Life and Style: Conversing with Fellow Passengers Whilst Onboard a Train

The first matter of consideration, when contemplating the etiquette of conversation for ladies and gentlemen undertaking a journey by rail, is the correctness of starting a conversation. According to some, it would not be proper for any lady to start a conversation with any of her fellow passengers.[1] Yet, if someone else should speak to her with propriety and respectability, then she should, in turn, respond in a like manner.[2] However, it would seem that this mode of conduct is not universally adopted. For instance, others suggest that a gentleman ought not to open a conversation with a lady, but that if a lady should start a conversation with him, then he should try and maintain it.[3] Given that this would require a lady to break from the first recommendation, this does leave the matter somewhat open to interpretation. Furthermore, alternative guidance laments the generally taciturn state of affairs onboard trains.[4] A debatable question of etiquette indeed, then.

However, if we suppose that by some chance a conversation is struck up, then it is only natural that the second point of conduct we address should be appropriate topics of conversation. Arguments should be prevented wherever possible. For that reason, it is best that ladies and gentlemen do not engage one another in conversation upon matters which will almost inevitably become heated. Matters of politics and theology are to be particularly avoided.[5] Ladies and gentlemen should also not frighten their fellow passengers by relating stories of railway accidents and disasters.[6] Such conduct would be most unfeeling and unkind, and therefore unfitting for a lady or gentleman.

The last matter of conversational etiquette pertains to the appropriate conduct to adopt towards less courteous or companionable persons, with whom a lady or gentleman might find themselves unfortunately seated. After all, we have presumed thus far that any conversation is taking place between like-mannered (if not like-minded) individuals. If a lady or gentleman should find that they are in the company of someone who wants to spend the journey – however many hours that may be – relating a series of ridiculous, pointless and frequently dull anecdotes, then the best course of action is to simply nod and smile and wait for them to disembark.[7] They are unlikely to mean any harm in their conversation, after all.

A nosey traveller is not so easily dealt with.[8] However, should a lady or gentleman find themselves subjected to a series of improper and impertinent questions or remarks, then there are number of evasion techniques they might choose to employ. They could, for example, become suddenly engrossed in a book. [9] If that fails, they might feign a deep sleep.[10]

Of course, there are too many circumstances or conversations which might arise on a train for us to deal with them fully here. This great innovation in transport can throw almost anyone together. Nevertheless, a conversation upon a train ought to be conducted with as much regard for courtesy and propriety as any other conversation. A lady or gentleman who bears this in mind is unlikely to discover that their conduct is found to be wanting.

Bibliography

Anon., Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, (London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1876[?]).

Anon., Mixing in Society: A Complete Manual of Manners, (London and New York: George Routledge And Sons, 1870).

Anon., The Railway Traveller’s Handy Book of Hints, Suggestions and Advice, Before the Journey, On the Journey and After the Journey, (London: Lockwood and Co., 1862).

Footnotes

[1] Anon., Mixing in Society: A Complete Manual of Manners, (London and New York: George Routledge And Sons, 1870), p. 140.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Anon., Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen, (London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1876[?]), p. 107.

[4] Anon., The Railway Traveller’s Handy Book of Hints, Suggestions and Advice, Before the Journey, On the Journey and After the Journey, (London: Lockwood and Co., 1862), p. 75.

[5] Ibid., p. 76.

[6] Ibid., p. 78.

[7] Ibid., p. 111.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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