Every day swarms of Londoners take to their daily commute, seemingly leaving the manners and etiquette that our nation was built on behind on the walk to the station.
If you’re unlucky enough to spend the rush hour trundling back and forth on the tube, you’ll realise pretty quickly that you no longer process humanity as a collection of autonomous individuals, each with their own unique agenda, but only as a sweaty set of wailing walls.
The Underground? More like the underworld! Maybe it is this peculiar effect of being engulfed in these strange canisters speeding through dark tunnels that accounts for the hellish lack of etiquette that marks out Londoners’ behaviour on the tube.
Whether it’s the rush at the doors, where passengers are not given the consideration or space to get off the train and have to worm themselves out of a muddle of elbows and legs. Mind the Gap? Mind the people! Or it’s another Texan stand-off to read the Metro. Or unwelcome leers only pregnant women seem to avoid as no one makes eye contact in case they’ll have to give up their seat. Or perhaps it’s another uncovered cough and the bout of flu that’s bound to follow.
Worst of all, is what an arrangement of shared armrests does to otherwise rational beings. More often than not a Popeye-muscled man, in the same motion as sitting down next to you, will slyly slide and riggle his sinewy, snake-like arm until he has knocked yours off its perch.
I remember an occasion on the Northern Line when two businessmen came on and sat either side of me. The proceeding stops to Waterloo were the Battle of Waterloo relived.
Eating on the tube is another bugbear. Whether it’s a MacDonald’s burger or a spicy wrap, the odour lingers on long after the wrapping’s been discarded on the floor or, worse still, on a seat.
Then there are the people listening to ‘music’ through their phones, leaving bystanders listening to the tinny sounds of the bass. Why is there this complete lack of grace? Maybe it’s the concoction of odours – cheap cologne, bad breath and sweat – that nulls our faculties for empathy and compassion. Or maybe we’re too absorbed in our own little worlds, thinking about this or that interview, file or folder.
Perhaps we’re just plain rude.
But how is tube etiquette to be revived – if it ever did exist? God only knows, and I’ve never seen him on the Underground.
Image by whatleydude courtesy of Flickr