Public Transport Etiquette Under Scrutiny:

The Government should completely ban the eating of food on trains, buses and the underground”. This was the opinion expressed by England’s recently retired Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, as quoted by the Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley on 10th October. That same day, Stuart Heritage, a contributor to the newspaper, accused Davies of thereby trying to deprive the country’s population of one of its “fundamental human rights” – although he did promise, as a concession to Davies, that he would no longer snack on hot catsu curry during the morning rush hour.

Tony Naylor, also of the Guardian, has similarly queried why he should be fined (or suffer the disapproval of other passengers) for munching a ham sandwich on his way to meet friends after work on a Friday evening. He believes that the real issue is the mess that people leave behind them – the empty boxes, cans, apple cores, spilled drinks, rolling bottles and (“worst of all”) the ubiquitous chewing gum. If you get crumbs on the seat, he insists, “you should brush them to the floor as you get up”.

In contrast to Heritage, the Metro columnist, Lizzie Thomson, asserted on 10th October that “it’s a truth universally acknowledged that sitting next to someone devouring a tuna sandwich on a bus is absolute hell”. While she accepts the contention that many commuters have no choice but to eat while on their way to and from their place of employment, she urges them to avoid “stinky food”, especially sushi, smoked salmon, camembert, mackerel pate and any nutriment that has a pungent aroma, as this will linger around long after they get off their means of transport: “Although the ‘fragrance’ of your doner kebab may seem like heaven to you, the rest of your carriage might disagree”. Furthermore, anything that has a potential to splash onto fellow travellers – such as noodles and all varieties of spaghetti – should be avoided and “ always ensure that you have a napkin with you”.

An editorial in the London Evening Standard on 12th November, advised any traveller tempted to start chomping through a packet of salt-and-vinegar crisps to keep their delicacy until later and focus instead on reading their newspaper. This coincided with a report that day by their crime correspondent, John Dunne, on the case of a city worker fined £1,500 by Blackfriars Crown Court for having launched an “aggressive tirade” against a fellow commuter, of South American origin, who had been enjoying her breakfast of “admittedly strong smelling” eggs on the 6 am train from Chelmsford in Essex to Liverpool Street Station in London.

Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson banned drinking alcohol on the capital’s buses and underground when he was Mayor of London, there’s currently no indication that this will be extended to the consumption of food – unlike in many other cities around the world. Eating, drinking and smoking is not allowed on trams in Barcelona or the subway systems in Washington USA as well as in Beijing, Nanjing, Xiamen and Shenzhen in China, where violations can result in having to pay out up to 500 yuan (£54), an exclusion from using the underground and the infraction being registered on the offender”s credit record.

The Filipino Times has warned any of the nation’s citizens considering going to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that once they step foot inside an underground train there, no food and drink is allowed, including water and chewing gum. In Singapore, commuters discovered by SMRT Corporation officials to be sucking even a sweet reputedly run the risk of being penalized  by the country’s Land Transport Authority. In Japan, journalistontherun.com has noted, drinking and eating is acceptable on regional long-distance trains but not on local ones.

In reality, according to a YouGov survey cited by the Guardian commentator, Carmen Fishwick, no matter how well you try to behave on the London underground, you’ll probably eventually upset someone. Apparently, 90% of Londoners are antagonised by people pushing to enter a carriage without giving the passengers still inside a chance to get off, 74% don’t like bags being placed on unoccupied seats, 71% find malodorous food offensive and 56% become impatient when other passengers take too long to go through the ticket barrier. Talking loudly, wearing a rucksack and failing to move down inside the carriage also all feature in YouGov’s “20 most irritating tube behaviours”.

The Press Association journalist, Erin Cardiff, has compiled a list for BT Lifestyle of the ten particularly annoying things she asserts occur most frequently on public transport. Among them: Loud phone calls (“nobody needs to hear about what you had for dinner last night or the hilarious trick your dog performed that morning”), bad hygiene, blaring music, people putting their feet on the seats, eating noxious food, reading another person’s newspaper or texts over their shoulder, being a space invader (for some, that could mean a cyclist taking up three seats or a large proportion of the aisle on a busy bus or train”) carrying huge bags during the rush hour and public displays of affection.

But what seems to exasperate Cardiff the most is someone putting on cosmetics during the journey, not just mascara but “applying nail varnish, plucking brows and clipping nails, anything you’d normally confine to your bathroom at home. The 296 bus is not the place for all of that”.

Filed under: Healthcare, Travel | Posted on November 19th, 2019 by Colin D Gordon

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