Social interaction

Last week I have been traveling by train quite a lot. I love traveling by train. For me it works very inspiring. I see new things, I hear about new things, I meet new people… I had to go to another location to work, than I usually do and so I ended up with new experiences and ideas.

One of the most awesome things I saw, were the platform heaters. Big columns that provide warmth for the ones who are waiting for their train to arrive. For those who have never been to the Dutch train station, or for those who just have never noticed it before, I need to explain a little bit about smoking in the train before I tell you why I think these columns are so cool.

When I was still a kid, smoking was still allowed in trains and lots of travelers smoked to kill time. When you are traveling by train often, you spend a great deal of your time standing on a platform, waiting for the vehicle to arrive, or sitting in the train. On the platforms everyone was just smoking wherever they wanted. In the train, there were special smoking areas. I myself started smoking due to traveling by train a lot. It was a social happening. If you went to a smoking cabin, it was more likely that you would have a nice conversation than at the ‘normal’ cabins and mostly there was a general feeling of belonging to the group. international rules changed, and knowledge about cancer increased, the areas where you could still smoke were getting scarcer by the year. No more smoking in the trains, special smoking areas on the platforms and fines for those who were smoking outside these areas. At a sudden point the platforms were equipped with special poles for smokers, the ‘smoke poles’. Stinky dirty things. As a smoker, you had to be within three meters of one of these poles to be allowed to smoke. At some train stations they even draw a line around the poles. It felt like you were being judged, like you were no more part of regular society. But the ambiance still is awesome around those areas, most of the time. People asking for lighters or a cigarette, small talk, complaining together, all these wonderful social interactions still exist. But the groups are getting smaller.

I quit smoking two years ago. As I was half way my study and changing jobs, I decided it was time for new, healthy habits, or at least for less unhealthy habits. I had already tried to quit smoking a few times before with no success, but I figured a new job would help me change my habits and I knew that the more I worked out, the less I felt like smoking. I left the cosy group of people who belonged to each other and I joined the group of ex smokers. This group consists of three types of views in general: The ones that long for smoking so bad that they try to sniff someone else’s smoke whenever they get the opportunity. The ones that disgust the habit and the smell of smoking and never ever want to be close to smoke. This group in general does not want to be remembered that they once belonged to the group of disgusting smokers. Then, there is the group that doesn’t really care.

They quit, but understand that there will always be people who feel the urge to smoke. Sometimes they might even light a cigarette themselves, but they don’t have a hard time to keep far away from cigarettes either. They live and let live. One thing most smokers have in common, is that they miss the social interaction. Sometimes when you look closer to the people who are waiting at the platforms, you can actually recognize these people. They are looking around to see if they can find a ‘victim’ to talk to, someone to form a group with, that make them feel at home again.

And then, all of the sudden, there is a new possibility. This is good for all the people with new years’ resolutions that involve ‘quit smoking’. The platform heater columns. I saw them standing there, the groups of people that were looking for warmth. The potential social interaction just radiated from the columns together with the heat. The little groups of people all face the columns, creating a perfect circle, reminding me of those days when I was still in the first classes of primary school and the teacher asked: ‘so who wants to start by telling what they did for the weekend?’ Good memories float to the surface, warm feelings crawl from the depth of our hearts, eyes investigate the possible similarities: Social interaction is just a tiny moment away.

heaters nu ook op station Amersfoort. Geen overbodige luxe

Photo by Henk-Rik Keizer

The heater columns provide an alternative for the smoking poles. The smoker does not have to go stand there to belong to a group anymore. He can find warmth and interaction in a more healthy way and there won’t be judgmental looks when you find your way to the heating columns on the platform: People understand. It is cold out there. And we have a new thing to complain about: These things must cost a fortune and traveling is already so expensive… This can’t be good for the environment… this is all paid with our tax money… the weather is so extremely cold t

his time a year… it does not have to be true, it does not have to be relevant, as long as we all feel the same about it

I see so much potential. I love the columns. I hope I will find these columns at platforms all over the Netherlands soon, and abroad as well! This is my belated substitute for smoking. This is how I will spend my time on the platform from now on.. I just have one fear: How will I survive the summer now I know the winter provides so much warmth!?!


One Comment to “Social interaction”

  1. Leuk!

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