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         Volume 11 |Issue 33| August 17, 2012 |


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Straight Talk

Spreading the Love

Nadia Kabir Barb


Right now there is probably a poster being printed with my mug shot on it and a caption underneath that reads, 'approach this woman with caution'. Before you jump to any conclusions, I am neither involved in any illegal activities nor have I broken any laws. However, I may have been in breach of many aspects of the unwritten code of conduct that one abides by when living in Britain.

Let me illustrate. While travelling on public transport, one must at all times follow certain rules. The unspoken etiquette of travelling on the underground suggests that 'one should not make eye contact with fellow passengers and under no circumstances should one engage in a conversation with the person in the neighbouring seat'. To do so would create discomfort and awkwardness if not outright panic. Therefore, to avoid such a situation, it is useful to be armed with an iPod or some form of listening device, a book, a newspaper or if all else fails just to feign sleep. If for any reason you happen to make eye contact, you should look away immediately so as to negate any suspicion that you might have been glancing at that person sitting across from you or that they might have been looking at you, even if it is only due to the fact that there may not be anywhere else to look except possibly at the floor.

The only time it is acceptable to make eye contact with your fellow passengers is when the train stops in the middle of the tunnel and the driver announces that there is a slight delay. In such situations it is deemed 'alright' to shake your head and roll your eyes in solidarity with all your fellow suffers.

I have, however, thrown caution to the wind and when I look at someone or they glance my way, I smile at them or offer them the free newspaper lying on the seat next to me. This seems to disconcert some people and they look flustered, break into a sweat and often start to fidget nervously before disembarking at the first available opportunity. But, if you persevere, eventually you find people who, after overcoming their initial instinct to flee, seem to welcome the gesture and actually smile back.

Buses have slightly different passenger dynamics and though it is still frowned upon when someone has an audible conversation on their mobile, it is quite acceptable and even expected that a commuter will not only give up their seat to an elderly or disabled person or a mother with small children, they will accompany it with a smile. I like to take it a step further and have on numerous occasions started conversing with parents going somewhere with young children or an elderly person travelling on their own. After the initial realisation that I am not some insane sociopath, out to rob them of their life savings or a deceptively benign looking child snatcher cruising the various London buses, they too start chatting and telling me about themselves and their families. For the elderly it can be one of the only times during the day they get to chat to anyone. I also have no qualms about telling some of the parents how adorable or well behaved their children are and it gives me pleasure to see their faces light up with pride. I know that I would have been delighted if someone had told me how lovely my children were when they were little and being dragged around the place!

My children think I have completely lost all sense of propriety as I have even started complimenting other women in the changing rooms of clothes stores. If someone happens to be standing in front of the mirror trying to decide whether they like an outfit or not and I think it suits them I see no reason not to tell them that. It is actually quite amusing to see the initial shock on their faces being replaced by a big smile.

Although I know I'm guilty of knowingly flouting general principles of etiquette, I can say with my hand on my heart that it is done with the best of intentions.

I have come to the conclusion that life is too short and one should to take the opportunity to smile at one another even if it means breaking some social norms, be it on public transport, on the street, in shops or even changing rooms!

Eid Mubarak to everyone!


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