-- An American living in London has started a campaign to try to get people to talk to each other during their commutes, but he’s being met with stiff resistance.
Jonathan Dunne comes from a small town in Colorado where he’s used to striking up conversations with strangers. Since moving to London in 2010, he’s found it much more difficult to even exchange pleasantries on the train or in other public places around the city.
Dunne told ABC News that he was particularly struck by the silence on trains during morning and evening commutes, with most riders focused more on their phones or reading material. "If you just go up and speak to strangers here, that’s totally weird," he said. "You can’t go around talking to people you don’t know."
This week, Dunne tried something new. He stood inside a train station handing out pins emblazoned with the words, "Tube chat?" a reference to London’s subway system known as the tube. Dunne's idea is that wearing one of the pins signifies to other commuters that you’re receptive to a chat.
He hoped the novelty of the idea would get attention from passersby at the Old Street station in Central London. "I thought people would be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s good.'"
It took him two hours to Dunne hand out 480 pins during a crowded morning rush hour. "Most people ignore people that try to hand them things in the station," he said, adding that the biggest reaction he got was from a nearby panhandler who yelled at him for appearing to encroach on his territory.
The response on social media, however, has been far from indifferent. Some Londoners on Twitter have called Dunne's campaign an "abomination" or a "monstrosity," while others have pointed to the futility of the American's efforts.
A counter campaign has even been started called "Shut Up Tube Chat."
One London commuter surmised that part of the aversion to the campaign is that most people in the city just don’t do small talk on the tube.
"It’s just not the norm here, that’s why," tube rider Nadim Sadat said. "It’s mostly pretty quiet. People talk only if it’s necessary."
As if to prove his point, Sadat said during a recent interview on the tube that he’d been traveling on the train for an hour without talking to a single person.
Sadat isn't opposed to the tube chat campaign. "The idea of connecting people in that way kind of appeals to me," he said. "But I think that’s quite an American thing, I guess … People wouldn’t go for that here."
Some other commuters said that they don't want to spend their time on the tube in conversation with strangers. "If it’s late in the day and I’ve been in meetings all day, the last thing I would want is someone chatting to me randomly," said Salma Ali during her Friday late-afternoon commute. "I would be polite, but I’d probably be wanting to shut it down quite quickly."
Dunne isn’t bothered by the less-than-enthusiastic public response. He said his inbox on Facebook has been overflowing with messages of support. "This idea that there’s one kind of Londoner is not true," he said. "There are some people who aren’t threatened by the idea of speaking to someone else sometimes."