There used to be a stereotype in England of the seaside landlady who put up a list of unpleasant rules for her guests, usually including the requirement that they be off the premises during the day. Her spirit still reappears from time to time and I notice it a lot when travelling.
For instance, on the bus to the aircraft at Heathrow, I noticed a prominent sign explaining that BA won’t hestiate to prosecute any passenger who attacks staff. Do they really believe that an irate passenger is going to calmly read that and think, “Oh, I was thinking of headbutting the driver but now I realise there may be consequences, perhaps I’d better not”. But the effect on me is unpleasant. I feel distrusted, unwelcome. It undermines all that expensive effort to reassure me what a nice company they are.
I was on Amtrak’s high speed train up to New York today. The little dot matrix indicator in the carriage was full of bossy instructions about where to put my luggage, where not to use a mobile phone or (oh the irony) talk too loud – sometimes in block capitals and flashing lights. The conductor, clearly inspired, liked to remind us that our tickets only entitled us to one seat and not to put our bags on the spare seats. Most of the onboard communication was a list of things not to do.
I don’t know how they do it, but life’s rulemakers seem highly efficient at taking over the conversation with travelling customers.