Most commuters say that they make sure not to make eye contact with other people while being inside the train. They tend to look up on the adverts, or look down and count the tiles on the floor, or simply bring something to read, just to avoid meeting eyes with other people. The question is why.
People are tired after work and looking at others engages other people to talk to you, and they just want to enjoy their own quiet time.
Many people in London say that the tube is used to commute, and not to talk to strangers. Majority have the same opinion that not making eye contact helps maintain their personal, private spaces. So now, we have a little bit of idea why people don’t make eye contact on trains.
1850s novelist Charlotte Bronte quoted,
“the soul, fortunately, has an interpreter – often an unconscious but still a faithful interpreter – in the eye.”
After the London bombing, survey shows that more people look at other passengers on the train to ‘interpret’ if they will cause trouble or not.
Our eyes even tell more stories than our words. Eyes can show happiness, sadness, curiosity, love and lies. Even the greatest poet can craft his feelings of love in his eyes better than his art of words.
The eyes are the mirror of our emotions. There are times that we’re too angry to talk, as if we’re a volcano about to explode lava, but we cannot hide it, for our eyes show the real strength of our anger.
Immersing in a Totally Different Culture
London, New York and Tokyo are all big cities and not making eye contact on the subway is a common and accepted practice. In trains, we don’t look at each other directly, but there’s something funny about making eye contact.
I had this ultimate first hand experience of being in Japan, and not being able to understand the language in all aspects resulted in many crazy adventures.
First off, you always seem to get lost and strive to avoid it because asking directions in Japan is not as easy as you think. I really tried my best not to get lost, but sometimes it just happens.
It’s true that being a tourist and getting lost around the city is a great way to explore new places, but not when you have an appointment or work to go to.
It appears that asking for directions has a formula:
Most of the time, the final and the only answer is “eye contact”. The person you asked basically looks at you with a smile.
At gatherings, I can see that some people are eager to tell me a story or ask me some questions, but since I and the other person cannot understand each other, we just try to point at things and communicate by eye contact.
Although if the story is really complicated or something that’s necessary for me to know (like a story about Totoro), then Google Translate comes in. In cases like these, Google Translate is our best friend.
Someone told me that my situation is like the Beatles song,
“You say yes, I say no. You say stop and I say go! You say goodbye, I say hello!”
Not only that usual chit-chats become more interesting with eye contact, but it’s also funny like playing a guessing game.
It doesn’t matter if you guessed correctly or not, what matters is you’re enjoying being a part of a non-verbal communication. Imagine the simplicity and creativity of just pointing at things, making eye contact, then burst out laughing as the end result. Hence another formula,
don’t talk: just point at things + make eye contact = laugh
There is this great power behind the unspoken thought, the eye contact. It’s simple, yet powerful.
What I’ve learned from my countless adventures in Japan is even though I don’t speak Japanese, it’s nice that we all understand each other in one language – the language of eye contact.