Under the underground: norms, hierarchies and etiquettes

We all know that Friday feeling, when you’re sailing into the underground, ready to slam dunk your oyster card against the barriers. The righteous slap of the machine signifies your freedom for 60 hours, to wear what you want and drink like a fish. You turn to your left to see another fellow oyster that is being rejected, time after time, which is creating a dam of angry oysters behind them, so eagerly seeking to flow deep down the escalators of freedom. However it is not your problem. Your gateway to heaven has swung freely, and you are about to submerge yourself into the depths of London tube culture. Tighten your goggles, adjust your snorkel for air, as you sink into a world of quintessentially British social norms, hierarchies and etiquettes.

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On your plunge down to the platform there are two stances you can take. You A) stick to the school, don’t go against the flow, and stand still on the right hand side of the escalator. Slowly and surely you submerge, adjusting to the changing air pressure, bracing yourself for the commute ahead. Or B) like a salmon out the water you jump the queues, go against the upstream current, and run down the left hand side. But where are you going little salmon? We are all getting on the same submarine. If you are a kind oyster, you will help the older oysters with their suitcases. Instantly you have entered into a bubble of respect. Your deed for the day is done.

 

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So, you have navigated yourself to the platform, and if you have watched House of Cards season 1, you will be standing SAFELY back from the yellow line of life and death. If you are waiting for more than a minute, second thoughts begin to creep into your mind. Maybe you should swim back up to the assurance of an Uber boat? Maybe even a black cab cruise. It may be more expensive, but they will get you to Clapham with an extra 10 minutes to spare to attempt to shake off your corporate exterior and get to the front of the bar.

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Alas, the tube has appeared, all aboard.

With all the seats being taken it only makes sense to grip tight to the green mast of stability. The little Nemo’s dive in for the bottom grip, whilst the Jaws of this world clench onto the top of the mast. Although we are enemies, the Nemo’s and the sharks, we share the same mast. When the journey encounters deep sea currents and disconnected signals, there is no greater embarrassment than losing your stance at the sudden jolt. Like the Winter Wonderland Ice rink, only the talented can stand tall and proud. When you fall into a strangers lap and its weird because you have touched their leg, and it is time to abort that vessel. You’re going solo diving.

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However there are those that avoid the ice rink fall with the jolt of the tube, when the vessel hits currents, WITHOUT holding onto the mast. I call these people the tube surfers. Lilo and Stitch style, they sail through central London on bouncy central boards that connect the various vessels together. Rocking side to side as they catch each wave of stations, crouching low with their hands out for balance, they don’t need the mast. Cowabunga dude.

Mid way home you hit Westminster, and the sails pull to a holt. The doors open to a man with a large suitcase. The Nemo’s, the sharks, the Lilo’s and the stitches, they look up in disgust. It’s the kind of look that you get when you rock up to school on a non-uniform day and your mum had forgotten. Where was the note in your home file? Why wasn’t it on your kitchen calendar? You’re in your kilt, and everyone else is in jeans. Like a child who faces their shame as they walk into the classroom all eyes on them, the man pushes on the case. NO one likes it, but the boat must go on.

Of course, this entire process is being conducted in complete and utter silence. You don’t whisper a word, you don’t blow a bubble. Do not look another oyster in the eye, you are now a mute. Only can you share a communal raise of the eyebrow, when agreeing with the other oysters around the mast that you both hate the man with the big suitcase. The rolling of an eyeball screams a thousand words. The one time when opening your mouth is acceptable is when you catch the night ship home, and you have consumed all of the liquids in the bar, and you are extremely intoxicated. When the clock strikes 10, you may greet another oyster.

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Whilst speaking is most of the time unacceptable, eating is equally, unacceptable. Even if it is 9pm and you have not had dinner, or 7am, and you are still slightly intoxicated, the scent of your BLT Pret baguette will diffuse across the entire vessel and even the man with the big suitcase will stare you out. Your every chew, your every swallow, will be watched. There is minimal air in the depths of the underground, and it is unfair to pollute the communal supply with Smokey bacon crisps. Opening cheese and onion Pringles will result in immediate termination; you’re going deep sea diving at the next stop and that’s final.

Luckily, the captain announces we have made it to land, and it is time to come back up for air. With every metre you rise back to sea level, the oyster social norms and rules begin to disappear, and your weekend begins. You gasp the fresh air of freedom and slam dunk your way out.

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