Travelling on the tube comes with its own polite courtesies and reasonable expectations from fellow passengers. We’ve listed a few here to help you blend in seamlessly with the locals!
1. It’s ok to be quiet
People on the tube generally keep themselves to themselves. There’s not a lot of conversation between strangers, and people don’t generally greet you when you board the train. Remember though, this is not out of unfriendliness, but just polite respect for people’s right to peace and quiet. If you ask someone for directions, they’ll be more than happy to help you. If you’re trying to strike up conversations with everyone you see, you might struggle!
It should be noted that this changes somewhat at the weekends, and during football matches. People talk a lot more when they’re going out for the night, and you will occasionally get groups of football supporters loudly singing songs. Londoners politely endure this while mentally teleporting themselves elsewhere.
2. Give up your seat for those who need it
Pregnant ladies, elderly people, disabled people: whenever someone more in need of a seat than others gets on the tube, you’ll usually see a bunch of people jump up and offer them their seat. It’s the polite, honourable thing to do, and because we’re British, there will usually ensue a to and fro of polite refusals and polite insistence.
This occasionally results in both people standing up with an empty seat left unused as testimony to their deadlock in polite consideration.
3. Let passengers off the train before trying to get on
If you’ve ever tried to get off a train through a crowd of incoming people, you’ll know that it’s practically impossible. It’s highly frowned upon in London to climb on the train before everyone who is trying to get off has done so, and if you do this you might even get a few tuts from people around you. If the train is super crowded, it’s often easier to wait for the next train, which is often as little as 1 minute behind.
If you’re standing by the train door, and lots of people are trying to get off – best practice is to get off, let them pass, and then get back on.
4. Don’t put your bag on a seat.
If you want to draw the righteous ire of tube passengers, try putting your bag on a seat. This is particularly true when the tube is busy, as taking up a seat with your bag is interpreted as a flagrant disregard for your fellow passengers’ wellbeing. Be kind and considerate, and you’ll do fine.
5. Stand on the right on escalators
Unlike many cities, this rule is strictly adhered to in London. The left side of the escalator is for people who like to make life more of a challenge by walking up an already-moving staircase, so if you’re walking, the left is yours. You might get a polite excuse me, a self-righteous tut, or worse if you’re found lounging in the fast lane. If you feel like a rest, stand on the right.
6. Have your Oyster Card or ticket ready
Londoners like to keep moving, so make sure you’re ready with your ticket or Oyster card when you get to the barrier so you don’t create a giant queue behind you. If there’s a problem and the gate won’t open, you can ask the nearest attendant who’ll help you out.
Quick tip – if you touch your Oyster card and the gate doesn’t open, you’ll need to step back, right out of the gate, before you try again. The little light should turn orange before you try – if it’s red, step back further! If it still won’t open, ask an attendant, you might need to top up your card with more money.
7. Try not to eat anything offensive on the tube
You can eat on the tube, but if you decide to eat your triple garlic kebab, or a whole octopus (as two extreme examples of strongly smelling food) you’re going to upset people. Try and avoid eating food that smells on the tube just to show consideration.
8. Take your backpack off
Believe it or not, backpacks take up much less space when you put them on the floor by your legs. If you keep them on your back, the subsequent jostling they cause might irritate some of your fellow passengers.
9. Don’t crush yourself into an overcrowded tube
Being squashed into an overcrowded tube is seen in London as something to be avoided.
Some of the carriages do get very full at certain times, but if you try to add yourself into the mix through brute force, you’re going to get a negative reaction. Remember the next train is usually just a minute away!