anything. Clipping your fingernails, or any nails. Breaking up. Weeping noisily and excessively in the hopes of being comforted by strangers. Vomiting (we know, sometimes this cannot be helped). Engaging in any sort of personal grooming or hygienic maintenance. Making friends. Losing your baby. Yelling. Singing. Pretending you are in your own apartment. Sighing loudly, frequently. Muttering. Being naked. Being scary. Blasting your music so loudly that everyone else is fully aware of how cool/horrible/displeasing you are. Exercising. Pretending the subway pole is a stripper pole. Having a party. Making a mess. Making an impact on society. Making a scene. Changing anybody’s mind. Voting. Lecturing. Blocking people with your bike. Showing off your relationship with your pet rat. Sitting on another person. Sitting on the floor. Moving to another apartment. Traveling with anything more than one large suitcase, or a small tree. Being an alarmist. Recapping last night’s episode of The Bachelorette. Learning to drive. Getting everyone else to look at you by doing something transgressive, arty, special, shocking, or stupid, something that you think is really, really cool and different but is really just kind of annoying to all the people who are minding their own business in the hopes of some semblance of peace and quiet until they get off the subway — except for the tourists, to whom it presents a view of the city that they will take back and spew excitedly to their friends, and do you want that? Promoting your personal “brand” in hopes of getting a book deal/reality series/on YouTube. Torturing your captive audience, mercilessly or accidentally. Plotting what you will do to really impress everyone on your next subway ride. Videotaping any of the former.

3. Get on the subway train of your choice. Sit down or stand up in an area that seems convenient, and is not massively in the way of or on top of other people. Stay there until you reach your stop, reading, listening to music, staring into the ether, counting the minutes until you’ve arrived. Get off the subway. Carry on.

We realize this seems a challenge, and that you may have already failed at one or more of these things, perhaps as recently as today. Practice, as always, makes perfect. You can do it, New York City! The rest of our life starts NOW.