The other evening I was going home on the tube.
A Chinese guy sitting opposite me was eating a Big Mac and fries.
He put the MacDonalds’ bag on the seat next to him.
Personally I don’t like people doing that.
He had hot, greasy food in that paper bag.
The grease could leak through it onto the seat.
That means someone else gets the remains of his meal on their clothes when they sit down.
Not only that, but you know this guy isn’t going to take the empty containers with him.
He’s just going to leave his litter on the train.
So generally I’m sitting there getting annoyed.
Then I get annoyed at myself for getting annoyed.
Then the train pulls into a station.
A posh elderly lady gets on.
The only spare seat is next to this guy.
She walks over, picks up the MacDonalds’ bag, throws it out the door onto the platform, and sits down.
The Chinese guy looks at her.
She says “Oh it’s okay, they come along and sweep up all the litter on the platform.”
The Chinese guy says “But that was mine.”
She says “That was yours?”
He says “That was my food.”
She says “Well you shouldn’t put it on the seat.”
And then they both stare straight ahead and continue the journey in silence.
And I’m sitting opposite, not sure whose side I’m on.
On the one hand the guy is wrong of course.
Putting his food down on a seat.
On the other hand the woman is wrong.
Throwing litter onto the platform for someone else to clean up.
I was what Americans call ‘conflicted’.
Not sure how to feel about it.
I had a similar feeling a few of years ago.
It was early morning and I was in a minicab.
We were stuck in a traffic jam in north London.
The driver pointed to a crowd of men on the pavement.
In an east European accent he said “You see all those men there? They’re illegal immigrants.”
I said “How can you tell?
He said “Because I was an illegal immigrant until recently. I used to stand there with them. But I’m not illegal anymore, now I am legal. So now I have to work but they do not.
Do you know I got more money, from the government, as an illegal immigrant than I get now from working. And I have to pay tax to support those people standing there who aren’t working. It’s not fair. ”
And again, I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
And, what’s more, I wasn’t sure he was.
Was he saying that working people shouldn’t have to support illegal immigrants?
In which case, why did he take it when he was an illegal immigrant?
Or was he saying that, now he’s working, he should be making more money than illegal immigrants?
In which case, how does he get a better job than minicab driver?
Or was he saying that the government should give him the money he got as an illegal immigrant on top of the money he makes from working?
In which case, should everyone in the country get the same money as illegal immigrants as a basic allowance, on top of their wage?
I couldn’t see what he was saying.
I couldn’t see the solution.
And I don’t think he could.
So the conversation in the cab dried up, and I went back to looking out the window.
Sometimes it’s difficult.
There’s not always a right answer.