London Hail Mary: how do you balance your karma when you hate everyone?

The other day my boss told me I was turning into a cranky old Londoner. This was terribly galling, coming from a man who exclaims “Oh for GOODness SAKES!” to his computer once every 13 minutes or so (I’m not sure he knows about ctrl-z), but equally galling because it’s bloody true.

At some point my ‘observations’ about the rude and uncompromising attitudes of London commuters has slowly spread to complaining about the behaviour that gets such people so rattled in the first place. Now the people using ruthless elbow tactics are joined in my mind by those who naively irritate by standing on the left, wrapping their entire bodies around the poles so that no one else can steady themselves, or stopping immediately upon exiting the escalator, barrier, or station to stare up at a sign or down at a map while the cue of commuter zombies stacks up behind.

What gets to me with these people is that I didn’t grow up with a subway system and nobody told me the rules, but I follow the unspoken litany with a mixture of common sense, observation, awareness of the physical space around me, and consideration of others. This is why I don’t understand that others can’t do the same.

I also originally couldn’t understand how badly such people were looked at, talked about, and treated by other Londoners. My natural inclination towards politeness lent me projected inner monologues for the bewildered and unaware – perhaps they couldn’t read the English signs? Perhaps it was their first day in London. Perhaps they were a little off the spectrum of understanding social nuances and shared cultural rules.

Now however, I’ve complained so much that the boss – the man who has referred to me as a ‘colonial’ and told me that my name is spelt wrong – has decided that I have become one of the rude and unforgiving London Zombies. He doesn’t even know about the exaggerated sighing at turnstiles, the over-emphasised excuuuuse me on the left side of escalators, and even (forgive me) a ‘for fuck’s sake!’ at an abrupt halt in front of me.

So how do you keep your karma (and sense of self) in balance when there are a thousand people on your train who don’t give a shit about you and suddenly you don’t give a crap about them either?

Barring a (highly unlikely) religious conversion, I don’t think I’ll stop feeling this way about my fellow Londonites, but instead of beating myself up about it, I thought I’d think about how I could contradict it and even up the karmic scales in some way.

If you feel the same way about the terminally unaware, here’s a few hail marys that might actually brighten someone’s day (maybe even your own):

  • Every time you sigh with the intention of your exasperation being heard – give up your seat to someone over 50.
  • If you bump someone and don’t apologise – move so that friends can sit together.
  • Whenever you get on before a passenger gets off – give someone with baggage your convenient edge/corner.
  • If you don’t say hello to a bus driver – help a parental with a pram.
  • If you close your eyes so you don’t have to move – let someone go ahead of you in a line.
  • If you swear at someone (whether they hear or not) – spot a lost tourist and help them.
  • If you don’t say hello, thank you, and goodbye/have a nice day to someone who serves you (whether or not they say it to you) – lose 100 internets.

I would love to know, what drives you absolutely batty in commuter behaviour, what rude things have you done to other people because of it, and what kindnesses do you do for strangers to (pretend to) be a nicer person?



8 thoughts on “London Hail Mary: how do you balance your karma when you hate everyone?

  1. Ericka Clay

    The settings on Black Box Warnings wouldn’t let me nest another comment, so I just wanted to thank you again for your perspective on my post. Knowing the unique viewpoint you have, your comments meant a lot and reminded me that I am on the right track with my daughter, I can’t second guess that. Oh and as far as a response to this post, I always like to hold doors for people, especially men just to see the look on their faces. 🙂

    1. shapelle Post author

      Haha yes! It’s such an unsettling grey area to hold – appreciating the civility but wanting to be an equal-opportunities modern woman. I made a dude suuuper awkward on the train the other day by making him take the seat. Didn’t mean to make him feel bad, he was just closer to it so it made sense, but he clearly didn’t know what to do with himself!

  2. Dan

    You have only being here for two minutes so it is a bit rich for you to move to a country and criticise the people and how we do things. If you don’t like the way things are done here then go home!

    1. shapelle Post author

      Hi Dan, it’s absolutely fair enough that you want to defend your country. I certainly don’t want to criticise its people, but this blog is about how I feel being a Kiwi in London and balancing how I absolutely LOVE some things and find others difficult. You’re right that it’s my choice to be here, and it’s my choice to write about it, and it’s also your choice to be reading about it. I’d really welcome a local’s perspective – as I’ve said on other blog posts I rarely meet a local as it seems a city of other foreigners – but I’m not sure if ‘go home’ is productive. You’re very welcome to reply and debate, but if you insist on being abusive I will have to moderate.

    2. Happy Kiwi Citizen

      Ah yes, I eventually got used to the xenophobic attitude of the old “chip on my shoulder” Brit. You got to hand it to them, this country is their entire life. It doesn’t get any better. While for us, we can go back to our sun drenched islands with stunning beaches and a lifestyle to kill for any time we like. Don’t listen to Dan, London is a place most people love and hate at different times in their lives. Ten years here myself and I am always grateful I have my life here and at home 4 beaches within a 45min drive 🙂

  3. Dan

    Hmmm Happy Kiwi Citizen, thats where you are wrong, I’m afraid. The UK is not our whole life, British Passport allows us to live a great life in most European countries. So if we want to escape London and instead live in a historic European city or even buy a house overlooking the Mediterranean we can! England is a lifestyle to kill for – free NHS (I believe in NZ it costs even to go to the GP??), cheap to travel from A to B as we are not isolated and most importantly we dont have inter fighting over land claims as you do in NZ.

    Anyway I don’t know why I am even bothering debating people on this blog. It’s is full or errors, poor grammar and the articles are far too long that one does loose interest after a while. Why is this blog called 1in12million anyway… please tell me you don’t think there is 12 million people in London?

    PS: Moderate all you want – this is a public blog where you have put your life out in public so people will comment and have an opinion if they write it in the comments or not.


    1. shapelle Post author

      Hi Dan,

      I explained the title on my about page:

      What’s with the title?
      The population of London is around 8 million, but there are about 12 million in the city on any one day, once you include non-permanent residents. Since I am going to be kicked out of the country after two years, I feel like I belong to that temporary population of comers and goers, and am one of the 12, more than one of the 8.

      You are certainly entitled to your opinions, as am I, and I’m entitled to write long ranty personal opinions, and make mistakes, and you’re entitled not to read them. Unlike you though, I would not say ‘if you don’t like it, get out’ – you’re welcome to stay and comment, and those comments don’t have to always be positive. I think you’ve missed the point that I love living in London, but it’s sometimes difficult, or challenging, and I think those things are interesting, and I write about them.

      As I think you imply, by putting them on the internet I invite criticism, and I would have welcomed your constructive thoughts if they weren’t bundled up in such a scratchy little attack delivery. Your approach was like saying you’re entitled to not like someone and taking that to mean it’s okay to punch them.

      Haere ra Dan – I certainly hope you find some reading material more to your tastes.

  4. Pingback: Living in the Past | 1in12million

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