Londoners are involuntarily united by the tube. It gets us quickly and efficiently to wherever our busy lives take us, but just like our feelings on marmite – it’s a love-hate relationship.
Whether we like it or not, we’re packed into carriages like sardines for the best part of 2 hours a day (if you’re lucky) and even though we hate it, we endure it daily. No-one speaks on the tube nor does anyone make conversation on their commute into the office. You just don’t do it – it’s an unspoken rule. As well as the usual silence, there are other things that as a Londoner you know is not for the tube. The etiquette of the tube is one thing you should learn as soon as you get to the City, it should be an induction as important as where to find the printer at your new job.
Then there are the not so secret rules for the tubes, the ones that as human beings we should know are a big fat no-no. Like you just don’t do it. This is the tube, not a hippy convention for expressing your feelings. (I was brought back down to earth like this when I tried to make conversation with someone at 8am on the platform at Balham. That was a life lesson learned). When I asked my housemates about the worst things they’ve experienced on a tube, the stories ranged from random people using them as a cushion to someone throwing up… and then getting off at the next stop like nothing had happened. That sort of behaviour will put you in the ‘fellow tube users hate you and everything that you have done’ category. However, there was one that took the biscuit and actually left me thinking ‘where the hell do these people come from?’ Clipping your toenails on a tube is an actual thing that happens apparently. I couldn’t believe it myself but one commuter just started casually maintaining their toe nails whilst on the Northern line. That takes multi-tasking to a whole new level. He should have been glared at the whole way to his station then his Oyster card be confiscated immediately.
As well as the things that you should just know, like personal maintenance waiting until you get home, there are other unspoken rules of the underground of this wonderful and hectic City. One of the funniest and most awkward situations to manoeuvre is when a seat comes free on a very busy tube. What is the normal procedure? What’s the social code? Well, first of all you have to become a pretty good actress. Act like that seat is the last thing you want, when really your craving it more than the bottle of wine you have in the fridge at home. Look around absent mindedly and act as if you are thinking about everything but that seat. Then, when an acceptable amount of time has passed (about 30 seconds or on the central line about 15 seconds) you can pounce on that golden seat and give your swollen feet a rest. However, if there is an elderly person or pregnant lady in the vicinity forget everything I’ve just said. You give up that seat. If you don’t, you could be seen as a worse human than the toenail cutter.
It should be common practice, but somehow it isn’t a rule of the underground that you should wait (and part down the middle like Moses did with the sea) to wait for people to depart the tube before you get on. If you are crazy or stupid enough to push your way on as someone struggles to get off – prepare to get stared at menacingly. Expect to get a tut as people express their disgust at your mental behaviour. Let’s be real – you haven’t done anything illegal. You’ve just not adhered to an unwritten rule of the tube, which actually is probably worse than committing an illegal act. It’s the same as stopping to read one of the very easy to follow and colourful tube maps. If you decide to wait until you are in the narrow corridor of the station to slowly map out your journey, then prepare to be shoved. Those commuters behind you that have rushed from the office frantically to have a chance at catching their train home will not thank you for taking over the whole walkway. They won’t thank you – but they will get past you. Some way or another.
Commuting in London is character building to say the least, it gives you a strength that you never knew possible. It gives you a hate of people that you never thought you could feel – but we love it. As Londoners, we will moan every time a packed train turns up at Kennington when we had our hearts set on a deserted one and we will moan when someone refuses to move even though they’re surrounded by empty space. Yet, despite our synchronous grunts as the packed train crawls into Kennington we can’t help but come back for more. After all we will never, ever stop using our beloved tube.