Three incidents I have recently borne witness to:
One: Bakerloo Line, between Baker Street and Oxford Circus. Two young women are sat down on those Bakerloo Line seats with no armrests. A tourist, a young lad, gets on the train and tries to sit down in what he thinks is an empty seat but is in fact just a larger than usual gap between people. One of these young women starts shrieking at him. "Get off my arm! That's not a seat you idiot!" Turning to her companion: "What a moron, did you see him? He tried to sit his arse on my arm!"
The boy is clearly mortified and remains standing in the aisle, holding a handrail. He's with a group of other people, possibly an extended family. They are South American, probably, from what was yelled next, Brazilian.
The young woman continues. "What, did you think that was a seat? Are you stupid? Can't you talk? What a fucking idiot, did you see him what he did?" She clocks a member of the boy's group talking to him and someone else, clearly not impressed with her screeching. "Oh, are you not English? You're in ENGLAND now, you gotta talk ENGLISH! What, can you not talk ENGLISH? Are you an idiot? Are you a tourist?" She's pointing now, getting in his face. Her friend is encouraging her. She's attempting to intimidate the whole carriage. "Don't talk fucking Portuguese, talk ENGLISH! When you're in England you should be able to speak ENGLISH!"
This continues all the way until Oxford Circus, where this bitch gets off. The rest of the carriage makes conciliatory faces, but know this group's impression of London is ruined, not least by our collective failure to intervene.
Two: my local Co-op. It's not the most efficient of places at the best of times and this day is particularly bad. Two tills are open: one is having a problem and the cashier has had to leave to sort it out. A queue has formed and keeps getting longer. The one remaining cashier, a girl of about 17, is trying to work through it as fast as she can. I get to the front of the queue and a man three behind me starts shouting.
"Why aren't there any more tills open? What's going on? This place is fucking useless." He is getting more and more belligerent. "Where's the other woman gone? Are you gonna ring your bell?" [The bell notifies any other members of staff that more tills need to be opened.] A woman behind him chips in: "She already has rung her bell." The man ignores her – it suits him to berate the cashier. "This place should have more staff on, where are they all?" Others members of the queue are mumbling in dismay at the scene. I can't listen to him any longer and turn around. "Look, she's working as fast as she can. If you let her be we'll all get sorted faster." "Oh it's alright for you," he says. "You're already at the front." "I had to queue as well." He ignores this too. He doesn't want to hear anything that distracts him from shouting at the cashier. "The customer service here is a fucking disgrace, where's the rest of them? Why aren't you going any faster? You're fucking useless as well."
My shopping is complete and I walk out. I don't see how the scene finally resolves itself.
Three: I am outside the John Soanes museum and they're operating a one-in, one-out policy. I only have an hour and don't fancy queueing. I am leaning against a wall reading my A-Z, looking for anything else that could kill some time. A man in a suit comes out of the building. He stops in front of me. "Hello," he says. "Are you lost?" He's smiling, ready to be helpful. "Oh no," I say. I explain about the museum, and that I'm looking for something else to do. "But thank you!" I say at the end of my speech. He nods and smiles, and walks on his way.
It's a small thing, but it helps to remind me that not everyone in the world is an ungracious cunt to strangers.