Travelling by train to Oxford at the weekend has given me the opportunity to reflect on travel etiquette. I thought this theme is apropos as I imagine many of our readers commute to work or school. You might even at some point have taken a table to do some work on the way. Here are my thoughts on train travel decorum.
1. Mobile phones
Think of travelling as being in transit. It’s not the time or place to carry out lengthy conversations. Perhaps save long phone calls when you are in your own space, where you might better express your thoughts rather than being harried by the demands of travel. Bear in mind that phone signals could be intermittent, so repeating “Hello, can you hear me?” can be annoying for your fellow passengers.
Brief phone calls are acceptable; a short, “I’m on my way, see you in a bit,” can be commonly heard. It’s not necessary to turn your phone to silent while on the train. But having the volume on too loud and failing to answer it immediately when it rings can cause embarrassment. When in the quiet coach, the courtesy of turning all devices to silent must be observed.
2. Luggage on seats
Ladies are often culpable of leaving their handbags on the seat next to them. When the trains are especially busy, it is polite to make sure available seats are free of bags. This way, other passengers can sit without having to ask if it is available. If not, one risks being asked, bluntly, “Is that your bag on my seat?”
3. Train food
Once, on the train from York to London, I sat with two ladies who were on their way to see a West End show. They decided to make a weekend of it, starting with their train journey. From their picnic bags, they unearthed little Victoria sandwiches, and to drink, individual champagne bottles. It was such a treat to see.
Train food must not be messy, but above all, it should not be malodorous. Fast food such as burger and chips (fries for the North American vernacular) are ubiquitous at train stations. But the oily smell that lingers in contained spaces is unpleasant. Avoid food that may drip and is awkward to eat.
Many people use their daily commute to get work done. If you find you have to do work on one of the tables, try to keep your things within your space. People would generally try a different seat when they find someone is working at the table. However, if the train is very busy and someone sits at your table, make a kind gesture by gathering your things in a pile. If they don’t need the table space, often they would say so.
The novelty of passing countryside has long worn off for seasoned commuters. One would be hard-pressed to make this enforced journey pleasant, but in the least, we can help make it bearable. Good manners is, after all, nothing more than making sure everyone around us is as comfortable as possible.
This piece was first published in 20 February 2014 on the website Stilettos on the Glass Ceiling.