Need a seat? Just ask for it!

By asking people for a seat, you are doing other needy people a favour by reinforcing social norms that able-bodied persons are obliged to give up their seats those who need it more. If these people know that they are going to be asked, they are more likely to pro-actively do it next time.

A lady wrote this letter to the Straits Times today:

Pregnant, but she has to ‘fight’ for priority seats

I AM eight months pregnant and I commute to and from work by the MRT daily.
As my pregnancy progressed, so too did the intensity of backaches and tiredness. I have now resorted to unabashedly asking commuters to give up their priority seats to me. But how does one ask for seats occupied by people who are apparently in deep sleep?
A couple of times, I found myself having to “fight” for the priority seat with other women. Needless to say, I lost the battle, but the women did not appear to be embarrassed that someone else had to give up their non-priority seat to me.
While I hate to make expectant mothers sound vulnerable and frail, the fact is we are more tired and in greater discomfort than any healthy, non-pregnant person at any given time.
The authorities should consider blocking those reserved seats so that pregnant women will no longer need to fight for them or bear with other people’s selfishness.
Seow Shih Wee (Ms)

I AM eight months pregnant and I commute to and from work by the MRT daily.

As my pregnancy progressed, so too did the intensity of backaches and tiredness. I have now resorted to unabashedly asking commuters to give up their priority seats to me. But how does one ask for seats occupied by people who are apparently in deep sleep?

A couple of times, I found myself having to “fight” for the priority seat with other women. Needless to say, I lost the battle, but the women did not appear to be embarrassed that someone else had to give up their non-priority seat to me.

While I hate to make expectant mothers sound vulnerable and frail, the fact is we are more tired and in greater discomfort than any healthy, non-pregnant person at any given time.

The authorities should consider blocking those reserved seats so that pregnant women will no longer need to fight for them or bear with other people’s selfishness.

Seow Shih Wee (Ms)

Ms Seow, there is no need to “resort” to unabashedly asking commuters to give up their seats if you need it. It is your right and it should be done as a matter of course.

My wife is 6 months pregnant with our second child. Often when she boards the always-crowded MRT with our 19-month old daughter in tow, she encounters commuters sleeping or busy playing with their phones while seated on the reserved seat. She just gently taps them on their shoulder, gives them a smile and asks politely if they would mind giving up their seats. She has never been rejected. After they give up their seats, she flashes another nice smile and thanks them. Easy!

In fact, research has shown that even if you are able-bodied and you ask for a seat, the majority of people will still give it up. This was documented in a “breaching experiment” conducted 30 years ago by Dr Stanley Milgram. He asked his graduate students to go into the New York City subway and ask someone for a seat. As it turned out, 68 per cent got up willingly when they were asked directly.

By asking people for a seat, you are doing other needy people — who may not have the ability or courage to ask — a favour by reinforcing social norms that able-bodied persons are obliged to give up their seats those who need it more. If these people know that they are going to be asked, they are more likely to pro-actively do it next time.


10 thoughts on “Need a seat? Just ask for it!”

  1. Communication is a two way process. Many S’poreans are the nonchalant kind. Good pretenders. So, a direct approach to ask gentlely and as Gerald said, most of the time people will vacate the seat for the needy.

    We need to understand the culture of S’porean’s self-serving character. Society will change in time as manners take precedence to selfishness and so called ‘ignorance’.

    Good action and refine manners is the hallmark of individual finess and family upbring. Towards a gracious society !

  2. I was traveling in London subway and was told that pregnant women in the west would feel offended if you give up your seat to them without their asking. To them, pregnancy is a normal and healthy process. Our older generation gave birth in dozen and had to slog all the way, before, during and after birth. No big deal!

  3. I think we should do away with the priority seats system. All the seats should be treated equally and anyone who has a need for a seat can ask anyone for help. There is no need to fight for just the priority seats. People who are not at the priority seat should not feel that he has got the seat for good and needs not care about anyone who may need the seat more. If one is unable/unwilling to give up his seat, just ask the one next to it and so on, you will sure to get a seat if you really need it. So, I agree with Gerald that “Need a seat? Just ask for it!”.

  4. Tony – They *have* done away with ‘priority seats’. They are now called ‘reserved seats’. It is generally understood by commuters that all other seats are priority for those who need it more. Indeed, I often see people giving up their non-reserved seats for the elderly or pregnant. Those who don’t are just buat bodoh (feigning ignorance).

    leesjuanpat, Lee – Thanks for your comments!

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  6. Gerald has got it right. If you want a seat just ask for it and most likely, someone would stand up and give the seat to you. Respect is a 2-way affair, I have also seen over-bearing able-body elderly in good health rudely asking others to give up their seat to him or her.

    Looking at the way they ask for the seat, it is likely I would ignore them and ask them to go away. I’d rather give up my seat to a tired young nurse/mother than to give up my seat to these elderly who think that they have the right just because of their age.

  7. I do not see why it is a pregnant individual has anymore “right” to a seat than anyone else. Why would being pregnant, albeit with the associated discomfort and inconvenience, carte blanche for special treatment? No one forced you to get pregnant. Nor did they they force you to travel in your pregnant state. Any courtesy, kindness and consideration accorded to you because you’re pregnant is precisely that – courtesy, kindness and consideration. It speaks well when such behaviour is accorded, but it is by no means any pregnant woman’s “right” to experience it.

  8. If you feel that you are easily tired, prone to backaches, unable to stand on MRT/ Bus, you should plan ahead of your pregnancy and buy a car! No one is oblighed to “take care or give in” to you because you are pregnant. If someone give up his seat to you, that’s purely a gesture of goodwill not an obligation. Buy a car if you feel that you cannot commute in public transport. If you cannot afford to buy a car, then don’t get pregnant until you can afford to!

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