As any Londoner knows, chatting to strangers on the Tube is simply not done. No small talk, no chit chat about the weather, no flirting—a carriage full of passengers will just sit in silence.
That struck Jonathan Dunne, an American who lives in the city, as strange.
“It’s a weird thing,” he said. “You’d see your colleagues on public transport and you sort of ignore each other. People that I’m friendly with and have worked with for years and years—you’d get on the train and wouldn’t say hello.”
That’s why Dunne came up with an idea to make Londoners a little more sociable. On Wednesday (Sept. 28), starting at around 7.30am local time, he stood outside one of the exits at Old Street tube station in central London and handed out badges with the words “Tube Chat” in the iconic typeface of the London Underground. The point was to encourage commuters to talk to each other—those open to a chat could signal it by wearing a badge.
Dunne, who works for the National Health Service (NHS), said he was trying to “break down the barriers.” He was inspired to start the project after trying—and failing—to set up a staff Olympics with his co-workers.
The experiment, well-intentioned though it was, didn’t go down too well with taciturn Brits. Many took to social media to vent their horror at the idea of being forced to chat—or listen to chats—during their commutes:
It also didn’t take long for an anti-tube chat badge to emerge…
Dunne has no illusions about his initiative catching on right away. ”People don’t like to speak on the Tube, and they don’t like to talk to people on the street,” he said. “Sitting there making eye contact and trying to hand badges to people was difficult… I imagine most of them ended up in the bin.”
Some people’s reactions were “over the top,” Dunne said, but overall it had been a “pretty positive experience.”
If nothing else, it’s safe to assume the last few days Dunne has spent talking to journalists and keeping up with public reaction have given him plenty to chat about.