Commuter Etiquette – Eye Contact

In response to a request from a concerned reader I have written a short piece on the thorny issue of eye contact.

Many people ask me about eye contact when travelling public transport and what is appropriate. They say, ‘George, yesterday I got punched out on the train. What did I do wrong?’

There are many reasons why you might have been punched on the train, some of which might have nothing to do with eye-contact. Perhaps you were in the wrong seat, perhaps your assailant was just off their face on drugs or alcohol, or perhaps you are just one of those people that has ‘hit me – I deserve it’’ written all over you. However, the most likely reason is that you looked at the wrong person.

How can this be avoided?  Well, I admit that there are times when you find yourself looking at someone without consciously doing so. So, is person likely to hit for doing so? Well, there always a number of clues to consider in this situation:

  • If you are male and you find yourself looking at a woman’s breasts, does she have an incredibly large and angry looking boyfriend? If the answer is yes, then you could be in physical danger. If she doesn’t well you’ll probably be OK, unless she gets angry at your lecherous leering and slaps you herself. You probably deserve that.
  •  If they have ‘Millwall’ or ‘Chelsea’ or any other football club name tattooed on their forehead, or even the words ‘stitch this’, then I recommend you avoid eye contact at all costs unless you have very comprehensive health insurance or a deathwish.
  •  If the person is being loud and obnoxious staggering around, muttering to themselves in self-obsessed kind of way, or giggling semi-hysterically, I recommend you avoid eye-contact because even if they don’t assault you, they may do something worse – try to engage you in conversation.
  •  If they are a normal person, they will either give you an embarrassed smile or just look away and pretend that they were not looking in your direction at all. You should do the same as them. You’ll feel like a real dickhead if you end up smiling at someone who is no longer looking at you.

But what about the nutters? There are some real weirdos who travel on public transport. If you are not careful you’ll end up being cornered be the crackpot who has made eye contact with you and believes that you now his/her new best friend. This is a situation you want to avoid – believe me, I know. Before you can say ‘Fuck off you insane tosser’ you’ll be engaged in a deep conversation about how their can of soup is in fact a dangerous chemical weapon, or how ‘they’ are point rays at you to dissolve your brain and make you into a compliant drone to serve the government, or perhaps even that they not of this world (a fact that you may be in agreement with) and offering you a free trip to Alpha Centauri. Nutters hide in all sorts of disguises, so I suggest that you avoid eye contact with everybody top avoid this sort of thing occurring.

The safest thing to do on public transport is to stick your head in a book or the newspaper, blot out all distraction with a pair of headphones blaring music, and concentrate furiously on anything but the people around you – unless of course you know the person sitting next to you. In this case some limited conversation is permitted, but with all ‘bus’ or ‘train friends’, you should be aware that you probably don’t know that much about them and they could indeed be a Russian ‘Sleeper spy’, international terrorist, or mass murderer. You can’t be too careful these days.

Eye contact should therefore be avoided if at all possible. It’s quite simple really.

About George Fripley
I am a writer who enjoys writing humour, satire, poetry and sometimes a bit of philosophy. I live in Perth, Western Australia and occasionally get a poem or article published. It's all good fun! I have two books available for unwary readers, Grudges, Rumours and Drama Queens- The Civil Servant's Manual (This contains all that anybody could ever want to know about why government runs so slowly) and More Gravy Please! - the Politician's Handbook. (available through Amazon)

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