I’ve been to London a lot. Someday, I hope to live there (if i ever get the money). The London Underground, colloquially known as the Tube, is an amazing way to get around the city, and I love it dearly – even if it is busy and dirty.
I came up with the idea for this post before I visited London this last weekend. Thinking fondly about the Tube, it struck me that a lot of people don’t know what they’re doing. I hope to help people make their lives, and the lives of everyone around them, a bit easier. You can very easily give yourself a hard time by not knowing how to behave on the Tube.
These are the top 10 things that I see people get wrong a lot. If you don’t want to earn yourself a disapproving tut or head-shake, bear these tips in mind. They work whether this is your first, thousandth, or nth time on the Tube. Obviously, these are based on my personal experience – I’d love to hear your tips if you have any different ones!
1. Stand on the right of escalators.
I cannot stress to you how important this one is. I’ve seen British people actually say something to people who break this rule. That is how seriously it’s taken. You always, always stand on the right of the underground escalators. This keeps the left side clear for people who are in a rush, or who just want to leg it up there instead of standing still (like my bff Lana and I once did, a mistake I don’t think we’ll ever repeat – in our defence, we were trying to get to a Paul Simonon book signing). Also make sure any luggage you’re carrying is out of the way. This is the one that I’ve seen people get the most annoyed about.
2. Let people off of the Tube before you barge on there.
I get it. It’s London. You pretty much have to walk with your elbows sticking out if you want to get anywhere. Barging is a part of life when the city is teeming and you’re in a hurry. But you’re the one who looks like a tosser if you come barrelling into the tube carriage before anyone can get off at their stop.
3. For goodness’ sake hold onto something!
Far too often I see inexperienced people take a spill because they think they can stand up on the Tube without holding onto railings. You will inevitably crash into somebody who does this every day, and they will tut at you (please be aware that tutting is the utmost punishment in Britain). It’s not fair to potentially injure (and severely annoy) other people because you think your balance is better than it is.
4. If you don’t know where you’re going, get out of the way.
There are maps and route plans everywhere in Tube stations. There is even a handy app, but be advised that you don’t get signal in the underground and wifi is patchy at best. So make sure to find out where you’re heading before you descend. If you’re a bit lost or unsure, step out of the flow of foot-traffic because there’s nothing more annoying than being in a hurry and crashing into somebody who comes to a dead stop in front of you. The maps and signs are always on a wall, so stand near to the wall – it’s a double whammy then because you avoid being trampled AND you can peruse the map for as long as it takes for you to right yourself.
5. Have hand sanitiser on your person at all times.
The Tube is old and basically deeper than the bowels of Hell, so there is a lot of soot and nonsense down there (quite aside from grubby human germs – you know some people don’t wash their hands after they’ve been to the loo). This one is less an etiquette thing and more an ‘avoiding a resurgence of the bubonic plague’ thing. If you’ve been riding the Tube all day, you’ll know it because your hands will feel grimy and you’ll need to blow your nose (I call it ‘Tube bogeys’ and it’s as unpleasant as it sounds). So hand sanitiser = good.
6. Don’t stare at people.
It’s hard when you’re sitting opposite somebody on a packed Tube, but this one’s simple. Do you like to be stared at? I didn’t think so. It’s more than likely that person opposite you doesn’t like it either. They know you can’t see anything out of the window over their head, but they probably appreciate you for staring at it like it’s of great interest to you.
7. Don’t block the doors.
You’re running to catch that Tube that’s about to depart. You make a daring leap into the packed carriage and bask in your triumph. Until you realise that half of your body or your bag is outside of the carriage, and the doors won’t shut. Honestly, don’t do it. The Tube comes often enough for you to catch the next one. Blocking the doors in a way that they won’t shut just causes everyone to be delayed. I guarantee no one is impressed with you trying to fit yourself in like a Tetris block at the last second and holding up the whole train.
8. Be helpful.
Heavily pregnant woman? Old man struggling to stay upright? Family with little kids? Give up your seat, don’t be a dick. You will notice that a lot of people will just ignore others around them because they earned that seat, damn it! They didn’t battle through the tides of people and descend into the stuffy heat of the Underground, only to give up their seat. But honestly, do you want to be that person? If you’re able-bodied, it won’t kill you to stand up for what is probably only a few minutes on the Tube. It might kill you to know you were responsible for someone’s kid getting body-slammed when the Tube jerkily pulls out of Baker Street station.
9. Don’t put your bags on the seat next to you.
This one sounds so obvious and ridiculous but I was there, Gandalf. I’ve seen people on a packed Tube with all of their shopping bags piled on a perfectly usable seat. I promise that everybody in that carriage hated that person. Just don’t do it, it’s antisocial and really ignorant. Put your bags between your feet or on your lap.
10. Be prepared for rudeness.
You are now armed with the top tips to tackle the Tube (that was so much alliteration that my head is hurting), but matey on the Victoria Line might not be. He’s determined to get to Oxford Circus you see, and he simply must get there before you or anyone else. You WILL be buffeted about like a pinball, and people are known to make bitter comments about ‘slow people on the fuckin TUBE’. The point is not to take this personally. Even seasoned Tube travellers can end up getting rude because of how often they have to deal with clueless people, or the mass exodus of rush hour.
I hope these tips can come in handy for people who are about to navigate the London Underground. And I hope you avoid tuts and head-shakes from other people. The Tube really is a wonderful invention and a great way to get around. Just be considerate, safe, and smart.