Do you ever pay attention to how people interact on buses? Or public transportation in general? It’s quite an interesting microcosm, if you think about it; all of these strangers squeezed into a tight place, arms, shoulders, legs, and butts all touching with people you’ve never met before and will probably never see again.
I think that the ways in which people interact on different modes of public transportation is one of the most fascinating cultural aspects to pay attention to when in another place. Here in Colombia, I’ve noticed a lot of customs on the buses that really stand out.
First, men will often give up their seats for women, which is pretty normal, but also, when a woman or an older person is stepping off the bus, men will almost always offer a hand or an arm to help them down. Moreover, if many people are standing and a seat opens up near a man standing, he will probably offer it to a woman.
Also, every time I have asked for directions, people have been extremely helpful, and made sure that I got off at the right stop, and once or twice even exited with me and showed me the right direction to go in.
What I think is just the nicest custom ever is that when a person is standing on the bus holding a heavy bag or many bags, someone (almost always a woman) who is sitting down will offer to hold the person’s bag until that person gets off or gets a seat.
The first time this happened to me, I was carrying a shopping bag with two pairs of shoes in boxes in it, and a woman offered to hold it for me because I had to stand and hold on. I was a bit nervous that she was taking my bag and I watched it very closely, but there was nothing to worry about; it’s just the norm.
I’ve noticed it happening many times since then, and I’ve also had the chance to reciprocate and hold people’s bags who are standing, and it always makes me happy because I think it’s so sweet and considerate that strangers do that for one another.
Another thing that people do on buses is if someone enters through the back door and there are a lot of people on the bus making the aisle very crowded, people will pass the person’s bus fare money up to the driver and then pass the passenger’s change back down. There is a unique sense of community on the buses here that I really like and I think it is very representative of the culture here in general.
One final frequent bus occurrence is people selling things or playing music in exchange for money. Some people rap, play the guitar and sing, or tell stories. Items people sell are usually candy or occasionally fruit, at least in the coast. Whenever the vendors enter the bus, they always greet the passengers and when they finish thank everyone for their attention and usually say something along the lines of God Bless.
When the people get on the bus to sell something, they offer the item to every passenger on the bus, and as a passenger you can either take it or say no, thank you, regardless of whether or not you want to buy it. After presenting the item to everyone, they tell you how much it costs and then go around to collect either the unwanted items or the money for their sale.
Riding a bus is a cultural experience within itself, and I highly recommend making sure to take public transportation on your next trip, Dear Reader, be it to a different city or a different country, and take note of the bus etiquette.