As a suburban girl working in London, the ‘no smiling’ rule (almost as strictly enforced as the ‘no drinking alcohol’ rule) is taking some getting used to. Back in the Home Counties locking eyes with someone means an instant smile, and if it’s not in a busy area it’s often followed by a conversation about the weather (‘Better rush down to Waitrose quick and buy all the milk on offer- I hear there’s a slight chance of snow’), the bin collection schedule (‘So inconsistent- my recycling box is positively overflowing’) or the ever increasing number of potholes in the road (‘They even gave my 4×4 a flat!’). Strident stereotyping aside, people are generally chatty, or at the least smiley. This is not the case in London. Smile on the underground and people will think you’re a maniac, or worse: a tourist. I learnt this the hard way when I bustled onto the tube, my countryside cheeks all a glow, and uttered ‘Hello’ to the lady next to me. Needless to say she promptly moved to the other side of the carriage.
It’s not just the lack of smiling that has rattled me, apparently pushing is totally acceptable in the capital as well. I thought us Brits were famous for our constant unnecessary ‘sorry’s, but apparently not! I am shoved around constantly on my daily commute, and any accusing looks I shoot are returned with a scowl or an angry sigh. Has it never struck these people that pushing me around on a platform next to a fast moving train is probably not the best idea?! And guy sat on one seat with his bag on another, did you not think to offer even one of your seats to the old lady with the walking stick? It seems that manners, like everything else, are hideously expensive in London.
I understand that you are busy, or sometimes late, but I am writing this to implore all you Londoners to slow down, even just for a moment, and take a look around you. You are in one of the most beautiful cities, surrounded by culture from all corners of the world, but it is just a passing blur to you as you sprint to the next tube platform. There are millions of people who would love to be where you are right now, so take the time to appreciate it and make the most of our awe-inspiring and fascinating capital city! You might find it puts a smile on your face, if for just a second.
Look back to last summer when we hosted the Olympics. Us Brits love to treat patriotism with a healthy dose of cynicism, but wasn’t it fun to let our guard down and scream ourselves hoarse as Mo ran to gold? We may have whinged constantly since we won the bid, and bemoaned that we were going to go on holiday for the entirety of it, but as soon as the Queen jumped out of that helicopter during the Opening Ceremony, we were out in force waving our Team GB flags. Everywhere you went in London people were enthusing about the games, the tube was buzzing with chat about who won what, people clubbed together in front of outdoor screens to cheer on our finest sportsmen and women, and we unashamedly loved and supported our country- and it was great! I defy anyone to say the Olympics didn’t show London in a whole other light for them, even if just for those few weeks.
So what I am trying to say is, I get it London, you’re very busy and important, but I’m new to this and still smiling away like a loon, so please play along with me for a little while!