The London student’s guide to bus etiquette

13th October 2015 Joe Graham London Life

London Bus Etiquette

The London double-decker bus is about as synonymous with the capital as phone boxes, beef-eaters and that big, big river. Whether you’re dodging them on your bike or waiting half an hour only to have three pull up simultaneously, thereby confirming the saying in the most literal way possible, London buses are a vital part of the city’s infrastructure, so it’s kind of important to know how to behave on them. For those less familiar with basic London etiquette, we’ve kindly compiled a handy list of what to do and not do to on the 242.

1. Be ready
The bus is coming. You’ll know this because, and sorry if we’re being slightly albeit here, you’ll be able to see it coming. It’s the big, (usually) red thing driving towards you. To be allowed to ride this majestic beast you will need to pay your way. Better get your money ready right? No! Wrong! Your money is no good here you bus rookie, or as those of us in the bus community call you, ‘brookies’.

Because we now live in a sci-fi, futuristic wonderland you’ll have to pay via Oyster card or contactless debit card. Fun fact: Oyster cards got their name from the ancient tradition of travellers paying sailors with pearl filled oysters in exchange for safe transport. This isn’t a true fact mind you, it is actually completely made up. But sometimes its fun to seed out intentional misinformation just to see how long it takes someone who sincerely believes it to repeat it back to you.

This is what NASA did with that whole ‘you can’t breathe in space’ thing, and those nerds are still chortling away every time someone’s worried about being sucked out of an airlock in movies. The truth is no one knows why oyster cards are called oyster cards, and we’ll probably never know.

Such is the great mystery of the human experience. Anyway, get whatever you’re planning on paying with ready. No one likes a fumbler holding up the queue. Also important note: bus drivers do not accept kisses as payment. Don’t learn this the hard way. Trust me, that kind of rejection lingers.

2. Choosing a seat
Unless it’s packed out, you’ll probably want to sit down. Depending on how much you like heights, stairs and being able to literally look down your nose on pedestrians, you may choose to sit upstairs.

If the seats are free, you can sit at the front and pretend you’re the driver. Sure, naysayers will say this is an activity for five-year olds and anyone who’s been through puberty shouldn’t be holding an invisible steering wheel and shouting “All aboard!” every time you pull up to a bus stop, but they’re just haters and have probably never felt the thrill of getting too carried away in the fantasy and for a split second thinking your brakes have gone as you approach a low bridge.

If sitting at the front is too much of an adrenaline overdose for you, (there’s no shame in that by the way, we can’t all be hell-for-leather, live fast die young types), there’s always the back seats. To keep you occupied on your journey, try sitting in the middle back seat so you’re facing directly down the aisle. Then whenever people are walking towards you pretend you’re a high-fashion mogul and they’re auditioning on your catwalk. Make disapproving tuts or head movements. Maybe murmur things like “yes, work it” under your breath. It also helps if you have some 80’s New York disco on your iPod.

St Paul's cathedral

3. Don’t be an aisle sitter
If there are two seats free, sit on the one closest to the window. Don’t be the person who sits on the aisle seat and makes anyone who comes to sit next to them squeeze past like you’re at the world’s worst designed cinema. Just budge up, it’s basic London etiquette. Otherwise it looks like you know something happened to the seat you’re not sitting in and are just letting this poor sap wander in, obliviously unaware of the stinky, soggy mess that awaits them when they sit down. Sure there probably isn’t anything gross soaked into the empty seat, but that’s what it looks like when you’re that stubborn about moving. Worse it makes it look like you did it.

4. Respect personal space
If there are clearly spare seats, but you see someone who looks rather tasty with an extra seat next to them, don’t sit next to them. And especially don’t try to strike up a conversation. It’s a sacred London etiquette that people on buses should to be as silent and grumpy as possible.

Don’t disrespect that with your creepy, unwanted advances. That is bad basic London etiquette. The number of people that answer the question of where their parents met with “funny story, my dad just sat next to my mum on a bus so she couldn’t get away” is probably tiny. You won’t be the exception. Just sit there, be quiet and refresh your Twitter feed until it’s your stop.

Students surfing together

5. Don’t hurt people’s feelings
I know this might sound somewhat contradictory to the last point, but if you are forced to sit next to someone but then notice a free double seat has opened up, please consider the feelings of your temporary travel buddy before abandoning them for a little extra leg room.

Thoughts of what they might have done to make you leave or whether they need to try a different brand of deodorant because theirs is obviously not working will fly around their brain until staring at the back of a head they previously only saw the side of becomes too much and they’ll have to get off the bus. Probably in tears.

We’re definitely not saying talk to people, but then again, the occasional, unintentional human contact between two strangers’ shoulders can go a long way in making this world not seem so devastatingly lonely. Basically we ask that you recognise your actions have power and act accordingly by not immediately moving bus seats and giving someone a complex.

6. Be prepared to leave.
You should know when your stop is coming up and leave enough time to be at lower deck just as the doors open. However don’t get over excited and get up too soon. That just looks desperate and you’ll be laughed off the bus by all the other passengers. Sometimes the driver will even make an announcement over the intercom about what a dweeby eager beaver you are, they’ll also possibly make a joke about how you should marry your bus stop as you love it so much.

Don’t go the other way and try and play it cool otherwise you may leave it too late and miss your stop. If this happens you’ll have to wait until the bus comes back around on its route and that can take hours depending on traffic. As with most things, timing is everything.

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Joe Graham

Joe Graham

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