Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Public Transport

Overcrowded, over-heated, running late, not running at all - it is scarcely surprising that the myriad deficiencies of public transport are a daily challenge to good
manners. Packed as tight as a sardine in a can, scarcely audible announcements
crackling overhead, your neighbour's sharp-edged briefcase barking your shin,
 shrill mobile phones trilling in your ear - whose temper wouldn't get frayed?

The whole public transport experience - be it by bus, train or tube - is immeasurably improved by good manners. Acknowledge that you are sharing a cramped, frequently uncomfortable, space with the general public, and don't treat it like your own home. The list of don'ts is, unsurprisingly, extensive.

Don't treat a hushed carriage-full of commuters to a loud, banal or private call on your mobile.  Don't shout down your phone - it's a highly sophisticated piece of technology, not a primitive megaphone. If you're listening to music, ensure that your headphones are adequate to the task, and that you're not bombarding your neighbour with a maddening barrage of  noise pollution. If you're travelling with companions keep your voices down; other people may be reading, working or dozing.

If you need to eat on your journey, don't treat the entire carriage to the stench of fried chip fat and oily onions. Noisome smells are a major hazard on long journeys, so choose inoffensive foods.  Don't treat the carriage like your own sitting room - taking your shoes off, putting your feet up on the opposite seat, plucking your eyebrows, doing your make-up. A brief moment of cosmetic repair is acceptable after a journey (a glance in the mirror, a dash of lipstick), but a full make-up routine (involving tweezes, eyelash curlers, manicures and the full cosmetic armoury) should be a private communication between yourself and the mirror, and may make your neighbours uncomfortable.

Don't overspill your seating area, placing bags, newspapers, coffee cups on neighbouring table space or seating. Remember you have paid for one seat only, and you are in no way entitled to impinge on other people's space.

The days when a carriage-full of men leapt to their feet at the sight of a standing woman are long gone, but whether you are a man or woman, you should offer your seat to the elderly, to people with walking sticks/legs in plaster and other obvious signs that standing is painful, to mothers with babes in arms and to the pregnant. If you belong to one of these categories and someone offers you a seat, accept it with good grace; it is embarrassing to be turned down, and might make the good Samaritan hesitant about behaving courteously in the future.

Finally, behave well when boarding the train, bus etc. The first rule is to stand back and let passengers off before you get on - all too often people who are disembarking find themselves swept back on the train by a stampede of grim-faced, single-minded new passengers. Make it a rule never to push a fellow-passenger in your bid for a seat - accept defeat with good grace, and just hope that your good manners are infectious.

Miss Debrett's Top Tips
  • Be hyper-aware of noise pollution; this includes loud mobile phone calls, inadequate headphones, and boisterous conversations.
  • Make yourself comfortable, but remember that this is a public space, so respect your fellow passenger's sensibilities. A forensic eyebrow plucking session might just be too intimate....
  • Look out for people less able to withstand public transport than you - the elderly, infirm or pregnant - and don't wait to be asked. Offer a seat, a hand with luggage, pushchairs etc, even just a steadying arm...

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