Mastering the Rules of the Road

As I was reading the “Rules of the Road” chapter of Kate Fox’s Watching the English, I felt like I was reading a summary of everything I’ve learned on public transportation since arriving in London. As soon as London Week, I realized that whenever we all travelled on the tube as a group, we were typically the only ones talking. That’s right, not just the only ones talking loudly – the only ones talking at all. For fear of being the stereotypically obnoxious American tourist disrupting the locals on their daily commute, I almost immediately learned to avoid eye contact, remain silent and keep all of my limbs and personal belongings confined to my own little box. I learned these rules by simply looking at the Englishmen and women all around me who were taking their tube ride in a similar fashion, being extremely respectful of each others’ comfort and respecting the “box” of space dedicated to each person (similar to the boxes mentioned in the “Home Rules” chapter, except instead of house and garden boxes, the boxes on tubes and busses can be seen as confined to a single seat or standing area just large enough for one person and perhaps a small bag). While it was rather easy to pick up these unspoken rules and even easier to follow them, I think doing so has actually been one of the wisest things I’ve done on this trip. Understanding and following through with these Rules of the Road have allowed me to camouflage my “outsider” status and further immerse myself in British culture.

  • im sort of sad to say I’ve had a similar transformation due to my time on the tube. Coming from North Carolina as well as Washington and Lee I’ve always been fine with making small talk with strangers, acknowledging someone’s presence, or just saying hello to someone I accidentally make eye contact with. But since my morning commutes on the tube I’ve slowly but surely become less likely to talk to strangers and have often resorted to confining myself into one of the personal space “boxes” in the corner of the tube with my headphones in and my head down while I wait for my stop. I also feel like I learned this habit from watching the British commuters but not by example. I feel like I’ve started doing it more so due to me trying to start a conversation with someone and ultimately seeing the disinterest in all the commuters. That eventually lead to me becoming discouraged to talk to strangers rather than me trying to fit in. And all though it does help me hide my outsider status I don’t think it’s because I want to, but because others want me to. But for some people blending in is comfortable so I can fully appreciate that fact but for me it seems odd and a bit alien to not do what I’ve grown up doing. I feel like I can still be me and immerse myself into British culture.
    Anyway great post and I really appareciated you’re insight into your commute and how it’s changed you. It really struck a cord with me. Keep up the good work!

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