I am not afraid to admit that I am an anglophile. I’ve read about fat kings who cut off their wives’ heads, tasted at least 17 different types of tea and watched more “Downton Abbey,” “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock” than I would care to admit. I even watched “The Great British Bake Off.”
Therefore, I am obviously qualified to be the Queen’s cultural director, right? However, as I have traveled through London, I have learned that I am not as attuned to true British culture and social graces as I thought.
For example, I knew nothing about public transportation etiquette in Britain. As a born New Yorker, there isn’t really subway etiquette. There are some things we as New Yorkers would like to believe never happen on subway cars, such as manspreading. But for the most part, New Yorkers tend to stick to themselves and their own agenda.
This is not the case in London. The Tube requires actual knowledge of how to ride it. It is almost an art form and there are several rules that must be followed.
The first rule of the Tube is you must sit down. In New York, people tend to stand even if there are seats open. In London, on the other hand, it is almost seen as an insult if you do not sit in a seat that is open next to a stranger. So, go ahead and plop yourself down. Everybody expects you to sit there, so you might as well enjoy it.
The second rule of the Tube is a that when pregnant woman or older person gets on, you offer them your seat, almost immediately. This is common courtesy in any country but strict adherence is examined on the Tube There are priority seats on the Tube for those who might need to sit more, but it’s amazing to see how quickly the English offer their seats to others who might need it more.
The third rule is never to eat on the Tube. I have been in London for more than two months and ride the Tube every day. I have seen only two people eat during my commute. You will never see people chowing down on Chicken Tikka Masala or a late breakfast, let alone a small snack. As a result, the Tube never smells bad. The British are also very good at refraining from throwing up in the Tube — something from which we New Yorkers could learn.
In addition to these rules, I have also noticed that people generally do not talk or make eye contact on the Tube. They tend to adhere to unspoken rules in the United States that are not always followed, such as letting passengers get off before others get on. Some niceties are added, too — newspapers are left on the Tube so other passengers can read them.
The most crucial difference between the Tube and a New York City subway is the sense of order established in London. People are never found performing or trying to sell you snacks. Drivers will always let you know if there is a delay, even if it’s only for a few seconds. It is imperative to stand the right side of the escalators. And of course, don’t forget to mind the gap.