For some reason, the bus was particularly busy the other day. It felt like about five people got at every stop, so it was quite crowded. One woman got on with a very small child, a stroller, and a fairly heavy-looking handbag. She stood while her daughter sat. I was in the seat behind and noticed her bag. Two thoughts went through my head at the same time.
The first thought was more of a memory/reminiscence. I suddenly remembered taking the bus in Seoul, something I did twice daily for several years. Sometimes, when there were no free seats, I’d experience older women (probably 30+ years older than me) tugging on my bag. The first time it happened I wondered why on earth someone was pulling my bag. Hardly a subtle strategy to steal a wallet! But it turned out she was offering to hold my bag for me while I struggled to stay upright on a bumpy ride. Seoul bus drivers drive fast and like to treat the clutch very roughly. Passengers lurch back and forth with the bus, watching passing cars come perilously close. In fact it’s not at all unusual to see cars and buses collide in Seoul. I would usually thank the person offering to take my bag and hold onto it, but some women would be very insistent and rather than conduct a handbag tug of war it was easier to pass it over. It was very kind of them to offer to hold it. I would feel uncomfortable handing over my bag, although it was usually a bag of groceries or a few books and nothing valuable. It wasn’t so much because I was worried they would take my stuff, but because it was usually a tiny, shrivelled old woman who didn’t look she should be carrying anything. Of course, those women were probably much stronger than me, despite appearances!
The second thought was to reach out my hand and offer to hold her bag on my lap, but just before the words came out I stopped. I suddenly wondered, here in the US, what would be the reaction to a stranger reaching out and grabbing a bag? I decided it might well be negative and decided against finding out. However, part of me felt bad that I didn’t try. It could have been a nice thing to do for someone. Maybe the woman would have understood my intention and accepted my offer. She might have understood but just turned it down. But on the other hand, she might have thought I was trying to steal her purse. Or someone watching might have thought I was up to no good. Since I did nothing, I’ll never know.
How would you react if a stranger offered to hold on to your bag on a busy bus? Would you offer to hold someone’s bag on your lap? The situation certainly made me think. Maybe I’ll offer next time.