Stockholm, London and New York have at various times been my home. And this time, when visiting two of them and living in the other, I've noticed their distinct personalities express themselves very clearly in one place: the subway. Or more accurately, the ads on subway trains. In New York, the Subway ads on the trains are usually a little depressing. Especially on my train, which goes to deepest darkest Brooklyn. They range from Spanish language ads for lawyers ("Just dial 888-Margarita!" Yes, that's real. I'm not making that up. It has resulted in much hilarity in Mexican restaurants) to ads with hip but sad looking black guys proclaiming "I accidentally lost $25000 paying for my fake degree. Don't let it happen to you". Or ads from the MTA itself, excitedly proclaiming that now they're going to actually tell you when the next train is coming with a SIGN on the PLATFORM! Wow, that's technology, MTA. I especially love the fact they tell you to text a number to get up to date train information, since your phone won't work underground (and probably won't work above ground either if you happen to be an AT&T customer - as an aside, recently I had a nightmare that I was kidnapped and trying to update my Facebook status to alert my friends to the fact I was kidnapped, but spent the rest of the nightmare cursing AT&T for not connecting. I think that illustrates a deep anxiety towards American telecommunications. Or else an unhealthy obsession with Facebook. You decide.). But the New Yorkers excel at defacing the actual subway posters with amazing wit - probably because they are so bored waiting for their train with no idea when it will actually turn up. My favourite is the recent Mad Men campaign, where enterprising New Yorkers have turned Don Draper into a breakdancer, or the way Harry Potter's face is continually grafted onto Jennifer Aniston. Nice work, New York. It's definitely an improvement.
In Stockholm, everything's much more straightforward, cheerful and hopeful. According to the Tunnelbana ads, you can expand your career with a special course, attend a pirate-themed kids event at the aquarium, or find out there's an English language version of a play on with a star-studded London cast (that no-one's ever heard of, but still). I don't think anyone would dare deface the tube map or the subway ads, but there are giant photocopied faces on some of the walls, and glass cases of crab-like sculptures straight out of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice at some stations, so I guess that makes up for it.
In London, ads on the Underground seem to cater to two audiences: foreigners (Call home for 1p a minute!) and cultural elites/foreigners (Lucian Freud exhibition now on at the National Portrait Gallery). Then again most of London IS foreigners, judging by the amount of snus packets I have seen squashed into the ground in just one day (full disclosure: I am always in East London, which is about as Swedish as Karlstad). In London I especially like the fact that enterprising people like to replace the tube maps next to the ads with customized stickers, so that the lines look like "Shepherd's Bush" is now renamed to "Shepherd's Pie (Gas Mark 4)". I do wonder how the aforementioned foreigners who like to call home for 1p a minute deal with the stickers announcing that the Central Line now goes all the way to Paris. Delightfully, I think London Underground is in on the joke - apparently sometimes the lighted signs which say *** MIND THE GAP *** sometimes say **** MIND THE STICKERS **** on Central Line routes (I am choosing to believe that photo above isn't Photoshop). And that's one of the things I still love about London. It's bloody weird.