It’s a moment of deep despair when you realize your bus/plane/train seatmate is not exactly who you would’ve chosen to share space with for seventeen hours.
It happened to me for the first time on a plane flight to Europe. Midway through the flight, my neighbor bent her head over as far as possible and started scraping her scalp with her finger nails. I could hear the dry skin ripping off, not to mention see it falling out of her buzz cut to the floor in an imitation snow scape. Every once in a while she’d stop to clean out her fingernails before continuing.
I was a shy, awkward fourteen year old unsure how to overcome the language barrier and communicate my discomfort with this personal grooming habit. So a few hours later when we landed, I entered Europe with one pant leg coated in her scalp scrapings.
Some seatmates aren’t quite as squirm-inducing, they’re just needy. Like the Jamaican man I sat next to on a 14-hour flight from the US to South Asia. He’s a nervous flyer and usually uses the in-flight entertainment system to avoid a panic attack. Unfortunately (for both of us) that system in the plane was temporarily broken. He’d lost his distraction from fear and turned to me for a replacement.
He let that be known right away, “I usually just turn on a movie to distract myself. But we’ll talk and maybe I won’t notice.”
He then proceeded to ramble. At first it was fairly interesting – about Jamaica and his work in green technology. But then it got awkward. He started telling me about his divorce, his ex-wife and how he still loves her and the stress it’s been on their kids. How he feels inadequate as a father – that he’s not giving enough time and energy to parenting.
For some reason, I tend to be a person people open up to easily. Strangers tell me random personal stuff all of the time. But this went above and beyond. He was just trying to distract himself and ended up telling me way more than I bet he even remembers.
With all these examples of what not to do, I never expected to be “that seatmate”.
But minutes after boarding a recent flight, what felt like the beginnings of a massive head cold hit me like a truck windshield splatters a bug. Much coughing and sneezing ensued. I tried to cover up as much as possible – but in cramped quarters there’s only so much you can do. My seatmate politely tried to keep her disgusted facial expressions pointing away from me.
Then they served dinner and I got a lovely, but spicy, curry dish.
For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of spicy curry as head cold relief – let me just say it removes your need for a decongestant rather quickly.
So I sat in my seat, trying to sniffle politely and discreetly wipe my running nose. But it was making me cough more. So I did what is completely and horrifyingly rude in South Asian culture. I blew my nose in public.
Right now, I’m sure that lovely Indian lady is writing a horrified blog post about the rude American seatmate she had to sit next to for six long hours.
So from us bad seatmates to you, I apologize.
What’s your worst travel neighbor story?