Monday, 30 July 2012

A Londoner's Guide to Surviving the London Underground

It's been seven years in the making but the Olympics are now well underway and thousands upon thousands of foreigners have flocked to the British capital to see the games first-hand. While many Londoners (me included) dreaded this day, thinking only of the horrendous commute that awaited those of us not on holiday and still having to make our  way into work, these people are here to enjoy the greatest show on earth in a foreign country that many will never have visited.

So, welcome to you all. Here are some tips for surviving the hustle and bustle of the London Underground and here's to you and what I hope will be a fun stay.

PS - These tips also apply to the many Brits who are guilty of not abiding by the rules of the Underground.

Do not carry suitcases bigger in width than people

If your suitcase takes up as much room as a person, prepare to be given the evil-eye. Space is a rare commodity on the commute in and regular commuters on the London Underground will accept defeat and wait for the next tube if they cannot see a centimetre of space to squeeze into. If, however, they spot someone with a suitcase big enough to fit an adult human inside, they will get angry like the Hulk and force their way onto the tube, if only to prove the point that people come before suitcases during rush hour. The same rule applies to women with large bags. Put them between your feet, not in the face of the person stood next to you. This rule also applies to smaller handbags, ladies. Your bag didn't touch in at the Oyster card reader gates - so it didn't pay for a seat. Put it on your lap and let somebody sit down!


Do not reach the top or bottom of an escalator and then stop

The Underground can be confusing, we know. There are different maps, colours, routes, directions. If you don't do it on a regular basis, it's understandable that you might not immediately know where to stand on the platform to make sure you get off at your exit station exactly by the exit staircase. Similarly, we get that you may not know where to go when you need to change lines. Whatever you do, DO NOT stop at the top or bottom of the escalator to consider your next move. Get out of the way first before you stop to get a map out or ask for help. If you block the exit to a moving staircase, people will trip over you or fall onto you. You will, however, probably learn a lot of new English words they don't teach you at school. You have been warned.

This rule also applies to the Oyster/ticket gate. You are allowed one extra swipe of your card if it beeps "seek assistance". After that, you have about two seconds to get out of the way before the anger ...


Keep your elbows and feet in for the ride at all times

When you're in a car, or walking through a gorgeous field with nobody in sight, it is totally acceptable to stretch, swivel and generally throw your arms and legs about like you don't have a care in the world. In a crammed tube though - this is unacceptable. If you need to retrieve your phone from your pocket, grab make-up out of your bag or just switch a heavy bag (which should already be on the floor!) from one arm to another, be aware of your elbows. When they hit others in the head - and I cannot believe I need to spell this out - IT HURTS! Funnily enough, turning and mumbling a half-arsed sorry doesn't make the pain go away. People are close to you not because they are coming on to you but because they need to get to work. So have the common courtesy to not elbow them in the head while they do. Same rule applies for feet - watch where you're treading - but just make sure that while you look at people's feet, your elbows stay at your sides.


Reading is a luxury

Lots of people love a good book to make the commute go by faster. If you're immersed in a great book, you'll not be looking at every stop, thinking 'Am I there yet?'. But during rush hour, the luxury of reading may not be possible - unless you can read a book a centimetre in front of your face. If someone gets on a packed tube and knocks the book you're holding out a foot in front of you, they are not rude - you are. Put the book away and suck it up like everyone else.


Brits are a quiet people - unless you anger them

Many people mock the British for our quiet sensibilities. We aren't a loud nation as a rule, preferring to suffer in silence (and gossip in secret), say sorry when we are not at fault and use sarcasm, dirty looks and Jedi mind tricks when people anger us. These rules do not always apply on the tube. If you are refusing to move down an empty carriage and blocking others, they will tell you. Your first warning will be when somebody says "Can you move down please." If you do not comply, be prepared for screaming, swearing and shoving until you do.


Lines can and will change unexpectedly

In many countries, the Underground lines start at one end and finish at another. Simple. Sadly this is not the way the London Underground works, whether it's the northern line that branches off at the top and has two branches to choose from or the circle line that just goes round and round but still terminates at a station. They were confusing in Harry Potter and can be here in London too. Make sure you know which one to get and if you aren't sure, there are information buttons on the platform for you to ask - do NOT get on and then hop off until the doors close and you cry with panic. 


Hand holding is for children only

Children on the tube can be hilarious and entertaining. They can also be a commuter's worst nightmare - especially during rush hour and especially when they come with a scream that could shatter glass, an enormous buggy and an exhausted mother. If you have lots of excited little ones, hold on to them for dear life because one quick run off in one direction and you could lose them in the crowds - or worse - they could get hurt.

Hand holding, however, is NOT for fully grown adults. For those of us who weave in and out of lines and round slow-moving walkers out for a casual stroll underground, it is always nice when you can overtake (or undertake). However, when couples can't help but see the romance in the smells of the underground and don't dare let go of the other's hand for fear of losing the fully grown and functioning adult human for all eternity, they should be prepared to be shoved from every direction. Move over to one side, hold on to their back pocket as they stand in front of you if you must - like the teenage lovebirds you are.

PDA's (Public Displays of Affection) should be kept to a 2-second minimum

While we're on the subject of loved-up couples, please consider that many commuters will have just eaten their breakfast and downed their morning coffee in a mad dash to the station and would I feel like to keep the contents in their bellies at least for a few hours. Please keep public displays of affection to a 2-second maximum. And do NOT do it at the top or bottom of an escalator. You're going to work, not off to war.

When all else fails, play Tetris 

People fit in to a tube like pieces in a game of Tetris - if you are tiny - go stand by the door, don't give evils to the tall people craning their neck in the middle of the carriage because they aren't squeezing into the 4 foot tall space by the door.

So remember, be nice and let people off the tube before you get on. Plan your route and if you need to check something, just get out the bloody way! Push yourself past luggage and people reading War and Peace but DO NOT push in front of someone who has been waiting a lot longer than you. When all is said and done though, don't be too nice - or you'll never get anywhere!

Good luck :)