There are lots of great things about living in London. If there weren’t, why would we stick around? For the weather?
But life in a city as big as this has its challenges, not least of which is the sheer number of people here. With millions of Londoners trying to go about their busy lives, we rely on the politeness of others to keep us sane. And when this politeness breaks down – when fellow Londoners cross the line into outright rudeness – it can make even the most patient of us lose our cool pretty quickly.
Rudeness in London can take many forms. Failing to stand aside to let others leave the tube. Talking loudly on the phone in restaurants or cafés. Showing scant regard for the (admittedly archaic) rules of the bus queue. Nearly everyone who lives in London has a personal bugbear, a rude behaviour that winds them up beyond belief.
Getting wound up is one way to respond to rudeness, but it’s not the best: life’s stressful enough already so why let more tension into our lives? We need to handle rudeness differently, to keep our stress levels down and those grey hairs at bay. And there are three options: to Flee, to Fudge, or to Fight.
1 – Flee
The more people there are, the ruder they get
Do you hate rudeness so much that you just want it out of your life for good? Then Flee might be the strategy for you. Taking drastic steps now can significantly reduce the levels of rudeness you’re exposed to. We’re not talking about moving out of London here – let’s not be silly. We’re talking about changing your daily routine so that when rudeness is on the cards, you’re out of sight.
What makes people rude? Lots of things, from bad weather to bad coffee, but one thing that’s guaranteed to make people behave rudely is other people. Especially when there are lots of other people. Ever felt snappy and irritable when standing alone on sun-drenched shore? No, me neither.
Learn the times and places where your routine will bring you into contact with rude people, and avoid them. This is the essence of the Flee strategy. Some ideas for how you could put it into practise:
- Seek obscurity – London is a huge city with lots to offer. So why do so many of insist on frequenting the same jam-packed bars and restaurants as everyone else, when we’re just going to encounter stress and rudeness? Do some research online and find the hidden gems in your area, where there will no doubt be lots of pleasant, quiet places. Heading off the beaten track will get you away from the crowds and you’ll find that people are politer.
- Early bird – The morning rush hour reaches its height at around 8.30am. This is when the tube is busiest and commuters become the most brutal. Because this is when most of us are trying to get to work, we end up experiencing a lot of rudeness – in fact it can take nearly all day to unwind from the stress of the morning commute. So why not try to adjust your daily routine to start the day earlier and leave work earlier? London is a nicer place when the streets are quiet.
Walk a bit further to the quieter stop, trading a bit of time for a rudeness-free journey
One stop ahead – Another Flee tactic is to think about the bus stops and tube stations you use. Maybe you’re exposing yourself to unnecessary rudeness levels by getting on at busier stops. If so, consider using stops a bit further back on your route even if it means walking slightly further. Getting on buses or trains when they’re quieter might take more time, but if rudeness is seriously getting you down, it might be worth your while.
If Flee is the right strategy for you, you’ll no doubt have lots of other ideas about how to adapt it to your own lifestyle or routine. You might even discover a calm, hidden side of London that no-one else knows about. If you do, please tell me about it.
2 – Fudge
The British are globally renowned for their passive aggressiveness. It helps us make others know how we feel, without committing the grave faux pas of making a scene in public.
The only problem is that passive aggressiveness is only effective when it’s understood, like a language. All the passive aggressiveness in the world won’t have an effect on someone who’s oblivious to its signals. This is why tourists often persist in having a good time in London despite our pointed stares and aggravated tuts – they’re completely oblivious to them.
This doesn’t mean that passive aggressiveness can’t be a solution to Londoners’ rudeness problems, however. It’s worked for generations of Londoners so why can’t it work for us? Here’s how we can respond to rudeness by simply fudging it:
- Non-verbal disapproval – Tuts, exhalations. Younger Londoners might want to try sucking air through their teeth, but if you’re over 25 don’t try this, you’ll look and sound daft. (Make sure you don’t do it too loudly though, otherwise people might think you’re mad)
- Silent venting – Experienced rudeness? Venting can help. Maintain your cool, get out your smartphone, and share a snarky update with the world via Facebook or Twitter (or if you’re old-fashioned about these things, text your best pal). Lots of people do this: search Twitter for “on the bus” and you’ll see a stream of commuters venting about the inconsiderate, unsanitary and downright rude behaviour of bus passengers the world over. It might not send a message to the rude person but at least you get to air your frustration to the world at large.
- The secret posse – rudeness is easier to cope with if we feel like we’re getting other people involved, and there are ways to do this without causing an unsightly public confrontation. The technique to master is eye contact. By making the right sort of eye contact with other victims of the rudeness – disapprovingly raised eyebrows, subtle head-shakes, rolling your eyes to the sky – you send the signal that you’ve noticed the rudeness and that you don’t approve. If you get eye contact in acknowledgement, congratulations: you have a secret posse! Your distaste at the rudeness is shared with fellow Londoners and you will all feel much better for it.
Use eye contact to recruit a secret posse. You’ll feel better without making a scene
But this strategy is only useful because it makes us feel better. We end up thinking we’ve done something about rude behaviour through passive aggressiveness, but because rude people don’t understand passive aggressiveness they’re completely oblivious.
If you want to really get the message across to rude people, you have to do better than fudge: you have to Fight.
3 – Fight
It would be great if rude people were challenged in public about their behaviour. Before too long they’d be shamed into being better citizens and life would be easier for the rest of us.
But this isn’t New York – this is London, where people hate making a scene in public so don’t like to confront rudeness openly. This means that the third strategy, Fight, is a tricky one for Londoners to adopt and needs to be carefully calibrated if it’s going to work.
Imagine you’re queuing for tube tickets and someone with a rucksack and camera appears to be pushing in. Maybe they’re doing it on purpose, maybe they aren’t: well-meaning tourists often get these things wrong and tube stations can be confusing. Even still, you’re thinking that something needs to be said.
Just as you’re clearing your throat to correct this errant individual, a man behind you loses his patience and shrieks in rage. His outburst has something uncontrolled, frantic, almost animal about it, and although largely incomprehensible there was definitely a swearword in there. Rather than rallying around this unwanted hero, everyone in the queue averts their gaze, embarrassed on his behalf. He is now the social pariah and the tourist’s transgression is forgotten.
This is an example of how fighting rudeness can misfire and cast you, not the rude person, as the villain. To prevent this happening you must follow the three cardinal rules of the Fight strategy:
- No fudging! Clearly register your disapproval with the rude person
- No hysterics! Establish yourself as the most socially adjusted person in the situation
- Take the lead! Make sure others are aware of what you’re doing
Each of these points is as important as the other. You must make sure that the rude person is aware of your challenge – if they aren’t you’re simply Fudging, which is something else entirely. You can’t get too angry or hysterical and you have to know when to stop – if you seem unhinged or furious the rude person could turn this to his or her advantage. And you have to make your challenge public – don’t just take the rude person aside, they have to get the impression that it’s not just you who is offended by the behaviour.
All this sounds difficult, but there is a weapon we all have up our sleeves that can help: humour.
Being funny and assertive: the best way to fight rudeness without being rude
As this diagram shows, it’s sometimes possible when fighting rudeness to actually be rude yourself. On the other end of the scale though you can be assertive, you can be funny, or – best of all – you can be both assertive and funny. This is the best way to fight rudeness.
Being funny can get a laugh from everyone around you, making the confrontation public; it establishes you as the socially adjusted person, rather than a scarily intense vigilante; and it makes the rude person get the message without feeling like you’re picking a fight.
So let’s go back to our example of the tube ticket queue, where someone has pushed in. Rather than losing his rag and screaming, the vigilante could have used humour in his response:
- Gesturing at the queue and saying, “Not so fast! Suffer with the rest of us” – this works because it includes everyone else through body language and directs the blame towards the general chaos of the station, not the queue-jumper
- Ironically praising the queue-jumper’s enthusiasm for getting to work
- Directly telling the person that they need to queue, then saying to everyone else “We’re obviously not queuing hard enough!” – again, this involves the others but still gets the message across to the rude person
You have to be concise, otherwise people won’t understand what you’re saying; avoid condescension, so you don’t come across like a snob; try to work in a sardonic reference to your circumstances, to create a bond between you and everyone within earshot; and don’t be too self-deprecatory as this can take you into passive-aggressive territory.
Of course this is easier said than done! But practise makes perfect.
And don’t worry if you don’t feel up to fighting rudeness – you can always Fudge or Flee, and your fellow Londoners won’t think any less of you for it.