According to a new study, commuters adopt various tactics to avoid each other in confined public spaces.
The study was carried out by Esther Kim, from Yale University, who chalked up thousands of miles of bus travel across the United States over three years to examine the unspoken rules and behaviours of commuters.
Kim found that the greatest unspoken rule of bus travel is that if other seats are available you shouldn't sit next to someone else as it makes you look weird.
The study which was published in Symbolic Interaction describes this practice as 'nonsocial transient behaviour'. "We live in a world of strangers, where life in public spaces feels increasingly anonymous," said Kim.
"However, avoiding other people actually requires quite a lot of effort and this is especially true in confined spaces like public transport," she said in a statement.
When all the rows are filled and more passengers are getting aboard the seated passengers initiate a performance to strategically avoid anyone sitting next to them.
The various tactics used by fellow passengers include avoiding eye contact, lean against the window and stretch out your legs, or place a large bag on the empty seat or sit on the aisle seat and turn on your iPod so you can pretend you can't hear people asking for the window seat or pretend to be asleep.
"I became what's known as an experienced traveller and I jotted down many of the different methods people use to avoid sitting next to someone else," said Kim.
"We engage in all sorts of behaviour to avoid others, pretending to be busy, checking phones, rummaging through bags, looking past people or falling asleep. Sometimes we even don a 'don't bother me face' or what's known as the 'hate stare'," she said.
Kim found that this nonsocial behaviour is also driven by safety concerns, especially for coach travel which is perceived to be dangerous with ill lit bus stations. Kim also found that passengers expected each other to be jaded by delays or other inconveniences.
"In a cafe, which is more relaxed, people often ask strangers to watch their stuff for a moment," said Kim.
"Yet at bus stations that rarely happens as people assume their fellow passengers will be tired and stressed out," she added.
"Ultimately this nonsocial behaviour is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time," concluded Kim.