Friday, January 11, 2008

On Being Nice To Your Fellow Man... or Woman

This morning N. and I were standing on the subway together. We don't normally travel together often, but today she was heading the same direction at the same time and it just worked out.

The train was full enough that we and several others had to stand. N. leaned down towards my ear and in a conspiratorial tone mentioned that the mid-40's woman standing opposite us would probably appreciate knowing that the lowest two buttons on her business attire blouse was open, exposing her belly button and a bit of "extra" around it. To me it was fairly evident that she didn't plan on this "wardrobe malfunction", but she was just big enough and the winter coat was bulky enough that I assumed she wouldn't readily realize her possibly embarrassing situation.

Our ensuing conversation went something like this:

S: Maybe we should tell her.
N: Maybe she wants it that way.

S: No way she wants to let her belly button hang out.
N: I just hope she goes directly to the toilet when she gets to the office.

S: You don't think she could unbutton the pants without noticing her belly button exposure?
N: I don't know, but women check themselves in the mirror.

S: What if the office mirror doesn't reflect down to the waist?
N: (Shoulder shrug - well, at least with one shoulder, the other still can't move due to last month's surgery)
N: You just don't do that... you just don't

At this point I made the decision that if the nice business lady met my eyes, I would with my hands silently indicate my own shirt button and nod my head towards this woman's exposed bellybutton... even though I now know that "WE" just don't do that. I simply know that I would appreciate a stranger's kindness if my bellybutton were so blatantly exposing itself to the world.

Soon the opportunity arrived, the woman scanned over my direction (probably because she's noticed that I'm staring at her - funny how it is so easy to sense that, and so hard to ignore it). I began to make my motions and N. (in her N. way - by leaning in close and giving me that look) let me know that I was breaking the rules of subway etiquette... Never engage with anyone else on the Berlin subways. Maybe it should be in the list of rules on the graffiti covered walls, or on one of the promotional videos they show... "Be nice to your fellow passenger - when entering the train stand aside as the others disembark, but never look them in the eye. Thus I was interrupted in my demonstration of her exposed belly button, and the lady continued her scan, eventually looking away from me... probably thinking that I'm crazy.

N: Don't do that! - with BIG eyes
S: Why not? - from between my teeth
N: Because it's just not done! -- with the air of finality that says the conversation is closed

OK, so "it's just not done".
But, I really feel that it isn't such a horrible thing... that I would appreciate it if someone did the same for me. 3 awkward seconds with a stranger I'll never see again, or possibly 8 hours of embarrassment with 30 co-workers that I see every day... hmmm... let me think.

So the question... is it the right thing to do to intervene in a "wardrobe malfunction"?
Even with a stranger? Even on public transport?
Is this a cultural thing? Do I feel compelled to do this because I'm American?
Is it just a big city thing?


Carol said...

I'd much rather hear from a fellow woman at the beginning of my day! She might have been headed to a job interview...


Martina Roßmann said...

I think I'd tell her. At least in my current living environment (small village, out in the country) I think it would be okay, but city life is different.

But I have a hunch that it still might have been a fashion statement. You won't believe how many ladies I have seen wearing Bauchfrei that really, had too much Bauch :-)

Patty said...

I would want someone, even a stranger, to clue me in on a 'wardrobe malfunction'. Perhaps it isn't the polite thing to do in Germany on public transport..but, I'd still want to know.