Tube etiquette: How to ride the Underground with style

Cara McGoogan
Lulu recently joked that no one had offered their seat to

There's a familiar sound on the Tube that belies collective contempt for those who don't know the rules. It goes: "Eye roll, tut, tssk". The unwritten etiquette guide for the Underground ensures that every passenger can travel anonymously, without undue attention. If you break it, you are thrust front and centre stage as punishment. 

Still, not everyone takes note.  

Lulu drew tutting from more carriages than her own this week after she posted a picture on Instagram with the caption: "On the way to work at the O2 tonight... and nobody gave this old bird a seat on the Tube #OAP".

Everyone should, by now, know that if you're in a priority seat, you should give it up to someone who needs. But this, it turns out, is subjective. 

For those who might not understand how to ride the Underground, here's a quick refresher.

Who should you offer a seat to? 

The short answer is, anyone who is more in need than yourself. But, as the Lulu incident shows, this can be complicated.

If you're in a priority seat you should definitely offer it up for pregnant women, elderly people, people with disabilities, and those with children. The ascertaining eye should also notice anyone who looks ill or injured and offer them a seat. You might want to read your book or put on make up, but politeness reigns. 

Offering your seat up does come with the risk that it will be taken as a back handed insult; for example, if the recipient doesn't consider themselves that old. But you don't want to push them to ask you – or leave it to the kindly person sitting next to you.   

If in doubt, offer. 

'Shebagging' v 'manspreading'

Manspreaders have been a scourge of the Tube for years, with men opening their legs wide as if to assert authority in squished carriages. More recently, shebaggers have taken back control, putting their bags on the seats next to them and giving aggressive stares to anyone who asks for them to be moved. They've done well to take their bags from their backs (something Transport for London asks people to do at busy times), but how dare they deprive others of a seat.  

The battle is underway and the only loser in sight is the ordinary, keeps-to-their-seat passenger. Don't let either of them win, though. Maintain the area around your seat and keep your bag between your legs. The moral victory, if nothing else, is worth it.  

Know the basics 

Londoners don't have any time for people who don't abide by the basic rules of the Tube and will punish those who break them with a passive aggressive glare, 'tssk', or 'maaate'. 

On the Tube: always move down the carriage; stand on the right of escalators, walk on the left; and let people get off the carriage before you clamber on. These might seem obvious to Tube regulars, but other cities and countries operate differently. 

On the New York subway, passengers are told not to lean on polls, so that everyone standing has something to hold onto; eating is also strictly frowned upon. On Paris' Metro, war veterans get priority when it comes to seats, and it is strictly forbidden to play an instrument. Meanwhile, on Tokyo's Metro, there are 'women-only' carriages during rush hour for those taking the children to school, and passengers sitting near priority seats are asked to turn their phones off. 

Have your Oyster card in hand....

... and if it doesn’t work once, don't try and try again. 

There is nothing worse than getting stuck behind someone trying and failing to tap their Oyster card. If it doesn't work once, it probably isn't going to. Embrace the shame and go to the TfL person at the end of the barrier – don't keep trying and trying until the queue behind you has to flee in frustration. 

Don’t get too close

A Visit Britain guide for tourists advises, "Passengers on the Tube generally keep themselves to themselves. There's not a lot of conversation between strangers, and people don't generally greet you when you board the train".

We're not just rude buggers when it comes to greetings, either.

People on the Tube want to be left physically alone. That means avoiding use of the arm rest, keeping music down, and leaving space around fellow passengers who are standing. 

It can be difficult to know where to look when you're standing on a busy carriage, but it's not worth the embarrassment of someone catching your eye when you're staring at them. How else do you think Brits learn the stops on different Tube lines? The map of the Underground is there to be studied – not the blurb of someone else's book or just how well they're doing at Candy Crush.