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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: What to do about a snoring, space-hogging airplane seat mate?

There is nothing impolite about asserting yourself in a situation like this.

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Ani Castillo / For Metro

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Dear Ellen,

I have a large, loudly snoring man sitting next to me on the plane, with his legs taking up my legroom and his beefy arms hogging both armrests. I’m going to punch this snoring guy in the stomach, I swear it. You probably think that's rude. So what should I do?

Airborne & Angry

Dear Airborne & Angry,

I’m glad to see you’ve retained at least a faint awareness of proper manners, despite your squashed state. Note also that slugging your fellow passengers, no matter how much they deserve it, would not only be rude, but illegal.

Your problem is typical of many social situations that drive well-mannered people absolutely bonkers. There you are, minding your own business, keeping to your own personal space and respecting the comfort of those around you, whilst other oblivious bozos are sneezing, coughing, expectorating, snoring, swearing, eating, walking or talking (on cellphones) all over the map, including in your face.

So your anger is understandable. But as a psychologist friend of mine once pointed out, oftentimes “anger is a message to yourself.” Instead of getting mad at him, ask yourself why you’re not saying something about it.

Perhaps you are labouring under the delusion that you’re obliged to put up with other people’s gross infringements out of politeness. Pas de tout. There is nothing impolite about asserting yourself in a situation like this. In fact it’s more polite than sitting there seething and fuming at someone who may have no idea they’re doing anything wrong.

A lot of us get angry when others "force" us to say what we want, because we’re afraid it will make us look selfish, or bossy, or greedy. But if they’re not aware of their sins, how can you angrily expect them to stop?

In this case, your seatmate may not be aware of how much space he’s taking up, or how much snorty noise he is making. The right and polite thing to do is give him a gentle tap and ask, with a smile, if he could rein it in a little.

Of course it’s possible he could be a total boor who ignores your request. But at least now it’s a fair fight.

I would certainly never advise anyone to do anything like deliberately spill a drink on a fellow passenger. But surely no one would be surprised if a few drops went astray in such crowded difficult conditions. Hit the button for the flight attendant, order a cold drink, and toss one back (and a tad sideways).

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