things i love

Someone spoke to me on the tube!

13 Comments 08 August 2012

I know, crazy, right? But it’s true, it happened. Several times. Why? The Olympics.

I know there are people who are not remotely interested in sports and I know there are people who are anxious and irritable about organised displays of happiness and blase about big communal displays of woo hoo. I know all this. And as a person who get’s overwhelmed by too much stimulus sometimes I feel that as well. But no one can deny the amazingly beautiful effect the Games have had on London. Sociologists sometimes say that sport is our replacement for war, but the irony is that like love, sport is a universal language and people unite through sport. You don’t have to be a sociologist to see it happening.

People do not speak to each other on the London underground (the tube) or trains. They sit within micro-millimetres of each other and pretend they don’t even know the other exists. One person will open a paper to read and the other will sneak looks at it but look away quickly if the owner of the paper raises their head. People will scowl at someone if they Make a Scene because it forces them to interact. These habits don’t make Londoners bad people, they just demonstrate coping mechanisms for dealing with the hundreds of people each person must bump into every day of their lives. It must be the same in all big cities.

An isolationist approach can be beneficial. But it can be too isolating at times.

Anyway, it’s kind of nice when interaction does happen, but perhaps only because it so rarely happens.

1. Nathaniel, who might have bought David Beckham a pint.

The first time a stranger and I spoke on the train these past couple of weeks was when I sat opposite a guy who had one of those badges on lanyards hanging from his neck that showed he was a part of the Olympics in some way. He seemed happy but restless and kept almost making eye contact. I read that his name was Nathaniel and that he worked in catering. I finally asked him, ‘are you working tonight?’ This was Friday, the day of the Opening Ceremony. ‘Yes!’ he said, excited to talk about it. We talked for 30 minutes about the whole thing. He had already met Princess Anne and as he worked in the VIP area he was hoping to meet David Beckham. ‘I’m going to buy him a pint,’ he said. ‘He might refuse, but at least I can say bI offered to buy David Beckham a pint.’ I hope David accepted.

2. New York. Not City.

That afternoon I was on the tube on my way back to my home station when an American guy asked me how to get to the Hammersmith & City Line. I had seen him looking at the map and pointing out West Ham, which said ‘Olympic Park’ on the map we were looking at but I knew Stratford was the better station so I told him so and told him how to get there. He thanked me, asked if I was from the States, and when I said yes he asked ‘Where in the States are you from?’ and I said Minnesota but I was immediately embarrassed because I was with my Texan sister and I felt I should explain to her why I said Minnesota even though I don’t even know if she heard me. Then I asked him where he was from (‘New York’, he said, but I could tell he meant State, not City) and we talked about what Games he was going to see. As we parted ways he asked my name, thanked me again and shook my hand. The sort of guy one’s grandma would call A Nice Boy.

3. Guys who can’t help themselves when sport is on the telly

The third time was on the train to Hampton Court to see the cycling time trials. The women’s rowing was happening as we pulled out of Waterloo so husband had it playing live on his iPhone (which is why his phone died later and we had such difficulty meeting up–how did anyone cope before mobile phones?? I kept wondering and finally saying out loud to anyone who would listen). A man behind him heard the live video, jumped up and came over to us, talking excitedly and watching it over my husband’s shoulder. A man in a row of seats facing away from us got all twitchy, looked over his shoulder a few times (I thought he was cross with the noise of the video) then finally threw his paper down, got up and joined us too. When the women won gold we all cheered together and clapped.

4a. People who caught the Team BG cycling fever

That afternoon on the way back to Waterloo from Hampton Court on an incredibly, I mean INCREDIBLY, hot and airless train one of the Olympic helpers, a retired man, started talking to my neice and I about the crowds at the time trials. He was more than proud, he was thrilled to be a part of such an historic event. It was the end of a long, hot, exhausting day but he was almost jumping around with excitement. He told us that the cycling road race had more spectators than there had ever been for a single event. I wondered about the Tour de France, but decided I wanted to believe him. It all sounded so exciting.

Oh, and this was fun–the little LED readouts on some trains (the one’s that tell you what stations the train will stop at), read ‘Gold Medal Express’ on the way back to Waterloo after Bradley Wiggins gold medal win that afternoon. I love that the train company thought to do that. Everyone was taking photos of it but I was too far away for my camera phone or you would have seen it here.

4b. (con’t)

That same evening on another tube my brother-in-law was talking to me about seeing Bradley Wiggins ride past and a guy behind me asked ‘were you there?‘ with awe. Bro-in-law said yes, and the guy started telling bro-in-law how exciting it was and how he watched it on the telly and how…etc.

And I was happy. Happy to be swept up in the goodwill and happiness of it all.

It’s great being in a country that does well in the Olympics, that helps. But what also helps is that the organisers have done such an amazing, I mean AMAZING job with the Games. When I first arrived here 20+ years ago to a land of grocery store hours 8-6 every day and closed on Sunday with checkout staff angry that they have to be there at all and I could jolly well find my own toilet rolls because it wasn’t their fault I couldn’t find them when they reorganised the shop, I would never have expected this same country could organise something as huge as the modern Olympics, with as much friendliness and excellent customer service and excellent transport links and fantastic shopping nearby and…and… am I gushing? It’s just all so lovely and I am so happy to be in the UK while it’s happening.

What an amazing experience.


Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. I think that’s fabulous and have seen other people saying the same. It’s so great that the Olympics has everyone fired up. Have just blogged about how here in US, people are not so enthusiastic – they are used to winning!

  2. Expat Mum says:

    Had I known you were watching the cycling at Hampton Court I could have told you to pop into my aunt’s for a cup of tea. But I’ve just remembered, she’s in Toronto at the moment. Never mind.
    Glad you’re enjoying it all.
    The cheering on the train scene reminds of when the Chicago Bulls basketball team were the best for 5 or 6 years running. I would nearly always be flying back to the UK when the Championships were on and the pilot used to relay the scores to the passengers on a regular basis. Whenever they won (and that was all the time) half the plane would explode, and the other half (the non-Americans) would be wondering what on earth was going on!

    • Michelloui says:

      I can only imagine what one’s aunt would have thought with 8 tired, sweaty, red white and blue festooned people showing up on her doorstep!

      Yes, that’s another place I’ve heard this sort of thing, on planes, but I can’t remember what it was for–and yes, the plane was piloted by an American as well. I’m not sure why I love seeing this kind of thing so much, perhaps it’s just evidence that we’re all connected after all? I don’t know. I’m going to start sounding all New Agey if I keep going…

  3. Tammy says:

    The silence on trains/tube always caught me off guard. While I normally respected the cultural norm, there were a few times I was too excited to contain it… And then there was the time I was laughing out loud to Bill Bryson’s book, and I received all the evil looks!!!!

  4. Russell says:

    You are very lucky indeed!

    It has been so hard to watch your home country’s Olympics from afar – to revel in the big moments on local TV but miss out on the atmosphere and the good feelings that come with being in close proximity to something as unique as this. I’ve also been extremely pleased at the British people’s response to these Games – the positivity that’s come across on our TV screens, the embracing of the individual events, and the steadily growing pride at Team GB’s performance.

    It’s certainly made me rethink my views of the UK (I remember it as you do but, for me, from 10 years ago) and I look forward to a future return to enjoy a bright, positive, more confident Britain. Feel free to keep on gushing – I enjoyed your post immensely! :)

    • Michelloui says:

      I can imagine it’s difficult, especially if you’re interested in sport at all. But I am really pleased to hear the attitude here comes across the screens a world away!And Im pleased it’s made you rethink your views on the UK. I will add that this is just London and outlying train stations, so I can’t speak for the rest of the country, and who knows if it will last, but it’s nice to know the place is capable of it when called upon to be like this!

  5. Selena says:

    I agree! It has been so wonderful. The atmosphere in London is electric. GB should be so proud! They have put on a terrific games!!

  6. Alison says:

    There was actually an article on the BBC website about ‘things foreigners should know about the British’ and not talking on the tube was on there. I used to think it was just a London thing, that people in the North of England were much more approachable, but now having lived in CA for 15 years I realize how strange it is that people sitting next to each other on the bus/train/waiting rooms etc really don’t strike up conversations.

  7. Bod for tea says:

    Lovely post! The overall reaction that I’ve heard from most people to London 2012 is how wonderful the atmosphere has been throughout the games. It’s almost as if we live in a different country after the awful negativity of the past months. Let’s hope we can keep this positive spirit going after Sunday!

  8. Nikki Thomas says:

    Such a lovely post! I think that the Olympics has united people all over the country and inspired people too, it has been amazing!

  9. Starle says:

    It has been so wonderful. Even down here in Devon! This has been an amazing year to be in the UK! Every time that i return to the US i am amazed about how stupidly friendly everyone is ALL THE TIME. It is easy to forget. Turns out the Brits actually like being nice and friendly to each other!

  10. And there I thought being chatted up at Tesco was news 😉

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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