British people are polite.
We say please and thank you in all the right places, we say sorry when we’re supposed, we queue up in a nice orderly fashion and we nod in greeting to our neighbours and friends.
Sure, we tend to complain about situations and things that really could be a lot worse (hello there, NHS), and we quite often get too big for our boots, but all in all we are a generally nice and polite country.
Irrespective of all our manners, politeness and good intentions, there is one thing that British people will not do under any circumstances, and that is: willingly sit next to each other on a bus.
For some reason, we go out of our way not to have to sit next to, god forbid, a complete stranger on public transport – including but not limited to putting our handbag or bag full of shopping on the empty seat next to us. I mean, does a carton of eggs really need its own seat?! And then we huff and we puff and we curse and we wince in psychological pain when we have to eventually move the aforementioned item to let an actual human being sit there.
Just the other day I found myself subconsciously doing the very thing I’m now ranting about. I got on the bus completely alone, and put my bag next to me, more for convenience than anything. The bus started filling up until eventually I had to put my bag on my lap. No big deal. Then this kid sat next to me – a boy of about 12/13 years old – but when I say sat next to me, what I actually mean is he sat on the very edge of the seat about as far away as he could get from me without hitting the floor.
He got out his phone and stared at it, although I could see there wasn’t actually anything there. He was just opening and closing the same message again and again and again. His eyes darted around the bus, looking anywhere except in my direction.
To be honest I probably freaked him out with how much I was scrutinising him and the situation we were in.
I just kept thinking about how if it were a bus in India or Nepal or Peru or Jordan or Colombia or basically anywhere outside of Europe, it would be full of laughter and chat as opposed to awkward silence and crying babies. Nobody would be sat alone; strangers would be sharing their lives with each other, and this boy would have been chatting away at me at ninety miles an hour.
If we were in Nepal, kids would have been fighting to sit with the blonde-haired, pale-skinned alien who they could use to practice their English.
If we were in India, people would have asked me my name, asked where I’m from. We would have chatted.
If we were in Peru, I probably would have been the one to start a conversation with my fellow passengers.
But we were in Wales, so me and the kid sat in silence for the next five minutes instead, until we came to my stop where I awkwardly squeezed past him, mumbling a sarcastic thanks as he did nothing to get out of my way. The British way.
As much as I love the peaceful silence of the Number 6 and all its awkward passengers, I absolutely cannot wait to find myself smack bang in the middle of the chaotic yet exhilarating public transport in Sri Lanka and India.