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Size on the subway

Posted by Robin Abrahams  December 5, 2007 08:26 AM

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So, here's a question from my inbox that I'd like to get some feedback on:

Frequently I’ve seen overweight and obese people insist on squeezing themselves into subway and bus seats that are too small for them. This results in their arms and legs landing on top of the people sitting on either side of them. This is very uncomfortable for the riders being squished, who often just get up out of their seat because it's too awkward to say anything to the person with the weight issue. Nobody seems to know how to handle this. What do you suggest?
What are your thoughts? I've got a few of my own (don't I always), but I'd like to hear from readers, as well. I'm getting increasingly interested in issues of obesity and prejudice against the overweight these days, from a social and scientific perspective, and really wanting to move into listening mode and hear people's thoughts and experiences. So please write ( and tell me what's on your mind. A few ground rules:

1. No hating on fat people. If you think people shouldn't sit in seats that are too small for them, say so. But do so with civility. None of this "But if we treat overweight people with dignity, they will have no motivation to lose weight, and will continue to be fat at me!" idiocy that comes up every time I mention courtesy to the overweight.

2. No hating on me because I'm not fat, or because I'm only recently starting to think about the issue of prejudice against the overweight. Nobody figures all of life out overnight.

3. No saying "Subways and buses should have bigger seats." Yes, they probably should, but they're not going to anytime soon. (And airplanes? Fuggedaboutit. That's the least of the airline industry's problems.) It's easy to behave well in a hypothetical well-engineered future. I'm interested in how people deal with the imperfect present.

You can e-mail me at I look forward to hearing from you!

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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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