YOU ARE HERE: negotiating public transport, level 2

So you’ve got your Oyster card in hand and you’re ready to take your first trip? Excellent! Let’s start with that ubiquitous London trademark, now celebrating its 150th birthday: the Underground.

For the uninitiated, looking at a map of the Underground (a.k.a. the Tube) is a bit like trying to read hieroglyphs.

Who in the what, now?

At least it was for me the first time I tried it. But don’t panic! It’s not nearly as complicated as it looks. As someone who was completely unsuccessful in my attempts to make use of the New York City subway, I can tell you that London is an absolute piece of cake if you follow a few simple rules.

The most important thing is to know where you are and where you’re going. The Journey Planner Website on TFL (Transportation for London) will become your best internet friend. I use it more or less daily. There are also pocket-size versions of the map above that you can snag at almost any station. Keep one handy at all times. Once you’re in a Tube station, use the signs. They are perfectly clear, they are everywhere, and they will help you avoid looking like a numpty tourist.

The other thing that will help you avoid resembling the village idiot is standing to the right on escalators. Nothing inspires the tutting, chuffing, eye-rolling ire of the locals like oblivious tourists standing to the left and creating a bottleneck of impatient commuters. However, no one will tell you you’re being unintentionally rude because Londoner commuters are nearly as passive-aggressive as my Minnesota family.

The rest of it is pretty intuitive; don’t step on people, don’t whap people in the head with your backpack, find something to hold onto so you’re not stumbling around like a drunk while the train bounces along between stations. Oh, and avoid eye contact with strangers, it makes them uncomfortable. Unless, of course, you’d like to invite them along to the pub.

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