Say we're a family of four, and would like to sit together on a train in the USA that does not have assigned seating. How can I ask people to give up their seats without sounding rude?

closed as primarily opinion-based by Jason Bassford Supports Monica, SamBC, Lambie, Davo, Hellion Feb 18 at 16:00

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  • This is a cultural question, not a question about English. – Lambie Feb 19 at 3:22

If you have no seats to trade and they would have to stand, don't even bother asking.

But if you do have seats to trade, say this:

"We were hoping to sit together as a family. Is there any chance you would consider trading seats with us? If so, we'd be grateful. If not, no worries."

This makes a polite request without applying any pressure, so it is very unlikely to appear as rude. And because it's so nice and disarming, it is very likely to achieve the intended result.

By the way, if they do trade with you, make sure to thank them warmly.

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    I like this answer. The OP should not presume that strangers will move seats to accommodate his/her family. That is an unfair presumption and also could lead to the request coming off as rude subconsciously, via the tone, facial expressions, etc. I think this answer does a good job of phrasing the question to avoid such a presumption. – Zubin Mukerjee Feb 17 at 17:01
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    Very nice, but I'd add two small details. I think it's important to send just one person to ask and the rest should remain where they are, tell them to avoid watching how it goes. Being asked with three more people standing behind you, glaring at me, would make me feel both uncomfortable and like you are completely sure I will move and the question is a mere formality. And my second suggestion is ending it with something like "I'm sorry for trying to inconvenience you like this, it's ok if you say no of course" instead of listing the possible outcomes "if so...if not..." like that. – ElDoRado1239 Feb 18 at 9:34
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    I suggest "swapping", or "exchanging" rather than "trading". This is because "trading" carries financial connotations; whereas "swapping" explicitly means exchanging one thing for another - which is exactly what is being proposed. – Chris Melville Feb 18 at 10:55
  • @ChrisMelville: I seriously doubt anybody would think you were going to involve money, or to barter for, say, a goat or a few bushels of corn if you were to use the word “trade” there. Context is everything. But if it really bothers you, “switch” is probably the most accurate description of the transaction. – Robusto Feb 18 at 12:57
  • By the way, I added “seats” to make it abundantly clear that those were the commodity being traded. – Robusto Feb 18 at 13:04

You could say "Could you please move, so that we can sit together?". Be prepared, in Britain, at least, for people to consider the request rude, no matter how you phrase it, and to say "No. Go away" (or worse!), especially if they have reserved their seats, or if they would have to stand in order to accommodate you. In many countries you can reserve seats at the time of buying the tickets, and ask to have them together.

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    Maybe Americans are more polite, but in Britain, people generally don't consider being a family group gives you the right to turf people out of their seats. – Michael Harvey Feb 17 at 14:16
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    It isn't just a British thing; I am from the US and I agree. I think that moving to accommodate the family is a very kind gesture by the mover, but I also think that expecting it would be too much. The question (if it's asked at all) should be phrased apologetically (perhaps with "is there any chance you could... ?") so that it's clear that there is no presumption/expectation by the family that others will move for them. – Zubin Mukerjee Feb 17 at 16:57
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    @Lambie The seats are not reserved, and the family should nonetheless not presume or expect that people will move to accommodate them - which is why the request should be phrased apologetically. – Zubin Mukerjee Feb 17 at 17:04
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    Brits are not generally "family friendly", period. The mere entrance of a family including children into the train carriage is going to annoy most of them, even before you try to evict them from their seats. – alephzero Feb 17 at 18:46
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    Having said that, I was on a train once, from Birmingham to London, and a lady got on with two little girls. The mother sat next to me, and the two girls opposite. When the train go going, one of the girls fixed me with an intent stare and said "Perhaps my mother will give you a biscuit". her mother hastened to obey, and we spent a very pleasant ninety minutes. – Michael Harvey Feb 17 at 19:55

Where I live (Germany) it's considered so rude that one shouldn't even ask; and they should consider themselves lucky to get single seats near each other.

Of course, there's always the gambit of deciding whom you want to move and telling your little ones to sit across from them -- so they will ask you to make the exchange -- but this of course is rude, too.

  • I suppose answer might be of more use had the question been asked on travel.SE – Hagen von Eitzen Feb 18 at 15:58
  • (-1) I'm German and I consider it not rude to ask at all, as long as you ask politely and don't inconvenience people (e.g. breaking up a group, or asking people to stand). At least on a long-distance-train this is a perfectly reasonable request to make. (Making the request on a short-distance train where in rush hour may be taken less kindly, though). – averell Feb 18 at 17:19

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