Talking on the Tube… has the whole world gone mad?

For a huge city, London is quite a friendly place.  We didn’t even make the list of the most unfriendly cities of 2016 and Londoners are many things but they don’t have a reputation as being eternally grumpy like Paris or Moscow or entirely lacking in concepts of personal space and good manners like others.   If you genuinely need help or assistance then almost everyone in London will go out of their way to help no matter how busy they are.

However, there is a red line in the sand that can’t be crossed.  Not a Barack Obama line that people don’t take seriously but the very defining issue of voluntarily talking on the morning commute.

A most likely very well meaning American by the name of Jonathan Dunne has decided it would be a great idea to hand out badges to Tube travellers that indicate that they would like to talk to their fellow travellers.


That’s just not Cricket.  I mean, we’re British aren’t we?  Is our civilisation literally going down the tubes?  Isn’t this the antipathy of everything about living in London is all about.  If Londoners wanted to talk on the way to work, they would move out to… I don’t know, almost any other place in the world.  It is only a few weeks ago I blogged about these sort of issues which have plagued British travellers for centuries and now this… what a kick in the face!

Even this morning I was reading about a lady who dared to speak to a fellow traveller who was reading a novel which the loose-tongued lady had already read.  So perturbed by this, the traveller exited the carriage at the next stop and got on the adjoining one to carry on her commute in peace.  Squashed, humid, sticky, stinky perhaps but silently and in peace.

I’ve spent over 25 years commuting into London on and off.  I must say I really do value the silence and solitude.  It gives time to prepare yourself for the rest of the day.  To catch a breath or peace and quiet, if only to psych oneself up for the chaos when you get off the train.

Often when I leave the house at 6am or 6.30am, everyone sits in total silence and it is just nice and perfect.  Sometimes I get a later bus maybe around 7am and even the children generally sit in silence.  Of course, there is always the same one who wants to talk and doesn’t seem to get the hint that it’s not appropriate and it riles the 5-year-olds as much as the 70-year-olds.

It’s an integral part of our culture, stripped of privacy by having to mix with millions of people, the least we deserve is to have a bit of peace and quiet.  Maybe it has been the way ever since it was the social etiquette to require an introduction before one could speak?

People don’t sit in total silence all the time, the odd tut covers most problems in London without the actual need to speak.  What annoys me and I think most fellow passengers the most are people who talk on the phone for no reason, oblivious or actually fully aware but not caring that not one single other person wants to listen to one-half of a banal conversation.

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I don’t actually mind people who are friends talking to themselves on a carriage before I arrive and then continuing after I’ve got on the bus or train.  I don’t even mind office associates and friends who talk quietly, it’s fun to eavesdrop on people and learn a bit about others lives.  It’s the people early on a Sunday morning who have the whole long train to sit on and then sit one seat away from you only to talk loudly either in person or on their phone that annoys me, playing music that can be overheard from their tinny headphones too.  Can’t they see that I appreciate my peace and quiet, go and blither away someplace else?

If I want to talk to someone on the tube I will do, I distinctly remember talking to a stranger for almost 6 seconds in 2014. I don’t need someone forcing me to talk to people.   Next up, people will be wishing me to have a nice day when I go shopping and that just wouldn’t do.  Go and be happy and extroverted somewhere else!


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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13 Responses to Talking on the Tube… has the whole world gone mad?

  1. Boyer Writes says:

    Steven, I love this writing…for culture does make a difference. I truly can’t understand why an American would come to another country and pass out these pins. Maybe it is because Americans as a whole are quite talkative and think others should be. I remember coming back home after being in Asia where people moving about in public listen to “elevator music”piped in for their convenience…everything so very…very quiet…and on arriving in N.Y….I truly thought the world had gone mad and everyone seemed to be shouting! I had a culture shock in my own country. My son has culture shock when he returns from being on business in Europe and thinks all Americans are fat. Well, enough said…for I do love my country but peace and quiet is not a big thing here. We have a little restaurant that we go to for breakfast and if you sit and listen, you may learn everything you didn’t want to know about everyone in the place. So enjoy the silence…prepare your thoughts and get where you are going..for it may be your only sane moment of the day in this crazy world.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so glad that you enjoyed my article. It is strange how culture changes from country to country and what is acceptable in one place is seriously frowned upon in another.

      Yes most people here still treasure silence, peace and quiet and privacy. I think it’s quite nice that no matter how busy London is and how everyone has their own pressing needs and concerns, most people are more than happy to leave their neighbour in total silence without the need to talk to someone.

      I know my ride in the morning is often my favourite and more serene moment of the day.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mel & Suan says:

    It really depends on the culture. In Japan it would not be considered polite to start making a conversation. They even discourage mobile phone calls – because it may annoy the other passengers. So these pins might not work there!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Malla Duncan says:

    You say it was an American who thought this up? Wonder how this would go down on a New York subway… but I’m not adverse to talking to people on the train – but depends on the person. Some people are just more interesting than others.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very funny about the pins. Could it be that wearing a communicative pin is the real problem? “Just kick me!” Here is small-town Italy, as in small-town Oklahoma, etc., chatting is a must-do. And the truth is, one doesn’t mind because the population pressure (non-existent) is such that just seeing another person is a pleasure! In Texas, out in the country, we still get and give hand waves from strangers in passing cars, can you believe it? Wonderful. But just as rats in the lab have proved, the more the pressure, the more surly we get. Rats end up eating their own young…


  5. You just hit my pet peeve. Numbskulls who think it’s their mission in life to whip out their cell phones and carry on a conversation either in a restaurant or store so loudly that you’d think they were the only ones on the planet. I love the sea because it doesn’t talk. It murmurs in low, hushed tones. These people could take a lesson from her.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. gpj103 says:

    If someone needs others to wear a badge to know if they want to talk to them there is something wrong. 🙂 The world keeps getting crazier.

    Liked by 1 person

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