6 Things That Are Creepy On The Subway

by Emma Cueto

The subway is one of those places where, if you can imagine something could happen there, it probably has. And while there are some pretty clear rules on good subway etiquette, there are some things that society seems to think are OK on the subway that are actually just creepy. And the fact that so many people don't seem to realize it is a little disturbing.

There are obviously some major subway "don't"s that everyone is able to recognize. Don't grope anyone, for instance. Don't get naked. Don't attack people. Not that all of those things haven't happened. And there are also a whole host of more minor infractions in the below-ground social contract that are less egregious but equally obvious. Don't block the doors. Don't eat anything messier than a granola bar. Don't play your music without headphones. All things that are fairly intuitive.

Unfortunately, there are also a lot of behaviors that many people seem to think are acceptable when really, they're just not. And while many people recognize this and call them out as creepy, the subway-riding populace at large still seems to be clueless overall. Which is a problem, because how are you supposed to get people to stop when so many people out there, whether or not they do these things themselves, apparently believe this sort of behavior is fine?

So, here are six things that society seems to think are OK on the subway that are actually just creepy:


Manspreading has gotten a lot of ink — both real ink and the digital variety — in the past few years, but it's still a common practice and there are still plenty of guys who will line up to tell you there's nothing wrong with men feeling entitled to take up extra seats on the subway with their widely spread legs. And the things is, taking up some extra space is fine when there's tons of space available, but the number of guys I've seen taking up one and a half or even two spaces during rush hour is not just surprising, but disconcerting.

The thing about manspreading is that it's part of a larger trend of men feeling entitled to take more than their fair share of whatever shared space, real or metaphorical, that you're dealing with. And as such, it becomes not just an inconvenience but a creepy one at that, evoking so many more serious problems and the unease that comes with that.

Hitting On People

Hitting on people in any space where they don't have the option to easily get away from you if they want is inherently creepy, and this includes subway cars. It doesn't matter if the person in question seems threatening or not, the fact that escape is not an easy option makes it automatically unsettling and therefore creepy. And yet there are so many people, mostly men, that think this is OK. As evidenced by stories like this one. Or this one. Or studies like this. Or the need for this entire piece. Or the need for women-only subway cars.

Now, to be clear, there are times when striking up a conversation with someone on the subway might lead to something more than just a brief chat, which is fine, so long as the person knows how to back off if the passenger they're trying to talk to is uninterested. But trying to keep talking even when the other party isn't responding, or trying to blatantly hit on someone in a subway car, is creepy. End of story.

Talking To Or Touching Other People's Kids

We get it, children are adorable, but they're also tiny, fragile, easily harmed mini-humans in close proximity to total strangers. And even though cases of actual harm befalling children on subway cars are few and far between, parents are still going to be understandably a bit on guard about little ones on the subway — and any kids riding the subway alone are likely to be well-versed in stranger danger.

There are non-creepy way to interact with kids on the subway, of course. If the kid in question is making eye contact with you, it's not weird to smile, and if they try to talk to you, it's not weird to respond as long as you don't say anything that might trip a parent's warning bells. And watching babies without openly staring is understandable — babies are awesome. But paying too much attention to other people's kids is likely to creep someone out — especially if the parents get at all defensive and you don't stop. And touching kids in any way is a definite no.

Touching Anyone

In fact, touching anyone unnecessarily on the subway is a definite no. There are times during rush hour that people on the subway are packed together like sardines, true, at which point we all do what we can to make the ordeal as non-awkward for everyone as possible. But touching anyone on the subway when you aren't forced to by overcrowding is a major no.

And this goes for any touching, whether or not it's at all sexual. Touching someone's arm or nudging their leg is still touching. Tapping someone's shoulder should be a last resort to get their attention. I even try to avoid touching someone's hand while we're gripping the same subway pole. Because we are all unknown strangers and who knows what germs we're carrying or what is going on in each other's heads. And touching strangers without permission is even creepier when they're not in a position to easily get away from you.

Because the thing is that the usual rules about touching are not actually suspended on the subway unless by necessity. Just because we are sometimes forced to be in physical contact by space constraints, that doesn't mean physical contact it the norm — or at least it shouldn't be.


If the subway car is crowded enough, you're going to wind up looking at people — unless you point your eyes at the ceiling or into a book or phone, there's really no alternative. But focusing on anyone too intently is creepy. No one knows anything about the people they share a subway car with. For all anyone knows, you're a serial killer searching for your next victim. So having someone stare at you on a subway car is pretty creepy — and it only gets creepier the emptier the car is at the time.

Sitting Down Next To Someone In A Mostly Empty Car

I have no problem sitting next to someone on the subway when the car is reasonably full. I don't even have a problem when a car empties out and I'm still sitting next to the same person who sat there 10 stops ago. But when there are a ton of empty seats that aren't next to anyone and a person sits down right next to me? The creep-o-meter starts dinging. Because why doesn't this person want to sit by themselves like any reasonable human does on public transit? Why do they want to sit next to me? What are they going to do next?

It's creepy.

Images: Giphy (6)