Reverse Culture Shock: Riding the Bus

I’ve decided to do a series of posts on reverse culture shock, since, as you know, I’ve recently moved back to the U.S. after a long stint in Santiago, Chile. 

A typical bus in Santiago. Although right before I left they were all changing colors, so maybe this isn’t so typical anymore. 😛

In Santiago, Chile, this is how you ride the bus:

You wait at the bus stop with a bunch of other people. No line. Sometimes the bus stop is really crowded, sometimes it’s not. You never really know when your bus is going to come because there isn’t a schedule. Apparently you can text some number to find out when the next bus will be coming, but I never figured that out. It seemed too complicated, and they didn’t have the instructions at the bus stop. When your bus finally comes after some amount of time, all of the people will approach the door at once, and at best it’s awkward as to who should get on first, and at worse (during rush hour) people will outright push and shove you to get on the bus. Make sure you hang onto something as soon as you get on, because the bus will start moving as soon as it can. Then, when you want to get off the bus, a few blocks before your stop you push a button on one of the pillars and make your way to the door, all while the bus is still moving. When the bus gets to your stop, the doors open (if not, you have to yell “puerta!” really loud so everyone can hear your gringa accent, because man, that rt combination is hard) and you get off as fast as you can because the bus is going to start moving again as fast as possible.

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This is the Wolfline bus that serves the NCSU community in Raleigh. Via linademartinez on flickr. 

In Raleigh, NC, USA, this is how you ride the bus*:

You wait at the bus with a bunch of other people and check your phone to see when the bus is coming, because they are all on a GPS system and yes, there’s an ap for that. Or if you’re not so technologically inclined, you can download a schedule and look at it. The bus that goes by my house goes by every 9 minutes pretty much like clock work. When the bus arrives, everyone boards the bus kind of in the order the arrived to the stop. The bus stays stopped until everyone has either found a seat or is holding a handrail. Then, when you want to get off, you pull a cord above your head (if you’re sitting) or push a button on a pillar. However, you do not get up right away. You wait until the bus has come to a stop, then calmly make your way to the door and get off. No rush. The bus driver will wait for you.

ETA: I totally forgot to mention this and I can’t believe it. As a lot of people get off the bus, they say thank you to the driver, and the driver usually responds with “Have a nice day” or “You’re welcome.” I only saw this maybe twice during my entire time in Santiago and here it’s standard. I think this maybe has to do not necessarily with U.S. vs. Chile but rather big city vs. small city (that happens to be in the South, where people are really polite). I can’t vouch for this with personal experience, but I imagine that not many people in NYC say “Thank you” when getting off the bus. Nevertheless, it was quite the shock to me the first time I saw it!

It took me awhile to get used to these little differences. The first time I rode the bus here in Raleigh, I’m pretty sure the people waiting with me thought I was really rude rushing for the door and not respecting the order of arrival. And it totally wasn’t necessary for me to get up and wait by the door when I wanted to get off.

There are a few other things that I’ve been dealing with in terms of reverse culture shock, so stay tuned for more next week. 🙂

*I’m talking about the Wolfline, I haven’t ridden on the CAT buses yet. 



10 thoughts on “Reverse Culture Shock: Riding the Bus

  1. Hahaha, sounds great but can you imagine how long would take a ride if the bus driver waits to everybody be seated to get off and if everybody wait to stand up until the bus stops???? You could be on the bus for days, hahaha

    • You’re absolutely right! A lot of times here I find myself saying (in my head) “hurry up hurry up hurry up!” to the people getting off the bus because some people take all the time in the world!

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  3. Yes, so true! I love reading specific observations like this. When I moved back to the US from China at the end of 2007 I was totally shocked at the customer service and free coffee in Bank of America. (“Wait, you mean you’re done rearranging all my accounts? I fully expected to wait here all afternoon.” That’s what I told the banker.) And when I went to Trader Joe’s I remember pausing in the aisle, completely amazed at the number of choices and that I could read *all* the labels. I hope all is well in North Carolina!

    • Yeah some of my future posts will be addressing banking and grocery stores! Going to the grocery store is still overwhelming to me and I’ve been back more than a month!

  4. “The bus stays stopped until everyone has either found a seat or is holding a handrail.” – This genuinely blew my mind. Hahaha. I can’t remember the last tiime I was on a bus not holding on for dear life while I found somewhere to sit/stand.

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