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  • Writer's pictureDitzy

How To Take The Tube

Updated: Jun 13, 2018

The tube, handling 5 million separate journeys a day, is a world unto itself.

Brits are notoriously buttoned-up, closed off and difficult to read. But, down below the ground, everything becomes distorted. Personal space is a whisper of some forgotten dream. We stand closer to our fellow commuters than our families, lovers or friends. And, to fit ourselves inside this tiny, airless, overpriced Hellscape, we must twist and turn and contort ourselves like suited pieces of Tetris.

On the weekend night tube, everything becomes inverted. Words that had been stilted flow with ease, men and women who had been buttoned-up sing and dance and yell and flirt. Gestures become bigger, louder, more exaggerated.

And, on Monday morning, all of the same people are there, buttoned-up and stern once more. The cycle continues.

To the uninitiated, the tube can be a minefield.

How do we navigate this strange world where the language and expectations are so fixed, but so confusing?


  • Eye contact is inadvisable. Eyes must be fixed straight ahead, above at the adverts, or down at one’s phone.

  • Speaking to strangers is unacceptable. Anyone who does so is a raving lunatic and/or American.

  • Talking loudly with friends is to be tutted at and aggressively frowned upon. If a conversation is held within earshot, you must eavesdrop but pretend not to. If anything outrageous is said, you are permitted a small smirk.

  • Phone conversations are just as distasteful. If you must speak on the phone and get cut off going through a tunnel, you must pretend to end the conversation naturally, so as not to humiliate yourself.

  • In the event of a busker or any spontaneous outbreak of song, you must not acknowledge the music. Dancing, singing or nodding your head is most uncouth. When money is requested, the appropriate response is looking down and/or the classic unintelligible mumble “mm don’t have any change really sorry mate mm”.

  • On a packed train with just one available seat, it is a race to the death. Once you have locked eyes with your aggressor, the appropriate movement is a sort of nonchalant sprint. If you fail at your quest, you must continue walking past the seat, as though you weren’t aiming for it anyway.

  • Read someone else’s paper at your own peril. If you feel a stranger’s eyes on your Metro, the suitable response is a 0.5 second glare or the classic “sigh-and-tug-away”.

  • If you are forced within another passenger’s personal space, it is vital to keep your expression neutral.

  • If someone blocks the doors or lugs an over-large suitcase, silent judgement is encouraged.

  • Giving up your seat is a perilous business. To avoid offence, only do so if the passenger is above 90, missing a limb, or actually giving birth in front of you.

  • If you see a passenger you find becoming, the only appropriate response is extended eye contact and furious, silent prayer that you will see them again.

Written by Matilda Curtis

Illustrated by Ryo Takemasa

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