The London Underground, also known simply as “the tube”. One of the iconic symbols of London. T-shirts and postcards with “Mind the Gap” slogans are for sale in every tourist hangout. Tube stops are conveniently located in almost every corner of the city and sometimes not more than a few short blocks apart. As a tourist during past visits to London I looked forward to riding the tube and hearing that iconic phrase “Mind the Gap” (cue British accent) as the doors shut and the train lurched to a start. As a week-long resident, my feelings on the tube are still evolving.
I’m trying not to judge it too harshly too soon, and I definitely won’t debate the pros and cons of London’s public transportation infrastructure. Seattle barely has a bus system that is useful. But I’m nothing if not a nosy people-watcher, so when I’m packed into a train with dozens of other people at 8am on a weekday commute, you better believe I’m judging something.
Time for a list. Week 1 observations of acceptable behavior on the tube:
- Reading gossipy newspapers without embarrassment
I can get on board (no pun intended) with this one. I love gossip in all its forms: celeb, political, royal-family, you name it. There’s no shame in my game when I pick up the used copy of the newspaper on the seat next to me.
- Invading personal space
Train packed? No problem. Hop on anyways, we’ll squish in here. Just when I think we can’t fit one more person and the doors are sliding shut, 3 more people squeeze in.
- Applying makeup
Yes, I saw this today. I haven’t attempted yet but it looks like the trick is core strength and determination to apply eyeliner while standing in aforementioned packed tube. Without hanging on to any railings, of course.
- Spreading germs
I hope hand sanitizer is all it’s cracked up to be, because I’m really counting on it these days.
- Avoiding eye contact
Despite the packed trains, very few people speak or make friendly eye contact on the tube. I might start a revolution and say “good morning” to a stranger tomorrow.
The tube isn’t all bad. I see couples commuting to work together, school children in their uniforms on the way to classes, lots of interesting fashion choices, and business men and women en route to meetings. For a people watcher like me, it’s never boring!