Friday, 2 August 2013

Smiling on the Underground

I'm a Londoner, born and bred and I've spent my fair share of time commuting on the tube.  For many years, though, I've been living in small communities and I've got used to smiling at almost everyone I meet.  This is particularly true when I have my children with me.
So, sorry, folks, but I've become one of those strange people who smile at you on the Underground.  Although, it's really not my fault!
Yesterday I travelled to London from Wales with my four year old girl and four month old boy.  I saw lots of people looking fondly at my little baby, so I flashed them a big smile of agreement (he is exceptionally cute - but then most little babies are!).  I was puzzled to see them look startled and none of them struck up conversation, which is what I've become used to in rural life.  I had forgotten that you don't make eye contact on the tube, you certainly don't smile at people.  Surely, though I can be forgiven for thinking people were going to talk to us - my baby boy was in a sling on my front, his head next to mine.  I feel saddened that people didn't seem to expect me to be happy to have them comment on my baby.  I know it's part of a broader context, but it seems to me if people are breaking the rules enough to smile at my baby, they should be willing to at least smile at me too!
Of course, I have experienced more positive responses to my 'rural-style openness'.  I look around me as I travel, and I often catch people's eyes.  Carefully selected people will respond to a quick smile - with my children with me I guess I'm not a threatening figure.  People will ask me directions, often choosing me out of a street full of people.  This is something I have always had, actually - I think I've always been comparatively approachable, and it can be quite embarrassing if I'm new to an area!
Now, I'm not proposing full scale friendliness in London (Crocodile Dundee style).  For one thing we'd never get anything done in cities if everyone stopped to greet each other.  And I don't recommend smiling at everyone wherever you go.  It would be lovely to see a few more open faces though, people who are ready to smile, ready to help, ready at least to acknowledge that there are actual people around them rather than just moving elements of the scenery!
And if you're going to smile at my baby, have the courtesy to make eye contact with me and acknowledge that I have some right to be included.  I'm thinking particularly of a smartly dressed lady who stared at my little one for a good ten seconds and even moved closer so she could see him better, but when I caught her eye and smiled at her, she looked quite offended...

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