Taking The Hot Seat

A Facebook film of Londoners failing to give up their seat for a pregnant woman, has made many of us feel embarrassed. Savannah Walklate explains why we should be ashamed. On the other hand, Rudy Omisore believes that the fault lies more with the lady who shot the secret footage – and didn’t first ask for a seat.

Would you give up your seat for somebody who is less able to stand?

Automatically, most people will say yes – myself included – because we all know it’s the thing to do.

But would you really? Because pregnant journalist, Miri Michaeli Schwartz covertly filmed London commuters doing the exact opposite.

Photo: Iain Farrell via Flickr creative commons

Schwartz, 31, from St John’s Wood, was horrified by what she caught on camera during several different journeys on the Underground, including East London’s Jubilee Line.

The mum-to-be wore a ‘Baby on Board’ badge for the full term of her pregnancy; but more often than not, she was not given the chance to sit down.

The film which Schwartz made to bring to light the selfishness she encountered, has now been viewed over 6000 times. She posted the video on Facebook to “show people how they look when they just completely ignore me.” Schwartz cannot accept that they simply didn’t notice: “there’s absolutely no way to ignore my huge bump, I can tell you – London Tube commuters just don’t care!”

Dr Elle Boag, Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at Birmingham University, points out that “London is so densely packed with people we’re more likely to lose all sense of individual responsibility and accountability.” But if the people around her had lost it, why didn’t Schwartz take the initiative and ask them for a seat? Again, Boag puts this down to the London effect. In a city densely packed with people, “Londoners are less likely to call out selfish behaviour, so instead we keep our heads down and habituate it, as part of the norm.”

Even when this is taken into account, it’s still no excuse for people to ‘not recognise’ a 37-week-bump directly in front of them, and patently ignore it. Priority seats are marked for a reason, people!

Good manners are the outward expression of our ability to recognise the needs of others. On this socre Schwartz encountered a shameful series of failures. She’s absolutely right to observe that “the first woman in the video, doing homework with her child on the Jubilee line, missed a chance to teach him a much more valuable lesson – how to respect others and be a little less selfish.”

Savannah Walklate

The only person who should be embarrassed by this is Miri Michaeli Schwartz herself. Her covert filming of London commuters was nothing short of obnoxious behaviour.

She said that the commuters ignored her pregnant belly and didn’t offer her a seat on the Underground.

Not once during her video did Schwartz ask if she could sit down; instead, she stood by quietly and waited for a courteous gesture from an on looking commuter – which never happened.

What did she expect, everybody to jump up out of their seat and offer a space for her to sit – like, really? If she was that bothered about sitting down why did she not just ask?!

Now don’t get me wrong. Personally I see it as common courtesy to give your seat up to the disabled, elderly or obviously pregnant – especially if you’re sat in a priority seat. But not all people think alike.

If people aren’t offering you their seat, and you’re struggling to stand, would it not be common sense to ask someone to move?

If Ms Schwartz had asked and a commuter refused to move, then my opinion would be completely different on the subject. But I think we all know the likelihood of that happening… very miniscule!

To be quite frank, I think she was making a big deal over nothing. If you don’t ask, then you don’t get!

Rudy Omisore