Spare me the 'Tube Chat' badges – my London commute isn't a big freshers' night out where I plan to make 'friends for life'

A new wave of nervous commuters will now arise, worried that they’re going to burn in social hell if they aren’t open for a chat with person next to them wearing an unnaturally wide grin for the morning and sporting a 'Tube Chat?' badge

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The Independent Online

There is nothing I enjoy more on my morning commute than listening to my music, reading a book, or perusing a newspaper. It is a welcome moment of solitude among the masses of squashed bodies on the Central Line, where I can collect my thoughts, get myself prepared for the day and, most importantly, wake up before I am subjected to a day in an office, surrounded by people who I may or may not enjoy speaking to.

So the appearance of new "Tube Chat?" badges encouraging people to talk to each other on the underground is distinctly unwelcome. Firstly, I enjoy my morning solitude, and secondly, I find it infantilising that we have to be forced to speak to one another, like the whole of London is a fresher’s night out where everyone wears a name tag to make friends “for life”.

Now, let’s be clear here: it is great to speak to people on public transport. I often do it - a nice chat on the bus with the old man who lives round the corner, or a discussion about something that’s occurring on said bus, say perhaps when it’s all kicking off and everyone is having a good laugh about the situation. I do not need to be forced to speak to other people - I do it of my own accord, and more importantly, when I want to. Why does TfL think that we have such bad communication skills that they need to force us all to be friends and get even more personal with the man on the tube who has had his armpit in my face for four stops?

Firstly, it’s a very cultural thing in Britain, particularly London. We are not particularly open to speaking to people that we do not know. It all harks back to the old days when we required an introduction before engaging in conversation - it’s a treasured British tradition that we all appreciate, and adhere to, similar to our obsession with queuing. This doesn’t mean we’re necessarily rude or intolerant people – it’s all about context and choice.

A new wave of nervous commuters will now arise, worried that they’re going to burn in social hell if they aren’t open for a chat with person next to them wearing an unnaturally wide grin for the morning and sporting a “Tube Chat?” badge. If anyone has ever perused the fantastic Twitter account “British Problems”, they will know the unfounded terror that many feel when forced to do something that goes against cultural norms about chatting in this country. Yes, it’s a parody account, but their tweets are frighteningly accurate.  

This is not true of everyone, of course. Many enjoy a good chat on the bus, but by forcing commuters to talk, it takes away the spontaneity of the situation, making the whole thing forced rather than friendly.

Anyhow, the badge-makers have overlooked the fact that commuters talk regularly throughout the city - the echoes of “sorry” ring throughout tube platforms nonstop. This is the set way that we communicate about possibly anything - and I wouldn’t change it for the world, because it’s comforting and reminds me that I’m home.

We don’t require badges to be friendlier to others – badge-wearers should have more faith in the British public than that. And if we want to stay engrossed in our books or iPhones to escape the reality of a decidedly uncomfortable journey? I’d say that’s fair enough, too.

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