Dear German tourists:
As a Brit, I am polite. It’s practically the national pastime. And as such, we are all far too polite to intervene in any way when something harmlessly awkward but secondhandedly embarrassing occurs in public. Not a proper drama – we’re OK with those – just something a little…well, not done. We all tend to be terribly interested in our phones, or our bags, or in one case, the bus seat lining (unless you’re me, in which case you’re snickering up your sleeve at the sheer ludicrousness of it all. Either way, I wasn’t helping).
So when a little contretemps occurs, it’s all terribly embarrassing. Boy won’t pay bus fare. Driver refuses to move and stops bus (neither party shouts, I might add. They quite calmly just point out the very obvious problems then just…wait). We appear to have reached a certain standoff. The boy’s behaviour alarms us everyday worker types. He is so stubborn! How can he just sit there while people are clearly giving him cross sidelong glances when he looks away from them?! I think I even heard a ‘tut’ from the back, has he no shame?! Doesn’t he understand how this works?! He claims his pass works. It clearly doesn’t. Now they’ve resorted to standing stiffly and ignoring each other, boy and driver. It’s all very off-putting at 8.30 in the morning and we are all clearly going to be late for work but goodness, it’d be downright rude to actually, you know, say something out loud when someone is breaching the unspoken rules of commuting manners. I mean, they’re unspoken. But there’s always one and oh dear, where to put your face? Some way away from the complainant apparently.
Time ticks very slowly by. I’d turn around to see what everyone else is up to but, well, impolite, you know? So I amuse myself by watching their reflections in the windows and yes, there they are, all looking irritated and fidgety and mute. Honestly, this isn’t meant to happen. Like talking to people on the commute – you just don’t! It’s a cardinal rule by consensus. No, you sit there in awkward silence with people you see every single day – if you’ve seen them more than a year every day on the commute it may in certain circumstances – Christmas, the apocalypse – be acceptable to exchange a small, ironic nod, but goodness, this is getting past the boundaries of impolite into…vexing!
But there in the front row, eyes agleam with puzzled righteousness, are our saviours: German tourists. Thank heavens, people who are free from the constrictions of the unspoken laws of commuting! There’s an aura of nigh-shock – does a beam of sunlight actually illuminate their faces as they stand up, unheard of! – and their mouths actually open and they ask, in charmingly Teutonic tones,
“What’s going on?”
Admittedly the rest of the conversation is lost to posterity because to be polite I have my headphones in now but the problem appears to be solved and said stubborn boy gives up in the face of reason and vocalisation and finally – finally! – the bus clanks into life and we’re heading on our merry way towards town once more. A little applause breaks out for our early morning heroes and visions of tea and breakfast biscuits dance beguilingly in my head once more.
So I don’t know where you were going, German tourists, but I hope you enjoy your day in our country and if nothing else, I want to thank you for breaking a very British standoff with your willingness to open your mouth and break commuting rules to make sure we made it into town before sunset, without any nastiness or, heaven forfend, shouting. I was so impressed it must have rubbed off and no-one was cross I was late into work. I salute you.