Opinion: Meditations in The Public Transport
Stoic, rested mouths, eyes averted to the passing concrete outside of the windows; or cell phones, or newspapers, or books. Old and young, a good percentage with headphones buried in their ears. Sitting and standing unmoved, quietly gliding through this city together.
In Berlin, public transportation during the day has an unspoken rule of non-communication. You can take an available seat next to somebody, but do not expect small talk or even a smile. It may seem discourteous, but that’s just a shade of the Berliner. You mind your own business. I call it the “nose rule,” meaning that if it is past the tip of your nose, do not fuck with it.
My theory is that those on their phones or in the grips of printed pages have more at stake. They don’t want to be bothered, seemingly busy with life and that’s how they want to be known. Luckily, the facet of daily travel here has created this passive way of staying hidden…but those looking past others and outside of the windows still want their eyes to be seen. They still want to see others and to discreetly exercise their curiosity. Whenever I take public transport, I see flickers of irises across the sclera, masked as an involuntary reflex, and I wonder if those eyes are begging to be caught and simply spoken to. Simply asked about a splinter of who they are.
Of course, the mouth never betrays and Germans follow the rules. Even the unspoken ones.
However, when the Earth turns her shoulder to the Sun, unwritten law vanishes. Train cars and buses teem with conversation in the evening, pupils unafraid of where to look. I observe these people with one another; lively, perched grins, eyes crinkled in the company of laughter and clanking bottles (optional). The boisterous language is incomprehensible to me, but I can conclude that their ingrained indifference was removed when they caught one another, there or elsewhere, and in those moments they don’t care if anybody else catches them.
So I sit, staring, but never past them at the concrete outside of the windows.
These observations are my own. Day and night provide different backdrops for passengers and their interactions. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you notice these behaviors.
By Lindsay McKean