Social Question

SmashTheState's avatar

Africans, buses, and seat sharing: cultural phenomenon?

Asked by SmashTheState (9636 points ) February 4th, 2011

I use the bus a lot, and I started picking up on an odd phenomenon. It appeared to me that recently-immigrated Africans don’t like to share their seats on the bus with strangers. I wondered at first if it was some kind of latent racism on my part, so I started watching for it specifically and was able to confirm my initial observation. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they’re young or old, male or female, poor or moneyed; they seem disproportionately likely to not share their seats.

It got me thinking about why this should be. Is it a cultural thing? Is it a result of simply being a recent immigrant and not wanting to rub shoulders and hips with strangers from a different ethos? Is it a local thing? Or am I simply imagining all of this out of some kind of subconscious racism? Has anyone else noticed this? I once had a Pakistani friend who told me that North Americans all smell like spoiled milk to him (presumably from our dairy-rich diet) and was quite surprised (and insulted) when I told him that he carried an aroma of curry from his own diet. Could it be that recent African immigrants don’t like our smell?

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18 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

When you say ‘our smell’, whose smell do you mean? I know you’re not trying to show any latent feelings but some are showing through even if not of racism, but certainly of xenophobia. After all, maybe you’re imagining it. There are loads of Africans here in Brooklyn that just immigrated and I find most of them quite friendly on public transportation. Again, though, I figure some people just aren’t comfortable with being close to others. After years of dealing with idiots, neither am I.

SmashTheState's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir By “our smell” I’m referring to white, European-descended North Americans with their apparent aroma of spoiled milk. I’m a white, European-descended North American, so when I say “we” I mean those who are like myself.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Yeah, I guess I’m out then. I’m white but not of European-descent. And since I’m vegan, I smell like soy milk. See how ridiculous it all sounds?

thorninmud's avatar

Doesn’t seem to be a problem for these guys

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@thorninmud Yeah, but clearly they’re not next to any WEDNAs.

flutherother's avatar

It’s a question of personal space isn’t it? People on the bus tend to spread out to respect each other space and as it gets busy they double up and squeeze together. I’ve not noticed this as being a cultural or racial thing. Of course if you know someone it is different.

incendiary_dan's avatar

Maybe it’s more of a subcultural or circumstantial thing. Where are a lot of the African immigrants in your area coming from? Why do they tend to come here? Could be related, somehow.

zenvelo's avatar

I hate sharing a seat on rapid transit. I don’t think I am a recent immigrant from Africa.

bob_'s avatar

Maybe your beard intimidates them?

SmashTheState's avatar

@incendiary_dan I believe most of the African immigrants here are from Somalia and other east Africa nations like Burundi and Ethiopia.

syzygy2600's avatar

All I’ve ever noticed about people who don’t share seats is they often have a look of disgust tinged with mild discomfort on their face, as though they have to go to the bathroom but can’t quite manage it.

mattbrowne's avatar

There is no correlation between the color of our eyes, skin, hair and body odor. The concept of “our smell” is total nonsense. There seems to be a correlation between attractive body odor and complementing immune systems to increase the survival chances of our offspring.

SmashTheState's avatar

I think you’ll find that your sweat smells of whatever your diet happens to be.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@SmashTheState There is some truth to that but there are as many different African diets as there are ways to wear make up.

mattbrowne's avatar

@SmashTheState – No, there’s a genetic component too. Not just the diet. But no correlation to the color of our eyes, skin, hair.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@mattbrowne Actually there is, because skin color correlates to culture. But correlation is just that, correlation. It means nothing in terms of causation. In that case, correlation would imply that the two things that correlate do so because they both relate to a third factor, not to each other.

bob_'s avatar

Correlation is indeed rather tricky.

mattbrowne's avatar

@incendiary_dan – My comment was about the absence of a correlation between skin color and body odor. The genetic component of body odor is related to the nature of the immune system.

Of course there is a correlation between skin color and culture in certain areas of the world. Just take Congo and Sweden as an extreme example. And as long as residential segregation and commercial & industrial segregation continues to exist in the US there’s also correlation although I would rather see this as subcultures not cultures. Yes, correlation does not necessarily mean causation. The different culture in Sweden is not caused by skin color.

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