10 Things that Drive Londoners Crazy
Updated: Nov 10, 2018
I've seen quite a few of these lists. Albeit common, they're often true. I'm not a born and bred Londoner; I've only been here for four years, but even I've mastered the basic London etiquette that just becomes second nature when living in the Big Smoke. Many of these unspoken rules involve public transport. They are sacred. So when an unwitting tourist breaks one, the poor person is oblivious to the wrath they've inadvertently incurred. If you've never been to London, then perhaps this will save you from such a fate. If and when you do break a rule you might not hear a peep from us but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security: we Brits are masters of passive aggression.
So here they are: ten (of the many) things that drive Londoners crazy. Myself, included.
1. Queue Jumping
This one is not particular to London. It applies to the whole of the UK. Be assured, if you jump a queue in London you will infuriate many of the locals. British people revere the queue. We're known for it, and the stereotype is true. The queue imposes order; it means each person knows their place and how long they have to wait. So when someone jumps in front of someone else, the natural order is overturned. If you look around, you will be able to observe every single person in the queue unanimously stare this shameful deviant down. Eye rolls and tuts are exchanged. More often than not, no one says anything. We're far too polite for that. Occasionally you'll have someone gruffly reprimand the deviant, and everyone else will throw grateful glances towards the reprimand-er. But mostly, since we really are experts of passive aggression, nothing is said: everyone just looks supremely pissed off. All visitors to the UK should respect the queue.
2. Not standing on the right (in both senses) side of the escalator.
There are signs every metre or so. They clearly state you stand on the right, and you walk on the left. Again, this is just part of the natural order of subterranean London life. In the depths of infernal rush hour, when grumpy commuters are flowing up or down the escalator, and there's that buffoon who's standing on the left, holding everyone up, said buffoon awaits the same fate as the damned queue-jumper. If looks could kill, the buffoon would feel those daggers piercing his/her back. The person behind will tut, clear their throat or perhaps mutter a curt 'excuse me', indicating they need to pass. Believe me, the thoughts in this person's head will not be so polite. To save any embarrassment, all underground users must respect this other sacred rule: stand on the right, walk on the left.
3. Non-readiness for the barriers
Continuing the rush hour theme, this broken rule is particularly bad at rush hour. There is a steady - and rapid - flow of commuters passing through the barriers. There are steady beeps and a regular rhythm. One person smoothly passes through and then another. But when someone reaches the barrier and doesn't have their oyster/contactless payment card at the ready, they just disrupt the rhythm. For commuters squirming to get above or below ground, it is incredibly annoying.
4. Eating on public transport
Maybe you could get away with an inoffensive smell-less wrap. But when someone noisily devours something that stinks out the tube carriage, or bus, it's considered thoughtless. Again, no one will say anything but now you know what they'll be thinking. You'll receive 'the look'.
5. Music leaks
This 'look' is recognisable for most Londoners. It's the you're-doing-something-to-annoy-me-but-I'm-too-polite-to-say-anything-so-I'm-fixing-you-with-this-glare-instead look. A common cause for this look is music too loud to be contained by flimsy earbuds; music which consequently infiltrates the rest of the carriage. If it is another Londoner unwittingly committing the crime - not realising just how loud their music is - they will quickly comprehend the multiple nonverbal reprimands thrown their way. And they will turn their music down.
6. Those who try to make small talk on public transport.
Londoners are genuinely afraid of being addressed by strangers in the underground. No one makes eye contact; no one speaks to one another; no one even smiles at one another. That's just how it is. There is nothing worse than a friendly tube-taking tourist leaning over and trying to engage a Londoner in conversation. If in this situation, disengage immediately. Any response is only a result of stiff, deeply-rooted British politeness.
7. Making small talk to a stranger in public in general.
Now I come to think of it, making small talk in public in general is largely considered rude. I realise this might be counter-intuitive to many cultures. It's not quite as bad outside of London but in the capital, we don't like random people attempting to engage us in conversation. Perhaps put it down to our fierce reserve. That's why, if there are promoters on the street, a Londoner will pick up the pace, put the headphones in, fix their eyes upon the floor, and march past the pest. It comes from the above-mentioned London phobia: being addressed by a stranger in public. There are a few occasions when this rule may be overturned - usually in an establishment that serves alcohol. There is general camaraderie in British pub culture.
8. Whichever mode of traversing a road you take - walking, cycling, driving - the other two are the enemy.
This is less a rule than it is a general observation. Interactions between the three modes of road-travel frequently infuriate Londoners. When it comes to roads, there is a general state of being: if you are a pedestrian, you hate cars and cyclists; if you are a driver, you hate cyclists and pedestrians; and if you are a cyclist, you hate cars and pedestrians. That's just how it is.
9. People who don't appreciate the London power walk.
Dawdlers will get a lot of hate in London. It just so happens that the average walking pace of a Londoner is perhaps ten times faster than a pedestrian anywhere else in the world. Londoners walk fast. They are on a mission: their mission is to get from A to B. Anyone who impedes the mission is extremely irritating.
10. Stopping and changing direction abruptly on a busy street.
In our Age of Internet, particularly with the rise of the mobile map, this one is pretty common. To be honest, many people living in London have committed this crime themselves (yours truly, included). Face glued to the phone and the realisation comes that you're stepping away from the blue path delineated by google maps. There is an abrupt halt and a sharp one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn. For the power walker behind you, this is problematic. And, yes, infuriating.
I worry that I've painted a picture of a typical Londoner as an angry disagreeable sort of person. This is not true at all. However, it is true that the ten things listed drive the average Londoner crazy. Of course, if an outsider does break one of these rules, it is highly unlikely a Londoner would say anything. We're far too polite for that.