Why don’t people make eye contact in London?

Eye contact in London

This article about why Londoners don’t make eye contact was published by the Great British Mag content team on 23 November, 2019

If everyone you passed on a London street stared straight at you, you’d find it unsettling. But in this vast city, home to nine million people, you can expect exactly zero eye contact from strangers at virtually all times. And this, if anything, is worse.

A typical Londoner would rather drop their fish and chips or get mowed down by a black cab than risk looking up and locking retinas with another human. The only thing that might prompt them to volunteer eye contact with a stranger is an absolute crisis—if, say, someone in their sight line was standing on the wrong side of the escalator. (Please note: stand on the right; walk on the left. No exceptions). Get this wrong and you can expect not so much eye contact but actual eye lasers followed by some hyper-aggressive grumbling.

So, why is it that Londoners stubbornly resist the more friendly variety of eye contact with their fellow citizens? Not meeting the gaze of an unknown person, at least in this case, is a defence against appearing vulnerable in a huge, overcrowded city. If your eyes do lock with a stranger’s, the next thing you know, you might have to actually talk to them. The horror!

There is, however, one set of circumstances in which a Londoner might actually volunteer affable eye contact: when they’ve had a drink. Alcohol is Brits’ anxiety medicine of choice, and no one enjoys an inhibitions-loosening beverage more than a Londoner.

Should you happen to spot an attractive Londoner on their way home from the pub, on a tube or bus perhaps, this would actually be a good time to make suggestive eye contact. If you’re feeling especially brave, you could even take it up a notch and try a full-on flirty smile. With their guard down, you never know where it might lead.

But for fleeting or meaningful (sober) eye contact on any form of public transport in the nation’s capital, a serious delay or mishap is pretty much your only hope. Misery, particularly the kind that plagues our bus, train and tube systems, unifies Londoners—and all Brits really—more than joy ever could.

And why is this exactly? That, I’m afraid, is a whole other column.

If you have a question for our resident Brit, email us at askabrit@greatbritishmag.co.uk.