Do travellers in London have tape over their mouths? And if so, is there really such a thing as first-class train travel?

‘Don’t talk to strangers. It’s dangerous.’ Exclaimed my red-faced mother to a quizzical six year old me.

‘Why?’ I asked.

She hesitated.

#Because it is.’

For young people this is well-needed advice. But is it the same for adults?

London is a city where, no matter what their age, everyone obeys the rule that was drummed into them in their early years. It is impossible to strike up a casual conversation with the person sat next to you on the Underground. Everyone seems to be so consumed in their own monotonous daily routine – with boring thoughts of meetings and deadlines swirling round in their over-active brains. Some people even miss their stop because they’re too busy thinking. I must admit, I am guilty of this charge.

It seems that there are three simple rules to travelling around London:

Rule One: Don’t talk unless absolutely necessary.

Rule Two: Read something. Use this wasted time in your busy schedule to educate yourself (or just silently pass time doing the crossword in a newspaper).

Rule Three: If you can’t be bothered with rule two then just listen to music and daydream quietly.

And never, ever (there will be an angry mob if you do this) talk loudly on the phone to your boss about why you’re an hour late for your most recent deadline.

Awkward silences are something that I can’t stand, so I decided that I was going to step out of this box and break all three rules by starting a conversation.

‘Does anybody have a pen?’ I announced to the overcrowded, sweating southbound Bakerloo carriage as we pulled up to Warwick Avenue’s dusty platform. The passengers that heard my cautious voice over their music quickly glanced up, and darted their eyes straight back down again to what they were reading. A dozen people ignored me. Embarrassed, I wanted to jump off the train and run to the safety of the street above. But the doors had just shuddered shut.

After a few moments of blushing, the helpful man who had sat next to me said he did in fact have a pen, but I’d have to give it back before we arrived at Paddington.

I didn’t even need to borrow the pen. But I accepted it gracefully, jotted down something undecipherable in the corner of my notebook and handed it back. Thank you Mr Helpful Man for saving me on this occasion.

My second attempt didn’t go too well either. Now on the northbound Bakerloo line on my way back out of London, I’d been thinking throughout my day how I could recover from my earlier embarrassment and chitchat to another passenger in the same way that I would speak to an old friend if I crossed paths with them by accident.

‘Weather’s awful.’ I said to the man-in-a-suit with his arm almost wrapped around me to reach the handrail behind my back. All I received in return was an agreeing nod, followed by a grunt, and then silence. Considering that we were stood so closely together, I thought it was justified to make it less awkward through general conversation. He, apparently, did not.

The next day on my way out of London Charing Cross back to my family home in Kent, I decided to ask the tired, droopy-eyed businessman next to me why he read the paper on his long journey home. His is response was: ‘It passes the time. I don’t have anything else to do.’

‘Talk to me?’ I asked politely.

He moved.

Through my investigation into public transport in London, I came to the conclusion that it is impossible to talk to strangers. All three of my unlucky subjects ended the conversation before it could even be classed as one. Most of these transport users, like myself, are in too much of a rush to stop and think about other people. We may get asked the odd question by a stranger (in this example, myself), but we brush over it and move on as quickly as we can.

I’m new to living in London, and a few years ago I would never have talked to strangers on a train, like my mother warned me not to as a child. But I then realized that not everyone is a bad person. A majority of the people I meet, and in some cases am forced to stand within personal boundaries of, are just like me; simply trying to get somewhere quickly without inconveniencing anyone else doing the same as them.

Sadly, London has become one of the most anti-social places in the world. Yet it’s also the 24th most populated place in the world. So many individuals hurry in, out, over and under London every day and there is still this fear that stems from our childhood of getting hurt or injured if we dare to simply ‘talk’ to other people. I was refused conversation on three occasions, and I’m not the most frightening person you’ll meet on your travels. I’m an 18-year-old girl and a first year university student and still people are afraid of talking to me.

So first-class train travellers, I ask you this, why pay extra for your silence? Your specially reserved seat is just like everywhere else on the train. The only difference is the cheap piece of fabric thrown over the top of the chair that informs lowly second-class people that they have left the ‘Silent Zone’ and are now trespassing into the ‘More Silent Zone’. If this service is particularly busy then you’ll find yourself suddenly demoted to second-class to accommodate all of the passengers on board.

But don’t worry; I can assure you that if this happens it won’t be any less silent.

Unless you’re sat next to me.

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