Saturday, April 18, 2009

Unwritten rules: and why they should be written down

Why is it wrong to put your feet up on the train, but perfectly okay to blast the whole train carriage with inane soft rock, throbbing techno, or even - though it's never happened in my experience - really good music?

It might be a sign of ageing, but I am so sick of people (mostly teenagers) sitting on the train and using their mobile phones as if they were ghetto blasters. Recently, F and I had caught a train to the city, and on the way home, between Footscray and Yarraville, a mild-looking thirtysomething passenger filled the carriage with loud, tinny Bollywood music. F and I looked up from our newspaper (me) and Mad magazine (him) to glare at her, and muttered to each other about the interruption to our peaceful reading, previously broken only when F decided to read me lengthy excerpts from Mad.
"I really wanted to take her phone and throw it out the window," I growled once we got off the train and stood waiting at the Anderson Street level crossing.
"Yeah, I reckon," said F.
"I was ready to punch her."
"I mean ... obviously, I would never punch someone. I was just that angry."
"Yeah, of course Mum."
"But I shouldn't have said that."
"No, you shouldn't."
"It was a bad example."
"Yes, it was. A TERRIBLE example." We looked briefly, unexpectedly, into each other's eyes, both caught staring at our reflections in the Chinese takeaway window as we moved down the street towards home.
"Why can't people wear headphones?" I grumbled.
"That's why iPods were invented!" said F, rather cannily, I thought.
"YES! You're so RIGHT! It's why Walkmans were invented before that, anyway. Walkmans, followed by iPods. I'm going to say that next time I see someone doing that. Thanks F."

Back home, I continued my rave, now aimed at The Husband.
"I am going to start taking those free earphones they offer you on the plane," I said, "and I'm going to carry a supply with me, and when I see people doing that again, I will just go up to them and give them a pair of earphones and tell them to use them. That's what I'll do!"
The Husband glanced up from the football on television, bemused. "You would go to all that trouble?"
"Yes. Yes I would."

I am kind of ashamed that the one time I did tell someone off about this it was a 12-year-old kid, who actually had a ghetto blaster (the size of his skinny torso) balanced across his knees. In my (lame) defence of only targetting the harmless, this was only the second time I'd encountered this trend of imposing your music on everyone, the first being the time I was so engrossed in my book that I accidentally caught the train to Altona instead of Williamstown, where a gang of shirtless tattooed boys, and girls in neon halter tops and alarmingly white hair, were playing a hip-hop version of Richard Marx as we rolled past a flame-topped oil refinery in the midst of a sheaf of bare paddocks. I was too freaked out wondering where this undeveloped space had sprung from and worried that the teenagers might beat me up to ask them to turn Richard Marx off.

Anyway ...

Yesterday it was four teenage girls, squealing and 'oh-mi-GOD-ing' about boys and getting pissed, playing 'More Than Words', a hideous bit of 1990s soft-rock (or 'soft metal ballad'), singing it at the top of their lungs and looking insanely smug and satisfied at successfully dominating the carriage. I may well have done the same thing at their age - I do remember singing 'American Pie' on the back of a few buses with my friends (no musical accompaniment) and thinking we were pretty damn special. I sat there and swore under my breath and glared and looked around the carriage, tryng to gauge my support if I shouted across for them to "shut the fuck up". I tried not to think about taking the phone and throwing it, or smashing it underfoot. I grew a little disturbed about just how violently angry I was about this admittedly trivial matter. I said nothing. And when one of the girls met my glare, I looked away. Damn.

And got irrationally, disproportionately angry again when I went up the Flinders Street Station escalators and nobody moved so I could walk up. Just as I am sure there is an unwritten rule that you use headphones on public transport, there is another that on escalators - especially at the train station - the people on the left stand still and on the right they walk. Like a fast and slow lane. It must be a rule, as so many people obey it unthinkingly so much of the time. Right? But because it's unwritten, it's hard to get mad or say anything when people don't obey.

If Connex wasn't so plagued by more serious problems, I would lobby them to write these rules.

Oh - and the other rule that made me mad when it was broken, as I got off the train - that you wait for the passengers on the train to get off before you get on. That's a rule, right?

Bloody unwritten rules.

Next time someone blasts their mobile phone music down the train carriage, I shall sit or stand next to the offender and proceed to read very loudly from my book at them. Yeah right.


Penni said...

Richard Marx? Really?

Yes, write those rules down. Let's just write them on sticky notes and plaster them everywhere. It can be a campaign of etiquette.

Watershedd said...

On the polished steel slopes between the up and down escalators at what I knew in another lifetime as Museum Station, there were indeed signs indicating to stand on the left and walk on the right.

Other unwritten rules:

Don't talk on your mobile phone when being served in a business, let the call go through to message bank (or cease the call if you're already on one).

Offer your seat to the elderly, infirmed or heavily pregnant if all the other seats are full on the train/bus/tram/ferry.

Be on time for you appointments and call if you are unexpectedly delayed. This one REALLY gets my goat. My workplace operates on 30 minute appointments. Being 10 minutes late is significant!

Kath Lockett said...

I like Penni's ideas re sticky notes. I'd like to do the same thing to FWD drivers. Stick a 'I have too much money and this car never leaves the bitumen' sticker on their back licence plate.

Damon said...

I'm nodding.

And iPods with headphones can be just as frustrating.

The problem is ingrained, celebrated incivility.

(Here's me whining about it.)

Ariel said...

Yes, I was as stunned as you Penni ... and I like your thinking on the sticky notes!

Watershedd, I am so happy you contributed that information! It proves that particular unwritten rule really does exist and I'm not imagining it. And yes, yes, yes to your other rules, ESPECIALLY number one.

Kath, again ... YES. (And can you distribute those stickers to the rest of us to spread the word?)

Damon, you're so right - it was the noisy iPod wearers who annoyed me first, before the ones who do;t even bother with an iPod.

Great article:

'At heart, civility is the basic requirements of politeness and courtesy for living in a built-up, densely populated urban environment - like a busy Connex train.'

Helen said...

Watershedd, it may come as a shock to you, but some people don't have mobile phones. Now that you've picked yourself up off the floor, it is actually good manners to apologise for an unavoidable delay... but a refusal to carry a mobile device doesn't make one into a social pariah, or at least, it shouldn't.

Ariel said...

Hmmm, actually, good point, Helen. I've had a couple of year-plus-long stints without a mobile (one ended last year) so I of all people understand that one.

Maybe that should be 'make an effort to call if you're unexpectedly delayed'. That said, I call from a payphone when I'm running late and don't have my mobile on me. Although, that's not always possible either.