There's something about the tube that makes people draw into themselves - hiding behind something and happy to be ignored.
If it's conversation you're after, you need nerves of steel to penetrate this force field, especially when you're a complete stranger and all you have to offer is an invitation to chat.
While travelling across Europe, I noticed strangers on the metro talk to each other much more than we do here. So I thought I'd give it a go on our Underground. After all, people from myriad backgrounds in their millions travel on it every day, so we must have something in common. Here's what I discovered...
You can't just launch into a diatribe
It's Monday, it is a near-silent carriage. But I'm a confident kind of guy. I settle into my seat and say out loud, "People don't really talk to strangers on the tube, do they?"
The girl opposite me reacts like I'm chatting her up, and starts shuffling in her handbag, the guy on the other end shakes his head at the lameness of the line. So I explain. "I'm just trying to talk to new people. Show them how easy it is." Now everyone thinks I'm a nut. And the last thing I'm doing here is proving how easy this is.
Lesson learned: You can't force people to talk to you, especially if it sounds like a lecture about how they really ought to.
It's all about connecting
Two things happen the next day to help me realise what makes strangers connect. I've convinced myself the man opposite me will bite my head off if I speak to him - with arms crossed and legs tucked in, his body language is a picture of a man locking himself in - but then the train driver makes an amusing apology on the overhead speaker and he bursts out laughing. We end up having a nice chat.
Later that day, a busker hops on-board, sings a few bars of 'Yellow' then very pleasantly passes the crowd holding his hat aloft. He makes eye contact, his smile is lovely, and he gets a fair few bob along the way. I make a wisecrack to the guy next to me about how people will pay you if you're nice even if you're singing Coldplay, and he admits he'd happily pay to stop someone singing Coldplay. A girl opposite wonders why people pick on Coldplay, and suddenly everyone on the carriage wants to answer...
Lesson learned: People on the tube may look closed off, but they're always up for a bit of entertainment.
Talking to people is natural
By the end of the week, I've got the hang of it. Older ladies talk to me about anything, tourists respond eagerly when I ask how they're finding London, guys are up for a laugh only if the situation calls for it, and girls will generally be pleasant and chatty as long as my demeanour isn't threatening or intrusive.
Ultimately, it comes down to being natural. If what comes out of your mouth feels forced, a stranger will wonder what the agenda is here. The more I simply start talking to people, the easier it is to engage.
Successful openers include: "Ooh, I've been meaning to read that book. How are you finding it?", "Do you know if I can to walk to Mornington Crescent from King's Cross?", "Those are wicked trainers, where'd you get them?"
Least successful one: "Do you think Le Pen might win?" to which I got the response, "Dunno, I'm from Leamington Spa."
Incidentally, no one actually likes talking about the weather. Down here, where you can't see or feel the rain or shine, what matters is how to pass the time while you get to where you want to go, and whether the guy speaking to you just wants a friendly chat while you're both here.
Lesson Learned: People aren't naturally unfriendly. We're so used to staying guarded on the Underground, sometimes all it takes is a smile and a hello to relax. Try it. You might just make someone's day.
Heineken's Open Your World campaign is showing people we have more in common than we may first think.