Strangers On A Train….


Steve Martin & John Candy, Planes, Trains & Automobiles
The US has become the UK’s alter-ego in many ways. We’ve decided that we’d like to be as colossal as the average American, which has put us top of the fat league in Europe; we’re buying all of their original sitcoms & also buying the not-so-original ones that are actually remakes of the more successful ones which we exported to them in the first place. But there’s one thing that has been widely accepted by both Brits & Yanks as immutable & that is our polar opposite behaviour when it comes to social behaviour on public transport.

Tubes are an eerily silent & awkward experience. We’re all stuffed into a metallic tube, standing uncomfortably pressed like a wild, sweaty flower between a petite lady & the human version of a monster truck as we clutch at gravity with every corner & try not to touch breasts or kiss inadvertently. Even when we’re seated we are conscious of an overt, tactile, relationship with each other’s knees. All the while we either make sure we are reading, listening to music or giving our shopping undue attention. Anything to deliberately isolate ourselves. It’s either that or we look up at the adverts about erectile dysfunction hoping that our curious little eyes won’t stray downwards.

The 'no trousers' flash mob strike again (c) Idil Sukan
It was on an overground train to London Victoria where I overheard an American man talking generally about, well, everything. He was talking very pleasantly with an English woman. She, like most people on the train, was commuting to work. The closer you get to London the harder you have to work to be recognised as another human being, so it came as a surprise that she was happy to respond to his attempt at conversation. But even then, illustrating that she was the exception which proves the rule, she asked if he felt comfortable just talking to strangers on trains. His answer was unequivocal but still very soft. “Why should I? We’re all in the same place & going in the same direction”.

It was with this statement that the exodus of British reserve began. There were visible & audible responses from the other passengers. I could see body postures opening up; I could hear people allowing themselves to breathe so that they too could indulge in this thing called ‘conversation’. Buttocks were unclenching.  After the woman told him cheerily what all of us were already thinking – ‘it’s not something we do in Britain. We get looked at funny’ - the American stated that he loved talking to new people & didn’t like these stuffy silences. He was no different at home, at which point I distinctly heard someone gasp.

Train station delays
Delays are always on hand to get you in that chatty mood.
Maybe it’s because we are always suspicious of the motivations of people trying to be friendly, having been fed our parents’ Astounding Tales of Stranger Danger or the grisly, generally more life-threatening version of The Perils of Social Interaction as seen by the average BBC newscast. Maybe it’s because when we’re on our way to work using trains which deliver us everywhere in a frustrated mess we just don’t want to enjoy it that much. It’s taking us to work, after all, why make the day worse by reminding ourselves that there are nicer people out there with whom we’d rather spend our time?
But the positive response to the American from everybody on that train showed me that in fact us Brits would all rather be talking & getting along. We all want to relax in our seats, start the day better, connect with a commuter & pay it forward. We all want that. We’re just really, really, useless at it. Our attitude to the average commute has more in common with the defence mechanisms of an autistic child.

Jake Gyllanhaal, Source Code
This almost never happens
When he finally alighted it was evident that his presence had already galvanised a display of conversational bravado amongst all of the passengers as if they had just experienced some wondrous, celestial event. Finally, we had a common bond to share. It was both poignant & pathetic.
We’ll never fully embrace striking up random conversations with strangers on public transport, because we’re British & our traditional fears & perceptions are all wrong.  Fair enough, if you’re in a mood do us a favour & keep it to yourself. Equally, don’t stare at the woman sitting opposite with a grin on your face. Or at her child.  But don’t hibernate either, it’s really not as hard as you think.

Creepy guy on train
Try not to be this guy...anywhere!,-Bus-or-Subway

Steve Gray, Pretty Luscious Things
Chatty Man
Strangers on a train was scribed by Steve Gray. 

Steve is a trained journalist who loves to talk to strangers on the London underground, the train & also the No. 30 Bus.

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