The passive aggressive guide to surviving a hellish commute

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To tackle a rush hour commute these days is to run a full gauntlet of human emotion.

Tears, anger, frustration and despair bubble around like molecules in an atmosphere set to implode.

But this being Britain, we don’t give voice to the roller coaster of feeling.

Instead it festers under the surface, escaping only in the form of an eye roll, a tut or the odd backpack swipe.

With transport tensions running at an all-time high, we celebrate the untapped art of passive aggression – and how it plays out with some familiar transport-based bad behaviour.

Read on and revel in the thought of never having to express  yourself openly, ever again... 

The Busy and Important Power Walker

Defining characteristics: they set the pace because they are so very right.

What it says: I’m bending the world to my will and non-compliance will be greeted with tuts, brisk “excuse mes” or barely whispered “come the fuck ons”

Passive coping mechanism: slow down. Reaaalllyyy slow.

The Huffer

Defining characteristics: Greets every unexpected stop between stations with a huff depending on the severity of earlier delays. This escalates to a tut/huff combo in response to an an announcement bearing bad news and peaks when the carriage is told "This train will terminate at East Croydon” with a barely audible “For fuck’s sa……” tailing off into the distance. 

What it says: I am pissed off but I’m too British to scream and rage like I want to. 

Passive coping mechanism: If you can’t beat ‘em… To perfect the tut / huff combo one must tut when inhaling and huff when exhaling the same breath. Please note: this takes years of commuting practice and should only be attempted by season ticket holders.

The Blocker

Defining characteristic: Stops abruptly at the bottom of escalators and platform entrances to stare vacantly at the poster ahead  – oblivious to the pack of highly-strung commuters forming a bottleneck all around them.

What it says: Huh? You’re in a rush... ? 

Passive coping mechanism: A curt ‘excuse me’  and cut around should do the job.

The Barger

Defining characteristics: Mutters a commanding “excuse me”, while barging into you to get to a more desirable space in the carriage. Basically, a shove dressed up as a request. 

What it says: Move!

Passive coping mechanism: smile and block them with all your might.

The Armed Aggressor

Defining characteristics: This bag is on my back/shoulder/arm but I take no responsibility for its movements.

What it says: I’m protecting my space. If doing so means my accessory gets wedged into your body parts, tough.

Passive coping mechanism: Fight bag with bag.

The Cold-Blooded Overlander

Defining characteristics: Nabs a seat in Zone Five and sits relaxing as the brutally hot heater blasts out musty old air onto an ever-increasing crowd of standing commuters. There is sweat and breath literally dripping down the windows and despite the oddity of it being a balmy 24 degrees in December, no vent is cracked open. Car windows have been smashed to save dogs in better conditions.

What it says: faint all you like, I’m not risking a breeze.

Passive coping mechanism: Lean over and pointedly open the window above their heads to “let a bit of fresh air in”.

The Pole Slumper

Defining characteristics: Leans heavily against the tube pole so that no-one else can hold on, even when the carriage is packed to the rafters and hands are flailing helplessly all around them.

What it says: Screw you falling like flies as the train lurches from side to side - I don’t care.

Passive coping mechanism: Grimly cling onto the pole with a knuckle-like vice until they get the message and stand up properly, like their mums taught them to.

The ‘Can Everyone Move Down The Carriage’ Patrol

Defining characteristic: Trying-to-be-reasonable-but-ultimately-tense plea for people to move down – typically in a space where people are already stacked nose-to-armpit.

What it says: Well if no-one else is going to take control, I will.

Passive coping mechanism: Indulge in the wave of resentment that sweeps over your neighbours, as you  mutter to each other, ‘move down WHERE?’ 

The Heavy Breather

Defining characteristic: Insists on breathing directly into your face with laboured, vaporous gulps that go way beyond the common call for oxygen.

What it says: I see no need to censor my behaviour, simply because your face falls within two inches of mine.

Passive coping mechanism: The dip-duck technique. Dip your head away and down into the safe confines of your non-morning-breath scarf.

The Shopper

Defining characteristics: aged anywhere between 14 and 65, the Shopper can usually be found excitedly clogging up the Central and Victoria lines anytime between 11am and 7pm. Evidently from out of town (because no real Londoner would dream of doing a “big shop” on Oxford Street), they take up approximately 3x more space than they should, thanks to the 17 huge Next/Selfridge’s/Topshop bags dangling from their elbows.

What it says: Gosh, I can’t believe how busy London is! And isn’t everyone grumpy?

Passive coping mechanism: Embrace the persona of a hardened Londoner by barking, “Excuse me, can you move out of the way”. The Shopper doesn’t understand commuting etiquette and requires a firm hand.

The I Can’t See You-ite

Defining characteristic: Conveniently lost in their paper the minute an elderly person gets  on, so they aren’t forced to give up their seat. Ditto goes for refusing to see the woman struggling with her buggy at the top of a long flight of stairs.

What it says: I have no moral compass.

Passive coping mechanism: This one requires a more direct approach. No-one can ignore a pointed ‘excuse me, can you move please?’

The I-Won’t-Budge, Me

Defining characteristic: Stands languidly in the middle of the carriage during the 5pm scramble, oblivious to the swell of people boarding and with an apparent inability to move a few feet left or right and make room.

What it says: I’m pretending to be unconcerned but I’m actually deeply territorial. 

Passive coping mechanism: Make a big deal of stepping over them, sighing as you go.

The Space Invader

Defining characteristic: Gets up close and personal, even when there’s plenty of room. This is the class act that clips your heels on your escalator, or crowds you into a tube corner when there’s at least two people’s worth of space behind them. 

What it says: I am king of  the pavement (and everywhere else inbetween).

Passive coping mechanism: Develop a  sudden but ostentatious lurgy. Sniffle, cough, sneeze – loudly, mind you – you’ll soon reclaim those precious inches of lost ground. 

The Tinny Headphone-ite

Defining characteristic: Bad music blaring out of bad quality headphones, to teeth-grinding effect.

What it says: It’s my party and I’ll be a pain in the a**se if I want to.  

Passive coping mechanism: Tut and roll your eyes. Of course, Headphone-ite won’t notice but you’ll feel so much better for taking positive, grown-up action.

The Aisle-Seater

Defining characteristics: only ever sits in an aisle seat, in the belief that other commuters are too stupid to ask them to move, instead forcing people to clamber over them to sit down.

What it says: You’re all idiots and I don’t like to share.

Passive coping mechanism: make a real point of kicking them and dramatically tripping over, in order to reach the empty window seat. Then apologise profusely.

The Manspreader

Defining characteristics: legs spread so wide it’s almost 180 degrees, often at the expense of women cowering next to them just to fit in.

What it says: I’ve got ginormous testicles and I am full of manly testosterone.

Passive coping mechanism: Slowly spread your legs against theirs, pushing back in a subtle enough manner that other commuters don’t notice. If the manspreader is decent, they will move and apologise. If not: game on.

Photos: iStock

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Stylist Team