What’s in a face?

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?



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5 responses to “What’s in a face?

  1. Left-Brained Business for Write-Brained People

    Great post, and it mirrors the way I felt when we went to London a few years ago.


  2. we live in a different world it seems to strike a conversation with a stranger is never out of the ordinary neighbors know all about your family and its not considered nosy i simply love it 🙂

  3. Hi Kelly,

    I first noticed this pheonomenon back in the eighties when I used to visit London a lot – on the underground – so many people crammed unbearably close together it was a miracle how no one’s eyes were actually in contact – all safe within their own little bubbles of privacy, exactly as you describe. It seemed alien to me and quite chilling, being a naive northerner with mud on his shoes who’d still nod in greeting to any passing stranger (and still do, but only up north). But more recently I rode the train from Manchester’s Oxford Road at tea time and it was the same. How we managed to be crammed so close without touching I can’t imagine – one poor woman under my arm as I hung onto the rail for dear life, yet still a million miles away and me afraid of speaking or even smiling in polite embarrassment in case she thought I was a loon. Could that be it? Politeness, respecting the other’s space/privacy – it does seem a terrible loss though that we’re not more naturally open with each other.

    Regarding your Gravatar BTW, what’s that you’re drinking? By the look on your face, I need to get some.



    • I think that’s it, for the most part. We’ve become such an insular society, where we don’t want to interfere, to make contact, to run the risk of offending or inconveniencing someone that, for the most part, I think it is this warped sense of politeness. It is incredibly sad though.

      In one hand I have tia maria and fresh orange (tastes like Terry’s chocolate orange so it becomes very sickly if you attempt to drink too much), and a beer. haha. I think that look was the result of doing Beer Lunges (an exercise me and my friend developed).

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