Subway Etiquette: Getting From Here to There Without Being a Jerk

Subway+Etiquette%3A+Getting+From+Here+to+There+Without+Being+a+Jerk+ via Creative Commons

Tristan Gillia, Opinions Editor

For New Yorkers the subway is a staple of life. When someone needs to go somewhere local, they don’t think “Oh, should we drive?”  because most of the time, they choose the subway. It’s (relatively) cheap, (relatively) reliable, and (relatively) fast. But while most New Yorkers take the subway, they don’t always have a clue about some of the subway’s unspoken rules.  This past summer I took the subway a lot to go into Manhattan, and I learned this fact the hard way. So, to all the New Yorkers (and tourists who want to pretend to be New Yorkers), here is my list of “dos” and “don’ts” so you can have perfect subway etiquette.


1) Keep your whining to yourself. While the subway is very convenient, it can be hot and very crowded. We all get annoyed. But some people tend to announce their annoyance at a very loud volume. Yes, we get it. You’re tired and want to get home. Big deal. We do too.  So give it a rest and suffer in silence like the rest of us – stop with the sighs, and the eye rolling, and the complaining.  And (most importantly) stop trying to catch my eye when you do it.

2)  Stop pushing on and off the train.  This isn’t Japan, where they hire people to literally stuff people onto trains.  We can’t deal with that in New York, or at least I can’t.  The subway is full of people pushing their way in and out of subway cars. If you think adults would use their words instead of acting like three-year-olds, then you would be wrong. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been pushed and shoved because someone didn’t wait for me to move when they said “excuse me.”  Saying excuse me does not confer a license to turn yourself into a human battering ram.  One time I was standing near the door of the subway because it was very crowded and as soon as the doors opened, I saw people trying to exit. I tried to move but I was pushed to the side instead. Before I could collect myself I was pushed again, this time to the other side. I wasn’t given time to even move.

In the future, to prevent these types of situations from happening, make sure to be polite and wait for people to move instead of forcing your way through. Even if you’re late, do not push your way through people. Lateness is no excuse for causing someone severe mental and physical discomfort.

3) It’s not the last train to Clarksville. There’s always another train. Really. If the subway car is full, do us all a favor and wait for the next one.  And if you choose to ignore this rule, please don’t  push yourself in while screaming that you NEED to get on. Yes, you want people to give you room, but sometimes, as much as you want it, there really is NO MORE ROOM.

4) Do not pick fights. Where do adults act like toddlers? Lots of places actually, but definitely on the subway.  Look, it gets very uncomfortable for everyone when someone picks a fight because of an accidental bump. The subway is crowded, and trains lurch.  Sometimes people jostle each other.  ACCIDENTALLY.  So take a breath and stand down, soldier.  That said, sudden shouting matches can be entertaining and cathartic, at least when you’re not the one being shouted at. Next time you see a shouting match, settle in and watch it like a movie – but just try not to knock into anyone while you’re doing it.

 5)  Take your backpack off, Buddy. Stop bashing your fellow passengers in the face and stow that backpack by your feet.

6) Don’t do anything that you would not do in other public places. Enough said.


1) Give up your seat for someone who is elderly, pregnant, has a disability, or someone who is sick.  Shouldn’t this be a given? Come on people, learn some manners. Nobody gives up seats anymore, and that should change.

2) Do Read other people’s papers/books/iPad. Now this one might seem weird, but I believe that it’s fine IF the person who is reading the other person’s paper keeps it secret. Subway rides can be boring, and when someone is reading a juicy celebrity magazine, it is nearly impossible to not read along. And if you are the person with the paper, don’t turn it away so they can’t see. We all need to help each other as New Yorkers and squash that stereotype of being rude.

3) Take getting a seat seriously. It’s like the Hunger Games. When you see an open seat, make sure there are no elderly or pregnant people, and then jump into action immediately and decisively. People will see you and stand down.  If you hesitate or otherwise show fear, then others will leap in, and you’ll be shut out.

4) Do take a snooze. It can be nearly impossible not to close your eyes when it’s 6pm and you just got a seat. Sit back and relax. The moving car just lulls you to sleep. As long as you don’t snore or bob your head, or lean on other people, it’s perfectly acceptable.

5) Do accept people’s apologies and realize that accidents happen. I once accidentally bumped into someone because the train lurched and I immediately apologized. But instead of the women graciously accepting it, she looked at me as if I had just insulted her. If you are ever the person that accidentally gets bumped, say it’s okay and go back to listening to your iPod.

If you follow these rules then you’ll have a nice enjoyable ride. You can trust me, I’m a true New Yorker.