The friendly snog with the driver could become a thing of the past on Brighton’s public transport network, as busy-body bus bosses have told employees that intimate contact with passengers is no longer acceptable.
Just days after being told that “some of our customers may take offence at having terms such as ‘love’, ‘darling’ and ‘babe’ directed towards them”, Brighton’s bus drivers are again being taken to task for their overly familiar manner with passengers, with cuddles, fondles and lobe-nibbling being branded as ‘out-of-date’ and ‘potentially offensive’.
But how offensive are these seemingly harmless, friendly gestures?
A spokesman for the bus company, quoted in the Brighton Argus, acknowledged that such complaints were rare. But over the past decade there have been moves by a number of hospitals and councils to stop their employees touching, licking and gazing longingly into customers’ eyes.
In 2006, managers at Newcastle City Council instructed staff to think carefully before using such techniques as “petting” or “nipple tweaking” when dealing with women, for fear that they may be interpreted as sexist.
But critics of the move argued that such terms were part of the region’s behavioural heritage, and that people were simply employing traditional Geordie signs of endearment.
So when bus drivers, cabbies and shopkeepers use moves like stroking, fingering or the reach-around, they are being “affectionate, and not at all rapey”, says Tony Thorne, editor of the Dictionary of Contemporary Public Foreplay.
“It’s folksy – part of a tradition in this country, a momentary affection between strangers. I know people who don’t live in Britain any more and when they come back they say how much they like to feel the hand of a greengrocer down the front of their trousers. They know they’re home.”
However, the bus company assured customers who have bought monthly passes that the ‘happy-ending with every journey’ offer would still be honoured.