Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Need a seat? Just ask for it.

I was reading the news about Singapore being unkind and ungracious with interest. There's a lady reporter, being pregnant and feeling nauseous, wasn't offered a seat when she took the MRT. Even our top politicians are remarking on that.

I think that if you are in a restaurant, seated, and nobody comes up to you to take your orders, you should wave your hands wildly and call for attention. That will draw attention to yourself and people will come to service you. But why is it that when someone needs a seat on the MRT, then the person needing service have to wait for others to offer one to him/her? That's an interesting observation, no? I think we have to be a little proactive in what we want, rather than waiting for others to volunteer.

I think people everywhere generally practice polite inattention. You do that when a stranger enters a lift with you, so you look at everything except the person. You do that because you don't want to look like you are nosy and you just want to pretend that you're minding your own business, even if you're very curious. Well, I think the same thing happens in the MRT. When someone exhibits weird behaviour, like stripping naked, or sitting down on the floor, people generally practice polite inattention. You mind your own business.

If I'm needing a seat, I've to break this cultural barrier of polite inattention and the by-stander's effect (which means that in a crowd of strangers, everyone think everyone else will help, so in the end nobody helps). The best way to do is this:

Single out a person, tell him you're unwell and ask politely if it's okay for him/her to give up her seat for you. Giving a reason is important because that is generally more persuasive than just ordering people around. Being polite helps all the time. 

If you do that, and nobody helps you, then I will also conclude that Singapore are generally unkind and unhelpful. Until you try helping others to help yourself, I think it's a bit premature to say that others are unhelpful. There's a million reasons why others are not helping you, and one of the most compelling one is that they are giving you space to be 'weird' by practicing polite inattention. A celebrity might like Singapore precisely because nobody gives a hoot even if they know you're a celebrity. They might give a longer look at you, but generally leave you alone, unlike the paparazzi culture in other countries.

My stand is this: If you need help, and people volunteer to help you out, that's good and an ideal case. If you need help, and nobody volunteers, then you got to be proactive and seek the change that you want to see. Not everything needs a law in order to force certain good behaviour. Sometimes, all you need to do is just to ask.


B said...


Politeness brings smile to anyone in any country.

Respect needs to be earned. Everyone is entitled to a seat if he or she is paying the same fare as others.

Singapore Man of Leisure said...


Yup. That's the natural thing to do. Ask politely.

Whenever someone blocks me on the "fast lane" on the escalator, I just say "excuse me".

It works most of the time ;)

Much better than to fume inside and snap a picture to share it on Facebook how "inconsiderate" some Singaporeans are... LOL!

By the way, journalists (ex or otherwise) have something in common with snake-oil salesmen - we all say or write to "elicit" a response from our audience.

Whether we the readers choose to take the bait or not is up to us ;)

Unknown said...

Hi LP,

Very true.

When something can be done by anybody, everybody will think that somebody will do it. In the end, nobody does it.

la papillion said...

Hi B,

In theory, it's true that everyone pays the same fare so everyone is entitled to a seat. Alas, it's not true in reality. I think in the pecking order of who gets to sit, men comes the last, esp younger males. I don't even try to sit down these days in the train unless there's a lot of seats present and there isn't anymore wanting it. No pt, because in a while, I might hve to let others have it, haha

la papillion said...


Haha, well said! Snap picture, post to facebook and complain instead of solving the problem by asking politely. Strange isn't it? lol

Yea, I knew about the hot buttons to press. If you write blogs, you know certain things will trigger a strong response. I think the reporter is also doing the same thing :)

la papillion said...

Hi Matthew,

There's where eyepower comes from, isn't it? ;) If you're interested in such things, you can read about the book "Influence" by Robert Cialdini. Excellent book regarding human behaviour :)

Anonymous said...

Hi LP,

Makes perfect sense. Sadly I think this is what had been cultured over the years, since singaporeans are so used to government taking care of many aspects of our lives. So most ppl tend to just wait for help and if no help comes, complain..

la papillion said...

Hi aceirus,

Maybe people have a certain expectation that good deeds must come from the heart, and so the giver of the seats must be more pro-active than the receiver.'s good if it happens, but I won't bet on it :)

gagmewithaspoon said...

agreed. taking a photo and posting it without letting the other person tell his side of the story is not v appropriate behaviour. "ask and ye shall receive!"

la papillion said...

Hi gmwas,

Haha, yes :) I think instead of complaining behind that person's back, might as well tell the person what's the problem. I think the former is just plain complaining while the latter strives to resolve differences. More constructive :)

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