Tuesday, November 23, 2010

5 Unspoken Rules of London Undergound - what guidebooks forgot to tell you

I remember reading a Lonely Planet guide during my first trip to New York a couple of years back and one particular sentence stuck to my mind. “When walking along pavements, never stop at junctions to consult your map. That would simply irritate the heck out of New Yorkers, especially those who actually have to slow down their pace to avoid crashing into you.”

I guess all places have their unspoken rules – always apologise in London regardless of whether you are in the wrong, never be caught with a “Czech this out” t-shirt in Prague (or any other Czech cities), never greet a French person with a “hello” when in France. The list just goes on.

Photo by Annie Mole

As we drill down further, there exists a set of unspoken rules for every single aspect of the city. The London Underground is no exception. Here are five unspoken rules of the London Underground, fine, the Tube if you prefer.

1. Don’t stand near the platform’s edge…

When you stand near the platform’s edge, fellow Tube commuters will invariably assume that you know that’s where the Tube train doors will be opening and a semblance of a queue will quickly form behind you. Fatal mistake if you guessed wrongly. Expect mutterings of ‘tsk, tsk’ and disapproving looks as those behind you rush to the nearest train doors on either side of you.

2. Always bring some to read…

Unless you are travelling with someone. Believe me, you’ll be the odd one out if you do not. And you don’t want to be the odd one out, would you? Something to occupy your time would do just nice, an e-book or that latest app you have downloaded onto your phone is fine too. It prevents you from staring or nodding off (see below).

3. Don’t fall asleep…

Not even if you have not caught a wink for the whole of last week. The rumblings of Tube trains has got this strange effect of putting people into a deep sleep. I know of someone who took a 'nap' on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow airport . He woke up two hours later and was back to where he started off. He was fortunate though as his wallet and belongings remained intact.

4. Don’t stare, don’t chat

Londoners are not chatty, especially with strangers they meet on the Tube. The free newspapers distributed every morning and afternoon have the sole purpose of eliminating the need of making small talk with the person sitting next to you. If that fails, there’s always the rows of advertisements above the Tube’s windows. They're there for a purpose, aren't they?

Even with the banning of alcohol in the Tube, staring is still not a good idea. You never know what kind of self-esteem issues that the chap might have. Be safe, don’t stare. Especially at someone who’s twice your size, reeks of alcohol and smells.

5. Smile at babies, don’t frown at dogs

Even if you abhor kids and babies, don’t show it. Be gracious and smile at them especially if the parents are looking at you. Cooing at babies are fine but please don’t go pinching their cheeks or stuck your entire head into the pram. That’s just plain annoying.

Londoners love their dogs (some would be stumped when asked whether they would save the kids or the dog in a fire) and you might just see some guide dogs on the train. Patting them is fine but don’t go rolling around the floor with them. Watch out for their paws when maneuvering around them.

Have I missed anything?

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Emm said...

This is really true and really well-written!! Excellent list.

William K Wallace said...

The free London newspapers are definitely something I'm glad of, without them any long journey on the tube seems to take for ever.

I have never personally fallen asleep on the tube, however my friend recently fell asleep and ended up at Greenford, when they wanted to get off at Liverpool Street and they missed the last tube back, which was rather painful...

C K said...

Thanks! Anything that I have missed?

Ouch. Erm, bus services at night is a frightful affair. How did they get back eventually?

Gemma said...

Indeed, all of those are very true!

You could also add that you should presume that it's going to be full on the tube when you need to get on it. You should mentally prepare yourself for smelling someone's smelly armpits for the next 15 - 20 mins :P

C K said...

Aw... I was trying not to get that explicit. But true. I would try to position myself to avoid that. That's one plus of being taller (which I'm not) I suppose.

Sarah said...

What about eating on the Tube? Is that looked down on, or just uncommon?

London Chow said...

Come to think of it, I've not seen Tube passengers eating for a long long time. There's no explicit ban though. But I did see an pizza box (with two slices of pizzas in it still!) being discarded on a seat some time back. Oh, that was absolutely disgusting...