New ‘tube chat?’ badges are being handed out across the London Underground network to encourage people to talk to each other. I’m going to get in there early and politely decline.
One of the things I love most about London is people’s reluctance to engage in conversation with strangers. I’m not a Londoner, but rather a commuter from Berkshire (I know, commuters, the most miserable of all London travellers), and I revel in the safety of knowing that I won’t have to make any sort of conversation from the time I leave my house to the time I arrive at the office.
It’s not yet known who is behind these new badges (the TFL has confirmed it isn’t them), but it can’t be a Londoner, surely? I have foreign friends who find England, and more specifically London, to be a cold, unwelcoming place, but as a hater of small talk and a consumer of podcasts, audiobooks etc, the fact that I can board a train without worrying that a stranger might try and talk to me ranks quite highly in the ‘pros’ column of any city. I’m afraid I’m just not willing to give up my travel time to engage in conversation with someone I (hopefully) won’t ever cross paths with again. I’d much rather plug in my headphones and listen to whichever grisly true crime podcast I’ve downloaded for a cheery Monday journey.
The idea that a stranger wearing a badge might approach me and try to chat is, frankly, alarming. I try to be a conscientious traveller, and give up my seat if I see someone who might need it, but I will now be more scared of making eye contact than ever, fearing that to do so may confuse my fellow passengers and act as an invitation to tube chat.
I also fear for pregnant ladies. Firstly, people might be so busy avoiding eye contact with any badge-toting passengers, fearing them to be tube chat participants, that they may not realise they are in fact wearing a ‘baby on board’ badge and in need of a sit-down. Secondly (and even more worryingly,) over-enthusiastic tube chat fans may see a badge and approach said pregnant lady and start blabbering away at her. Just when she thought her pregnant commute couldn’t get any worse.
— Tube Chat (@tube_chat) September 28, 2016
Finally, as someone who suffers from overwhelming feelings of sympathy in almost all imaginable situations, I know that if I should see some poor, lost-looking, well-meaning traveller wearing one of these badges and looking like the saddest tube-chat-seeker to ever walk this earth, I know I’ll end up taking pity and bloody talking to them.
So please, if you see me on a train, plane or automobile, don’t try and engage me in conversation. I don’t want to ‘tube chat’. Unless, of course, it’s to moan about the general hopelessness of the British transport system. There’s always a space in my day for that…