As a frequent traveller on trains, I’m beginning to notice how vast the world really is – so many different types of people; whether that be race, height, age, dress sense, expressions, mannerisms… and so on. It really is incredibly interesting to take note of this, but is frowned upon to look at.
There’s this unspoken rule on trains, particularly in rush hour, where you mustn’t meet anyone’s eye for fear of causing offense, or encouraging unwanted attention. Maybe it isn’t even that, maybe there’s concern you’ll freak them out or just seem incredibly rude ‘staring’ at them. Everyone looks though.
I’ve sensed people staring at me at times but, by the time I’ve glanced their way, they have quickly averted their eyes. And to think, if we just made a casual comment, looking at someone wouldn’t seem quite so rude.
This is my approach from time to time. Not often, mind, as I can be a little skittish socially, but I have made the odd comment about general things that are supposedly acceptable in such circumstances. Mundane things really, but it breaks the ice and there’s less of that uncomfortable ‘people in my personal space’ feeling.
I couldn’t help but wonder recently though, who people actually were. I was looking about the busy train and taking in a combination of tired, jolly or haunted faces and wondered what their story might be. With Mr Chatty sat next to me talking to everyone but his mum on the phone in the ten minutes he was there, I had been looking so intently at several individuals that I wouldn’t be surprised if they had known I was doing it, though I have found the window reflections quite a handy tool as it’s seemingly less invasive.
There were two asian girls that had such similar features – flawless skin, pretty almond eyes and well defined upper lips – chatting so energetically in their native tongue whilst sharing their music, that I was quite sure they were either related or had just grown up together. Their body language and interactions seemed to mirror each other perfectly in many ways, and appeared so relaxed in each other’s presence.
Then there was the usual, immaculately dressed business men but, one in particular caught my eye – tall and slim in his well tailored finely pinstriped suit and bright white trainers. I almost laughed right there and then when I caught sight of them. I’m guessing the matching shoes were just too unbearably uncomfortable to break in during his commute.
And a young woman, clinging to the hand rail and swaying with the motion of the train but, when catching sight of her face through the dishevelled waves of her straw-like hair, her eyes had a glassy sheen from unshed tears.
These are just a few observations, but it highlights to me how rich and colourful the world is around us. How many interesting characters there are in this world to meet, some people we should approach, and yet we all seem to sit in our little bubbles, cringing whenever our shoulders brush the person next to us. We have this huge issue with personal space, which I totally get, having what I’m sure is a nature in preference of seclusion. I do often find soliary pursuits far more comfortable but, frequently, have to push myself out into the big, wide world to actually experience some of it. I’m not ready to be the bearded crone just yet.
But why is this? I’m led to believe we were once people that knew our neighbours well, would say “hello” to anyone we passed in the street, and would happily make conversation with anyone inclined to. I’m finding this harder and harder to believe. Were we really social butterflies? Were we really a considerate and compassionate race? Everything I read or see with my own eyes is repeatedly pointing to the opposite conclusion… was it all an elaborate lie, told to make us aspire to be better people? Or has society really declined so drastically, and why? What was the catalyst?