People Watching on the Subway – fifth-wheeling, shoe-studying, and terrible fake tan

Public transport is one of my favourite places to people watch. Being on a bus, train or plane puts you in close proximity to strangers, with no obligation to talk to them. Over the past couple of days, making use of Glasgow’s subway on my adventures, I have encountered a variety of people, and I want to share some of my favourites.

On one journey, I found myself seated in between two couples. Initially, my inward reaction was: “Well, this is a tad awkward.” However, the contrast between the two couples was so entertaining that I forgot about my fifth-wheeling in my shameless eavesdropping. Couple One are best described as cute. They were snuggled close together, holding hands, chatting and giggling quietly. They both looked dressed up, so I’d say it was date night for them. Couple Two, however, were having an in depth debate about the nature of God and what He means to people, including discussions about whether He is good, if people should think of Him as having an image, and whether the gods of different religions are actually all the same God. Like I said, brilliant contrast, totally worth the awkwardness.

As well as couples, another type of people I tend to notice on the subway are parents and children. Yesterday, I saw a girl who literally looked like a miniature version of her Mum, helped by the fact that they were wearing similar, slightly eccentric clothes. There are two things I love about kids on the subway. The first is how excited they get, making faces in the windows, counting the stations, reading the signs aloud to make sure everyone around them knows how clever they are. The second is that they don’t do what almost all adults do, and avoid eye contact at all costs. Kids smile and chat away quite happily, while adults awkwardly study the advertising or their shoes. (Speaking of shoes, my flatmate and I decided retail therapy was a great idea, and ended up with the same shoes. It’s totally justified, in fact, I’d say it’s a kindness to other people, because when we wear them together, people on the subway will have something fun to look at.)

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The matching shoes

A couple of days ago, I found myself on the subway when schools had just finished, and three girls caught my attention. One of them was wearing particularly awful fake tan, and smudged bright red lipstick, and this, coupled with her black hair and fringe gave her an unfortunate resemblance to Mini Mouse. (No judgements, we’ve all made questionable fashion/make up choices) She was sitting beside another girl, also with an interesting fake tan job, but less extreme make up and a severe ponytail. As they got onto the train, this second girl pushed the third girl into the seat opposite her, put her foot up on her lap, and demanded she tie her shoelace. To my surprise, the third girl only hesitated slightly before tying the lace. In Mini’s defence, she didn’t join in with Ponytail, and I think tried to diffuse the situation by talking non-stop for the rest of the journey. At the time, I have to admit, I thought it was all quite funny, especially when I overheard someone else on the subway mutter:

“…and that is why I do not want to have kids in Glasgow.”

However, almost immediately after getting off the train, I wished I had said something. As previously mentioned, the British adult avoidance of eye contact on public transport meant that, apart from a few disapproving looks, no one reacted to a schoolgirl was being humiliated by her classmate. While the girls at my school were more bitchy, less obnoxious than Ponytail, I can relate to the third girl’s predicament. I remember very clearly trying to please and impress the “popular” girls at school, and also very clearly my realisation shortly afterwards that, actually, I didn’t care what they thought of me. I wish I had stopped the girl tying Ponytail’s shoelace, and pointed out that she didn’t have anything to prove, to her, or any other “Queen Bee” type, but I’m pretty sure she’s already on her way to that epiphany. For one thing, she was already doing better than me at that stage, since she hadn’t succumbed to the terrible fake tan trend.

Kirsty x

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