is london getting friendlier?

People chatting on the 505 bus? Surely not. Unless there's been a thaw in the world's frostiest city. Emma Cook tests the water; capital encounters

girl in a bright red mac grips on to the bus rail chatting to a young woman wearing a short black suit. "What happened to you yesterday morning? Overslept?' 'No, I was still on holiday with my boyfriend', she replies. "What, the Welsh one?" asks the other. "No," she giggles. "He's American; you know, the one I told you about last month." The content of their conversation may strike the listener as mundane but the context makes it peculiar - if not revolutionary - in a capital city that has earned itself the accolade of being the most unfriendly in the country, if not the world. This is the 505 bus travelling from Waterloo Station into the City, where passengers indulge daily in jokey banter, friendly exchange and the ultimate commuter no-no, eye-contact.

It's widely assumed that any stranger in the capital naive enough to attempt conversation with the natives can expect no more than a suspicious stare and a couple of grunted syllables. As one seasoned traveller explains, "I recently went to Pakistan. The people are so poor, and yet they go out of there way to be generous and friendly. I got back here and everybody seemed so cold and unapproachable." But developments aboard the 505 indicate there may be a change in temperament. Dominic Wells, editor of Time Out, believes London has become a far more friendly city in recent years. "In the Eighties, everyone looked out for number one," he says. "Now we're edging out of the recession and people seem more relaxed and optimistic."

To find out if this Nineties altruism exists at street level, I ventured out alone and willing to mingle. I asked strangers for help and ingratiated them in conversation. As a reserved London traveller, I came away reassured not only by other people's sociability but - more shockingly - my own.

On the whole Capital dwellers are receptive but, like everybody else, they don't enjoy being forced into a false situation - especially in crowds. Yet if you're relaxed and natural, there's every chance you'll meet new people. This doesn't surprise Wells, "It's really an extension of what's been going on already - the whole centre is getting much more user-friendly. The pace of life is more mellow. Overall there's a sense of civic pride again."

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