"Every time I'm about to hop into a cab, I struggle with the vexed question of where I should sit."
Although I've probably caught hundreds of taxis, I still get a huge thrill from the simple pleasure of hopping into one. To me, there's something wonderful about hailing down a car and asking a complete stranger to drive you somewhere - anywhere! - of your choosing. "Take me to the moon!" I could demand - and sure, they'd probably drive me to the nearest psychiatric facility instead, but the fact someone's driving me anywhere is still pretty fancy, I reckon.
Every time I'm about to hop into a cab, though, I struggle with the vexed question of where I should sit. Front or back? For most of my life, I've sat in the front. In Australia - and countries including New Zealand, Israel and the Netherlands - it's considered good form to ride in the front alongside the driver. It's a sign of egalitarianism, a salute to the idea that even though someone is serving us, we're still fundamentally equals. Whether you're prime minister or pleb, Australians often ride at the front.
But when my mother discovered I sat shotgun, she was scandalised. "Always sit in the back," she hissed to me and my sisters. "Do you want to get yourself raped?" I found her logic weird at first but, since then, a disturbing number of female friends have told me about all the times they've had to ward off unwanted advances from predatory drivers. Maybe it was safer sitting in the back. Plus, in cities like New York and Beijing, most drivers prefer you to sit at the back. (Their attitude: "Seriously? You want me to move my sandwich?")
So, lately I've been sitting in the back, feeling like I'm in a scene from Driving Miss Daisy. (This suits me fine; my celebrity spirit animals include Jessica Tandy and Angela Lansbury.) When I asked my most recent taxi driver where he preferred his customers to sit, he laughed.
"Honestly?" he said. "I don't care! As long as they don't throw up." Then he turned up Classic FM and we drove the rest of the way in silence, which I felt warranted a tip. Now that's service.