I don’t know about anywhere else in the world, but in the South of England, people don’t generally speak to one another unless they absolutely have to. Unless they are angry, annoyed, or are paid to do so, nobody really says anything to anyone, particularly when travelling on public transport. It is for this reason that lately I’ve come to see myself as something of a maverick. Like a pioneer of the commuting world, a ninja of the 9-5, I have (unintentionally) broken the mould. During one particularly tedious train journey a month or two ago, I actually spoke to someone. And I haven’t stopped since.
As I stood in the carriage of my connecting train, a man stuck his head through the open doors seconds before it was due to depart and said abruptly, ‘Horsham?!’
Despite knowing full well that the train did in fact stop at Horsham, everyone simply stared at him in bewilderment without saying a word. He tried once more, this time practically shouting in desperation, but again, nobody said anything. Except for one delightful man, who repeatedly expressed his annoyance at the fact that the questioner had neglected to say either ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.
Several minutes later as I was walking towards the station’s exit, I made eye contact with a woman who happened to be going the same way and realised immediately that I recognised her. She had also been on the Horsham train. After smiling awkwardly at one another in spectacularly British fashion, we struck up a (sort of) conversation about how ludicrous the angry passenger had been and how wonderfully ironic it was that he had behaved so rudely whilst berating another person for the very same thing. Despite feeling as though I had somehow betrayed my English sensibilities, I found this exchange strangely liberating. It marked the first time in my four months’ of commuting, that I had spoken to anyone.
Obviously, the whole thing wouldn’t have worked half as well if the woman in question had avoided making eye contact or ignored my verbal offering, so I can’t take all the credit. I must acknowledge the revolutionary potential of us both.