Thoughts from Blog-ingham

Londoners and the Tube

Posted in Culture, People, Travel, Uncategorized by adamellis1985 on September 3, 2009

I have just spent a couple of days in London with work and I am currently writing this blog post sitting on my very comfortable Virgin Train service back up to Birmingham New Street. My numerous journeys on the Tube while I was in London were comparatively less comfy. After a few days in the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s foremost business and economic centres, it made me think about London as a place. London is a weird, wonderful and remarkable place and perhaps even the most famous city in the world. It was voted just this week as the 14th best place to visit for tourist purposes on the planet and was only beaten by places such as New York and Mauritius.

What is London?

London. Home to the Prime Minister and the Queen. The skyline is dominated by some of the globes most easily recognisable landmarks like Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Gherkin and Canary Wharf. London is also a gastronomic capital with the finest eating establishments in the Michelin guidebook and home to chefs, such as Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. And then there’s the shopping and the hotels, Harrods and The Ritz. And not forgetting the sport and world-renowned venues like Wimbledon and Wembley, and of course, London as the forthcoming host of the 30th Olympiad in 2012. But this blog post is not an advert for why to visit London. For me, what really defines London and sets it apart from other British cities is its other 8 million inhabitants speaking a combined total of well over 300 different languages or ‘Londoners’ who live there besides the Queen and the PM.


‘Londoners’ are busy people. London is a city on the move, all the time, both day and night. This brings me on to the main topic for this blog, which is human observations about travel in London, and particularly Tube etiquette.

Now, one area where Londoners are easily distinguishable from Brummies, Scousers or Mancunians is there approach to the daily work commute. Are Londoners actually busier than their brethren from the wilds of the North? Are there fewer hours in the day south of the Watford gap? Does London operate on a 23-hour clock? London is a cultural microcosm where patterns of behaviour are learned and people are conditioned to behave like Londoners.

So how would one pass as a Londoner if they were moving to the city from a faraway place, such as Newcastle (which I guarantee very few Londoners could even locate on map) and had never visited before? Well there are some very simple steps to take to pass confidently as a fully-fledged Londoner for a newcomer. 

Tube Etiquette

Firstly, Londoners under no circumstances look where they are going, especially when using public transport. It is quite normal to barge into people and then mutter something under your breath like it was the other persons fault for blocking your Napoleonic march. It is most unconventional to look where you are going or apologise for bumping into someone. I have not been fortunate enough to witness the phenomenon of Tube rage first hand but I am told it can be quite common at peak travel times. So be on your guard when squeezing into the tube at the last minute before the doors close. Make sure you don’t make someone else pop out at your expense as you step on. This could cause issues.

Secondly, you must always be reading when making your way to or using public transport (particularly the tube) Again, you must read even if this means sacrificing your eyes for their traditional use of assisting you in navigating your way through the inevitable crowds of fellow commuters. It is perfectly normal to actually read while you are walking along in London while in a city like Leeds this may lead to stares from people wondering what the hell you are doing or envious looks from others at your remarkable multiple tasking abilities. While others in Liverpool will nod knowingly to themselves and think you must be one of those ‘Londoners’ up on business for the day. Now, back to more pressing matters……the choice of reading material. This may vary from books to magazines and newspapers such as the Metro, Evening Standard and the London Paper are all popular choices. It is acceptable to collect a free paper on the way to The Tube purely because it is free and you like a bargain and then never read it. Most unread papers are left behind the seats or at the bottom of escalators. Adventurous Londoners will even patronise their Netbooks or Laptops while engaging in the daily commute.

Thirdly, a new Londoner must participate in the fun and games of the escalators and stairs, which are obviously inescapable in the underground. One has to remember that we deciphered earlier that Londoners are either busier than others or they operate on a shorter daily clock. It is only in London where people would walk down the escalators at a break neck pace to cheat the kinetic and inevitable motion of the escalator and beat the stationary non-movers on the escalators down by at least 7 or 8 seconds. But these precious seconds could prove vital to a Londoner. Outsiders should only stand stationary on the left hand side of the escalators at their peril blocking our budding Usain Bolt’s from steaming past. If you were to stand stationary on the left hand side of an escalator, beware; this could cause extreme huffing and puffing from the blocked commuter. Whereas in Birmingham New Street, for example, which I might add, it is the busiest train station in the country, there are no designated escalator express lanes and it would be unclear whether the right or left hand side is the ‘express’ route.

Finally and most importantly to avoid injury to yourself, you must beware of anyone standing on the tube with a suitcase. Do not stand near them…sit with the Londonders at this stage. If a traveller has a wheelie suitcase it usually means they are in London for a holiday or for business overnight from another city. Beware of them particularly when the tube comes to a stop or departs a station with a sudden jolt of motion. They are the ones who will fall over, grab anything they can including an innocent stable bystander to stop themselves collapsing in a heap on the tube carriage floor or even, most entertainingly; actually fly halfway down the carriage when there is a particularly forceful jolt.

Learned or needed?

Obviously this post has been written from a slightly sarcastic standpoint. However, I love London and have many friends who are Londoners. Also many Londoners do need to make their way in a quick march as the transport network can be so congested it can take an age to get to meetings and appointments. Also many Londoners don’t adhere to any of the behavioural triats discussed and potter along at their own weary pace. Sometimes though I find myself in London and slowly being conditioned into the ways of the masses. I might sometimes hurry my steps even though I am not in a hurry but I am following the herd mentality. So what baffles me is whether these behavioural traits I have mentioned associated with Londoners are a necessity of completing the journey to and from work or social events or if this is a conditioned behaviour? I think it is learned. It is not particularly important whether these traits are the result of social conditioning or whether Londoners actually are busier but I thought I would note down my observations either way. What does seem obvious to me though is why many people my age only ‘do’ London for a few years and that is because they are simply fed up and worn out from the commuting!