I Got 99 Problems, but the Free Paper Ain’t One

You can learn a lot about other people’s personalities in everyday situations. When hubby and I found ourselves on a train the other day and asked someone to move from our reserved seats, the absurd reaction that followed left us completely baffled.


Location: on a train somewhere in England
Situation: hubby and I find a smartly dressed lady sitting in our reserved seats. When I ask her to please move so we can sit there, she is clearly super annoyed by this simple yet justified (because they’re reserved, duh) request.

How a simple request unfolds into a petty situation

Normally we’re not too bothered about finding people in our reserved seats when it’s not busy on the train. In such a situation we just find other available seats and sit there. But today it’s busy on the train and we’re travelling with luggage. So I politely ask her to move, upon which she rolls up her eyes and expels the biggest irritated sigh you could imagine. While she gets up and let me sit down in the window seat of the 4-seater, she looks so pissed off, one might think I called her a stupid witch (which she completely was by the way). When she tries to sit down next to me, I tell her that seat is actually reserved by my husband and point at him standing right next to her. She subsequently throws her handbag down on the table in quite an unnecessary angry fit and sits down next to the man on the other side of the table. (The seat she sits down in also has a reserved sign on it by the way.)

After this surprising yet amusing response, hubby and I get settled in, take out our books and magazines to read during the ride when hubby spots some free Metro newspapers stuffed between the window and table. Now, any regular train traveller would understand this as a sign that a previous traveller has left these newspapers behind for other passengers to read later. It’s a form of an unspoken universal commuter etiquette.

So, hubby grabs a Metro when after about two minutes of browsing through the paper, the man opposite me suddenly starts to talk to hubby and says: “Oh you want to read MY paper? I don’t mind, but I’d appreciate you asking my permission for it first.” This unexpected and rather uncalled for reaction leaves both hubby and I rather baffled upon which we look at each other for a second wondering if we really heard the man correctly.

“I’m sorry,” says hubby after he recomposes himself, “but how should I have known this is your paper? It’s tossed aside as a sign it’s left behind by someone, it’s not in front of you on the table. Furthermore, it’s a FREE newspaper, but you know what, I’ve got my book to read anyway,” says hubby while he shoves back the paper between the table and window. Hubby grabs his book and starts reading in it. I’m watching Netflix on my phone, but look at the grumpy man opposite me who seems to have entered a staring competition with hubby, although hubby isn’t watching. In my head I give him credits for his tenaciousness as he manages to keep going for minutes. And then suddenly, completely out of the blue, the woman who hadn’t said a word to us or even looked at us after the ‘reserved seat incident’, grabs the newspaper and starts reading it, probably feeling all victorious. This action reveals that these people are a couple although they never acknowledged this earlier. Right now hubby and I feel really odd about this entire situation. The man is still looking as if he wants to punch someone and the woman is clearly still highly irritated as she sits there with puckered lips whilst reading the newspaper. During this whole debacle I said something like “Wow, you must lead such an easy life if a situation like this can wind you up so much.”

The bitter climate of today

Normally I would laugh about such pathetic behaviour, but this situation does strike me as the perfect Brexit analogy. A middle-aged rich-looking woman who can’t take responsibility for her own mistake, simply apologise and laugh it off. No, instead of this, she’s completely pissed off for the whole one-hour long train ride and you can clearly see the tension it creates in her body. And then on top of that, the husband escalates the silly situation by accusing hubby for doing something that actually could’ve been prevented if the man himself hadn’t put aside the paper. I’m not sure if this couple ever travel on trains actually (perhaps their chauffeur took the limo in for a MOT that day, or their groundkeeper had advised them to experiment with public transport) and understand this simple ‘travelling etiquette’ or ever get out of their confined village and world. I’m so curious to know what their daily lives are like and if they are the kind of people who create a fuss about everything and everyone, creating such toxic energy around them.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why I chose to write about this on my blog. I’m currently in Antwerp again – after I was last here two months ago I wrote about a cheap way to see lots of cultural sights (link here) – where I’m enjoying the glorious weather and all the lovely things this beautiful city has to offer. Since I would rather focus on positive things on my website, I just felt I had to share this anecdote as a simple reminder that a nicer and more pleasant world does start with ourselves. Let’s just try to be more sympathetic with one another and own up to our own wrongdoings. There’s nothing wrong with saying sorry and admitting you made a mistake. This is what makes others respect you, not if you stubbornly try to pretend you’re right and behave obnoxiously. And yes, I am talking about Brexit here.

Do you feel people are less sympathetic and tolerant nowadays or is this kind of behaviour not unique for today’s society? Feel free to share your opinion!
Thank you, Zarina xx

(addition 22 October 2018: since there seems to be some confusion about my Brexit analogy in this article, I’d like to make clear that I’m not referring to individuals or how ‘the people’ voted (so not the woman herself), but rather the stubborn attitude of the British government (whose reasons to leave the EU were actually quite some EU laws they had pushed on implementing themselves over the last decades). While it is so clear for everybody, Brexit is heading towards a disaster and won’t bring any of the advantages the politicians had promised (whatever a politician’s promise may actually mean) within the next 50 or 100 years, they still stubborny continue forcing their will (while there is still a chance to stop all the madness) AND keep blaming the EU for not giving them what they want.)

4 thoughts on “I Got 99 Problems, but the Free Paper Ain’t One

  1. Pingback: Reflections #2: Fighting Marathon for Charity and Volunteering for the Elderly – Dutch Girl in London

  2. Esther van den Bergh

    I think we can say that luckily we are not like that. Negative energy only produces negavitiy. And positive energy gives positivity. And it is so easy, costs nothing at all and can brighten anyone’s day. Very good you did not let it influence you both. They often say that people project their frustration/problems/feelings on others, I think this was definitely the case here. I often feel very sorry for people like that. So sad….

  3. Esther van den Bergh

    They probably did not want to sit next to each other, and since they were ‘forced’ to do so by the two of you, you both got the backlash…. 😉 Or venting their frustration about traveling by train where they normally have a car to their disposal?

    But seriously, people who get so very frustrated over their own mistake(s), I do not get it. Great you both stayed utterly cool about this. They must be so very unhappy in their lives, I imagine.

    1. Dutch Girl in London

      I don’t understand what was going on there. Perhaps they’re having relationship problems or some other problems/worries and our interaction pushed them over, but such negative behaviour (and for what reason actually?) isn’t healthy for the individual nor for society. Ah well, people eh?!

Leave a Reply to Esther van den Bergh Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.