If visitors fail to stand on the correct side of escalators (stand on the right, walk on the left), or don’t let people off trains before attempting to get on, they feel Londonders’ wrath – and with good reason: these rules work, keeping this behemoth of a city moving with the least amount of fuss.
Now Geneva is taking inspiration from these very British rules to encourage public transport users in the city of Calvin to be more courteous to each other.
On Monday three actors dressed as quintessential Brits – one in the busby and red jacket of a Buckingham Palace Foot Guard; one in black tie and top hat; and a third dressed as the Queen – were on hand at Geneva’s Cornavin train station to show people how to board trams and buses in a polite and respectful manner.
He's normally outside Buck House, but now he's showing Geneva residents how to board a tram. Photo: Geneva transport dept.
The aim was to stop people pushing onto carriages without waiting for others to get off first – a common occurrence in Geneva.
The stunt was part of the city’s ongoing GE-RESPECTE campaign, initiated last year by the city’s transport department, to raise awareness and encourage civilized behaviour among transport users.
“On public transport the English take care to be respectful, they let people get off [before boarding],” Geneva transport minister Luc Barthassat told The Local. “These are things that unfortunately in Geneva we get the impression have been lost. When people are in a hurry they fail to pay attention to others.”
The three clichéd British characters were chosen for the campaign “because everyone knows them”, he said, adding that public transport users in Japan are also known for being polite but that the proximity of Britain and British culture makes their behaviour more relevant to the Swiss.
To boost awareness of the campaign the three actors also gave out mint chocolate in the station – mint is a popular chocolate flavour in England but, as any English expat in Switzerland knows, it's not common in the alpine country.
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“The campaign is aimed at every transport user, whatever their chosen method of transport,” Barthassat added. “That’s really the main objective, to make everyone realize that they have a role to play, that with better behaviour things will work better.”
The overwhelming reaction has been positive, with many posting their responses on social media.
“An excellent idea to go ‘British’”, one woman wrote on the campaign’s Facebook page, adding that her experience of using public transport on a recent visit to London was very positive. “It’s a shame the weather isn’t better [in England], because for the kindness and self-discipline of the English I would certainly move there...”
“In London, people wait patiently in line for the bus and wait until other people get off before boarding,” said another.
Many bemoaned the lack of respect among users of Geneva’s public transport system and hailed the campaign as a good idea, though one commenter said it offered an ‘idealistic’ view of English behaviour.
“English politeness is an urban legend,” said another.
The 'Brits' wait with passengers at a bus stop. Photo: Geneva transport dept