Commuter Etiquitte & the recommended Commuter Survival Kit

If there is one thing train commuters have in common, it’s that every single one of us has a minimum of 3 crazy, I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened experiences.

Just like many Melburnians, I am a work commuter. On average in a week, I spend ten hours – just under half a day on the train! That is a whole lot of time! But for those of us curious about human behavior, this time gives for ample opportunity for observation. And boy does it deliver! Just for clarification, I am no a psychologist.

First and foremost, commuter etiquette is entirely time dependent. This may sound odd, that’s because human behavior on the train is often that; odd, unusual, surprising and entertaining.
Take a morning, peak hour commute (6.30am to 8.30am)(during the day time, the level of ‘woooaaah reeeally?’ can hit a whole new level), you have a number of scenarios playing out in pockets of the carriages. You have people eating breakfast; women (and some males) applying their face of make up for the day. You have conversations between people who have coordinated their commute, however in the often near silent journey, their conversations are amplified. You have the sleepers who desperately seek the window seat as something to lean against. You have the readers and their ever changing facial expressions in response to their material; you have the students shuffling through their school homework, all crumpled and then re-shoving it in their bag. There are the workers, busily and stressful typing away on their laptops. The Facebookers who scroll away through news, games and gossip to occupy their time. If you listen (often without any attempt), you will hear the music preferences of those around as well as personal conversations people must make and regardless of how quiet they are – and to those commuters, don’t be fooled – we can all still hear everything!
So after 8 years of on the job, observational experience, these are my tips on etiquette.

1. Minimization.

I refer to your luggage that you haul with you on the train. Be mindful that should you wish to be seated in the normal seats, the allotted space to you is the space between your legs on the floor and whatever you can hold on your lap. That is all. Not the seat beside you nor those in front. Should you require more train real estate, you may be required to stand. Or deal with the deathly glares of the standing commuters.  For those commuters who are lucky to live close enough to the city destination, yet cursed with the ill fortune of having to stand as there are no available seats during peak hour, commuter etiquette is still applicable.  Should you wish to read standing, be mindful that you are not forcing your fellow commuter to read the same materials you have virtually shoved in their face.  We are all aware that while your body is learning great balancing skills in not falling on your face and onto your fellow commuters when the train unexpectedly sways and I concede it is very much a skill to ‘train surf’ within the carriage, there are designated locations to hold on.  Here is where the important train etiquette comes in – be mindful not to lean against the pole, taking away opportunities for others to hold on for dear life; move down the carriage if there is room – there is nothing more annoying than hearing someone yell from the train platform to ‘move down the isle’!  To those yelling to push people down the isle, be conscious that they may not have something to hold onto…

The message of minimization is to be conscious of your personal space and to know that sometimes on the commute, you won’t even be afforded that much space.

2. Eating Consideration

Be considerate of your breakfast choice. We are all hungry when we have no time to scoff our breakfast before leaving the house, however perhaps opt for less poignant options. How about just a solid suggestion of no eggs! Simple. Whilst any other food source is acceptable, let’s take that back to basic – eat with your mouth shut. Simple.

3. Hygiene

Learn about your personal hygiene. Basic. If your nose is running, blow it! With a tissue! Especially in winter! To sit for an entire train ride to hear someone trying to catch their escaping nose occupants with a full and hearty snort that turns the egg eater off their breakfast may be karma against the egg eater but stomach turning for the rest of us. Further, overt nose pickers minus a tissue will be stared down with laser beam death stares. Public service announcement: Carry tissues at all times! It should be part of your survival kit for public transport (you will find my survival kit recommendations below).

In regards to your body odour, my basic tip on etiquette is one simple rule.  Shower. Shower.  Shower.  Apply deodorant – after you shower.  I’m all for living liberally and appreciating the environment and saving water, however I find it near impossible to hold my breath for a 50 minute train ride because my nasal passages are heavily assaulted by the waft of your lack of hygiene.  For those with genuine body odour issues, I apologies if you take offence with my honesty and lack of sensitivity, however I cannot tell the non-washers apart from those with issues.  In the overall scheme of the issue, I am trapped in a confined space unable to breathe.

4. Personal Grooming

Be considerate about what personal grooming you engage in. Make up application is (in my opinion) inoffensive. I particularly find it fascinating watching a beauty make over during my train ride (I inadvertently run commentary in my head like those extreme makeover tv shows). However, do not confuse make up application with such activities as cutting your nails, shaving unwanted hair and plucking eyebrows (although the latter is borderline for me)… There is nothing more concerning and disgusting than shielding yourself from rogue cuttings flinging all over the place!  I am considerate of the personal choices for the use of commuters time, however there is a clear line between getting things done on the train that saves time (ie. eating and make up application) and things that should be carried out in your personal space such as cutting nails and shaving…no idea how that is ever acceptable…

 5. Human Consideration
This next part will take you back to the time when you were in primary school and your parents or teachers would give a lesson on basic human consideration.  Respect those around you.  On the train, I am astounded by how many people turn away and pretend to be so occupied by their phone or the window to avoid eye contact with the pregnant lady or the elderly passenger.  It frustrates me to no end that able body people who are heading into an office where they will be sitting for the next 8 hours, cannot give up their seat for someone who actually needs it.
Common sense unsurprisingly plays a huge part in how random strangers are expected to interact in a confined space – but that is somewhat more of the exception than the rule.
Commuter Survival Kit
Now, I hear you scoff at such a suggestion, however just as every boy (or girl) scout is ready for any situation, as a commuter the very same rules apply.
You can never be too prepared for a train emergency of varying degrees, whether it be a very delayed train; a train cancellation whilst you are on the train and you have to walk a distance; a runny nose; a sardine packed train carriage or anything really – the possibilities are endless!
Here are my suggestions for your very own Commuter Survival Kit:
1. Always make sure your phone has enough battery – you never know when you will need to:
(a) Call work to tell them you are running late;
(b) Call home / friends / appointments to tell them you are running late;
(c) Call someone to collect you when the train literally refuses to take you any further;
(d) Call someone to keep you awake on the train in fear that you will fall asleep and drool on the person beside you;
(e) Entertain yourself with Facebook, Pinterest, games and all the other magical ways you can waste time on the train; and
(d) To provide you a space of personal music concert if you have music on your phone…remember the headphones!  Been caught out many times without the headphones – and before you ask – unless you are open to criticism from the entire train carriage and willing to play music that everyone likes and will enjoy – no headphones no music…
2. Have paper material to read in the event that your phone has died and staring out the window will not entertain you for long enough.
3. T I S S U E S !  I cannot stress this one enough – basic!
4. Hand sanitizer – post commute – sometimes the old trains leave you feeling like you need a hydro bath!
5. Sensible shoe options!  I recommend thongs or ballet flats in your handbag.  This will allow a quick change over in the event you are forced off the train and need to walk a fair distance.
6. Warm clothes – all year round.  If you are fortunate enough to be a window sitter, there is the most awful blowing cold air that rains down on you for the entire commute!  It’s almost just the compromise that if you get window seat, you get the coldest part of the train..
7. Always remember to bring your manners!
Happy commuting!
~ F.P

One thought on “Commuter Etiquitte & the recommended Commuter Survival Kit

  1. Spent a little over two weeks traveling from Tecoma to the city [not peak hour]. I loved it. As the weeks wore on, and I got more and more fatigued, I found that I too became more like everyone else and did not engage in a lot of conversation……. I was getting the flu so maybe that contributed as well. I enjoy the train [and the tram] probably because I no longer have to do it every day. I also enjoyed your post….. well done.

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