An American Girl’s Guide to Surviving the London Underground

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Most trips to London require some quality time on the London Underground, also known as the “tube.” Because it looks like a tube. Obviously.

If your journey is short enough and the sun is shining in your favor, you might be able to just travel the old fashioned way and walk. But it’s a big city, and walking from Shoreditch to Kensington is going to take you the better part of your lifetime, so at one point or another, you’re going to have to face it.

Before you descend into the center of the earth and straight into a businessman’s personal space, here are some rules for surviving the London underground.

survivingthelondonunderground

1. Stand on the right, pass on the left

If you remember nothing else, REMEMBER THIS. When standing on an escalator in any tube station, you must stand on the right hand side. This is a London non-negotiable. If you find yourself standing on the left blocking foot traffic, you will feel the stares of a hundred impatient and standoffish Londoners burning a hole in the back of your head.

You will be written about on forums. You will find yourself on the front page of the Evening Standard next to the words “WANTED.”

2. Wait for people to get off the train before you get on

This seems obvious, but you would be surprised about the number of people who treat a tube door like a two-way street. It’s a one-way street, and this means you need to let everyone rush out before you rush on. The train won’t leave without you, I promise.

3. Put your bag/backpack/gigantic purse by your feet

There is NOTHING WORSE than someone with a giant backpack holding 63 textbooks, 8 lunch bags, and 6,000 pens barging their way onto the tube and taking up the space of 4 people with their belongings. If you’re standing, put the bag by your feet so other people can squeeze in.

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4. Lower your voice. And then lower it again. 

Americans are notorious for this, but other foreigners (and drunk Brits) are at fault as well. A journey on the tube is sacred. It’s for reading the newspaper. It’s for drafting your ‘hate you’ text to your ex on your phone. It’s for calming your nerves before you step back out into the world and attend your third job interview of the day.

It’s not for catching up with your friend over dinner, it’s not for singing, and it’s DEFINITELY not for yelling over other passengers to speak to your friend from school three seats down. Talk quietly or see the previously mentioned stares of English people who think you’re an absolute idiot but won’t say anything to you about it.

I know it doesn’t sound threatening, but hell hath no fury like a Londoner forced to listen to you gab.

5. Do not make eye contact

Just don’t. Especially during rush hour, you’re going to be really close to some random person and the least you can do for them is to not acknowledge the situation you’re both in. Eye contact is official, it’s permanent, it’s a way of marking the occasion. This is not an occasion to be marked.

6. Move down inside the train

Riding public transportation isn’t actually rocket science, so you may be able to figure this one out by yourself, but judging by how many times I hear the phrase “MOVE DOWN INSIDE THE CARRIAGE” while on a single tube journey, we should probably rehash.

If you get on a busy train, and there are people waiting to get on, you have two options: get off or move to fill some empty space. Unfortunately the last space people want to fill is the space in between the seats, furthest from the doors. I totally get this. I will do everything possible to not have to move down inside the carriage, but sometimes, you’ve got no choice.

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It’s go time. Just huff a little to yourself, pick up your backpack as instructed in Rule 3, don’t make eye contact with the people who now have their faces in your crotch, and suck it up. This is the tube carriage, not a horse-drawn one, so lower your expectations accordingly.

 

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matt

3 years ago

Who violates Rule 4 when correcting those violating Rule 6?

Who would have guessed there were so many rules to riding the tube? Did you learn the hard way, or was there a tube-Yoda helping you out?

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

Actually that’s a great point…Londoners stick to the rules until you break them, and then it’s fair game!

Luckily Londoners are weird and write poems about travel etiquette displayed in the tube stations so it wasn’t hard to learn. Not kidding, check out this link for some very British reading:

https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2014/february/passengers-poems-to-change-travel-etiquette-now-on-show-at-tube-stations-across-the-capital

matt

3 years ago

Wow. That’s so bizarre… I’m typically impervious to judgement; but I suppose when I go to London now, I’ll have to be aware of it.

Amanda Afield

3 years ago

Very true. Just last week on a bus I was forced to listen to a bunch of lads who brought musical instruments and played loudly and badly for my entire trip home. Definitely lots of quiet wrath on that trip.

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

Ugh that is the worst! I am never confrontational and wouldn’t say a word, but that is when the glares come out!

Sofia

3 years ago

Love this! I just moved to Paris and I feel like some of these tips are also applicable here haha.

girlgonelondon

3 years ago

Yes! I remember being on the Paris metro and thinking it was MUCH more chaotic than the tube though haha. People playing accordians, jumping over barriers! Brits are too timid for that. 😀

claudiarant

3 years ago

Don’t worry if you cannot remember the escalator rules. There are heaps of “keep right” signs there. I live the tube 😉

ninamcclain93

3 years ago

I loved living in london. I miss the tube so much!

Kole Obasa

3 years ago

Oh you got London down to a T ma’am. Refreshing article. It is quite interesting hearing an American’s perspective about us Brits. Thank you for this.

millennialmommysite

3 years ago

Good info! I want to go to London one day so I love reading all of the posts about London.

Bidy

3 years ago

Way to scare those of us away! Haha only kidding. This was a fun article. Thanks for the share! How different from the NYC sub.

oxsian

3 years ago

I love number 5!! So true!! Even I, who is from the uk cant stand london, especially the tube!! Everyone is just so rude!! Much rather head up to the north, everyone is so so lovely!!!!

Marleen

3 years ago

Wow some seriously helpful trips here! Cool idea for a post, I would love to visit London one day

Alexis

3 years ago

Definitely will take these rules into consideration. London is actually on my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.

Alexis|www.themindfulmotivation.wordpress.com

Michelle Gwynn Jones

3 years ago

Good advice for traveling anywhere. Thanks for posting the tips.

Brianna

3 years ago

This is great. I visited London for one day and found the Tube SO easy to navigate. I loved it. Your tips are great too, and most of them can be applied for public transportation in many other cities too.

Denita

3 years ago

This made me chuckle. Reminds me of riding the Metro in Washington, DC.

Realweegiemidget

3 years ago

Good to know as a Scot who hates travellling in London x

Ash & Shrey (@LogicalTraveler)

3 years ago

Nice tips and post!!

Cheers,
Ashima

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