Down the Tube(s)

Ah, The Tube. A wonder of British transportation, and of unbelievably polite ways of saying things that will ruin your commute. When a TfL (Transport for London) conductor comes on the loudspeaker to say, “We’re terribly sorry, but we are being held in station due to an earlier incident.” They don’t elaborate, obviously, that that earlier incident could’ve been, horrendously, a body under a train or it could’ve just as easily been a kid who puked on the floor of the train before yours. Occasionally they say the cause is a “sick passenger”, which I feel is liberally employed purely to activate British guilt. Moments before, you were cursing whichever rookie commuter had held open the doors too long or dropped his phone down the tracks, forcing you to miss your coffee stop on the way into the office. But with the declaration of a “sick passenger”, that rookie has morphed, in your head, into a sickly old lady who can’t help that trains make her queasy. So you stand there and you shut up, just as TfL intended.

In order to keep their people in line as to what’s Britishly (I just coined a word, go with it) acceptable and what is not, TfL posts these frankly adorable poems all over the Tube and buses. The poems are so polite already, it’s any wonder they get the point across, though I suppose they are tailored for their British audience to quietly absorb. This ensures that no single person has to bear the burden of calling out another for rule-breaking. The poems are illustrative of exactly some of the problems that I and many other riders experience daily.

Because an invasion of one’s personal space is metaphorically akin to stabbing them in the face.
Case in point: for some inexplicable reason, London commuters will not move down the length of the train unless they are physically shoved by another human. So everyone’s complaining about how the trains are jam-packed, but they’re not actually full at all — the coveted seats and the roomy vestibules are full. Look, no one wants to be like China, where there are people whose sole job it is to shove passengers into the carriages to maximize efficiency, but there’s got to be some middle ground (there is, quite literally: it’s the aisle no one is occupying). The first time I was personally affected by this travesty, my inner New Yorker kicked in. I hauled off and shouted into the carriage exasperatedly, “Can you move down please?!” and people skittered away from me like I had the plague (which I suppose an American accent seems it might bring, we heathens). Let them glare at me! I honed my glare on the subways of New York City, and it has yet to meet its match. I haven’t used it much here because I genuinely don’t want to alarm people.

pushy type

Like all other major metropolitan transportation systems, the Tube also has to deal with that incomprehensible breed of commuters who cannot wait for people to get off the train before they shove their way on. It is beyond perplexing that these subway outlaws cannot see the massive inefficiency of their method, let alone how rude it is (though I’d honestly prefer it if they just saw how flawed the patterns of movement and space are when they shove on). Contrary to the poster urging me to pity these people, I do not. As a London commuter you have two responsibilities, which are: 1) don’t be an asshole, and 2) learn how to wield an umbrella in a crowded space. It’s not asking much. Some rogue poets that didn’t get the official TfL seal of approval, for obvious reasons, adequately sum up my feelings on Tube etiquette:

Not as polite.
Not as polite.


I was writing cover letters, double-checking my British spelling so that no one thinks I’m too foreign to work here, and I confirmed with my American friend Chris:

Me: Organization is spelled with an “S” over here, right?

Chris: Yeah, I don’t know why they bother with ZED. Like why even have it if you’re never going to uze it?

Amen. However, it is used occasionally to say “zebra” (“zee-bra”) as “zeb-rah”.

Hi There!

Welcome, Internet, to The London Re-Pat, where I will be documenting my repatriation to my UK birthplace after having been raised the majority of my life in the great state of New York. Though I always felt I had a dual identity somehow — like Bruce Wayne and Batman —  it turns out I knew very little of the British side, obviously represented by the dashing tuxedo model Bruce Wayne and also because my daily childhood life resembled that of Batman. Despite my family’s affinity for certain words or phrases which I assumed were just the family vernacular, and British sweets and book series (Enid Blyton 4 Life), I now know that I didn’t know much at all about life in the UK. In the ’80s, my parents had been resident aliens in London for a decade, during which time my sister and I were born; we returned to the US when I was 3 1/2 years old. We didn’t even get to keep the accents! It’s a shame, that, because it really works wonders in the States.

Speaking of greetings, here is another one: “Hi there!” Despite almost never using this phrase when I lived amongst my own people in America, I have suddenly found myself clinging to it like Rose to that frozen door in Titanic when I make phone calls here. Maybe it’s because it immediately and profoundly declares me American, so people can prepare their brains for translating my pronunciation of words. Maybe it’s a hokey inflection I somehow picked up (and an unwelcome one, too). It’s the verbal equivalent of patting a teenager, who thinks she’s an adult, on the head like a child. Yet I cannot give it up. “Hello” is too solitary a greeting as one word, and when I say it to Brits, I tend to say it with a slight English inflection that I then never repeat, which I am sure confuses them. “Hey” and “Hi” are obviously too casual, and “Hello there” makes me feel like I’m desperately trying to get back to the 1950’s and the only person who can help me is this poor soul I’ve trapped on the phone. In practice, this means I often bumble awkwardly through my greeting (“Yes, oh, hi, yes, so…”) and get right to the point, albeit with a few pauses where I think about how to say things in a way in which they are most likely to be understood over a less than stellar phone connection. My diction has become fabulous.

An oft-used casual greeting by British store clerks et al is: “Alright?” This one still throws me for a loop, and I end up saying, “Um, yes thank you.” Or, “I am, are you?” I know the correct response should be to repeat “Alright” back to them, but it sounds so wrong coming off my tongue, in my accent, that I just smile, nod, and filibuster my way out of it and to the matter at hand with a very obvious look that says, “I accept your lingo and now let’s focus on my exceedingly normal desire to buy these 10 bags of garlic pita chips, please.”

Not that I need to defend myself, but England is suspiciously devoid of pita chips, so when I do see them, I buy them. All of them. (They call pita “pitta”, but do not be fooled. Just follow the pitta-patter of your stomach right to the chips/crisps aisle.)

And now we’ve come to a less fraught topic: farewells. Goodbye for now!

Cheers Best You know what? I don’t need a sign-off.