Who hates crowded public transport? Yeah, me too. It’s hot, sticky, and full of weird people. (To over-generalize.) As a resident of Kyoto City, there is no need for me to own a car- and several reasons for me NOT to, the least of which being how prohibitively expensive it is. I suppose that’s universal. Right along with how everyone in the world puts up with the woes of public transport with the same long-suffering.
But how we express that is surprisingly different.
Here’s the scene: Washington DC, cherry blossom season. The Metro is packed with tourists and poor locals who just want to get to work already. A train gets delayed, because of course it does. We all pile into the next one that trundles along. Many of us immediately have regrets because we’re brushing shoulders with our neighbors…At best.
Cue the woman next to me turning and laughing. “Can you believe how busy it is?”
“You’d think they’d plan for busy days,” a man concurs nearby.
“The Metro is hopeless, it’s a wonder it’s running at all,” bemoans a man in a suit- I imagine he’s a local.
Seems pretty typical, yeah? Standing around criticizing the situation, commiserating on everything from the people with loads of luggage to the unusually warm weather.
Let’s visit a similar scene in another part of the world.
I’m in Tokyo and I just boarded the train at Higashi Ikebukuro, an area with a massive shopping complex called Sunshine City. (Cool place, by the way.) The trains are coming every two minutes but that does nothing to alleviate the press of people on all sides as I try not to elbow anyone. I fail- there is absolutely no way to move without bumping into five people and having them, in turn, bumping you about with their umbrellas and briefcases.
But here, there is an almost oppressive silence.
The seated woman I’m standing in front of stares determinedly at her cell phone screen. The man next to her is attempting to read the paper, jostling several people every time he wants to go to the next page. Many are dozing, including a businessman next to me who has looped his arm through the hand grip so he won’t fall down.
How I think of this is: when you’re in a western country and feel your space being invaded upon, you push out, regaining some of it (mentally) by reminding everyone of your presence. Don’t shove me, I’m here talking to you. If you make eye contact with me you’ll feel more inclined to give me another inch of space.
But when you’re in a situation like I was in Tokyo, rather than assertively claiming space, you draw yourself in. Don’t acknowledge the person inches from your face; think about your last vacation instead. Feel someone’s umbrella tapping against your leg? Perhaps you nudge it once or twice, but if it fails to move, you play on your smartphone to get your mind off of the annoyance. You only have to deal with it until you can get off the train, after all.
How do you react when you’re in a public space that’s unusually crowded- do you push out, or draw yourself in?