Grain of Sand | Rules for riding the bus

March 10th, 2013

This article is more than 10 years old.

Riding the bus in Denmark gives one a chance to observe a microcosm of Danish society up close. There are several silent and unspoken rules that one must observe inside a Danish public bus, lest one be judged by odd stares and condemned to stereotype in silence.

The first, and most important rule, is that silence is golden.

In many cultures, particularly in the sunny parts of the world, it is not unusual for complete strangers to engage in a conversation during a ride on public transportation. However, in Denmark, this would make most people feel unease.

Danes enjoy being private, and that is their right and privilege. But could it be possible that one could pass a chance to meet a nice date or a useful contact by ignoring the strangers we encounter inside public transport?

I am not proposing turning Danish public transport into hot spots for dating and networking, but sometimes I think I could write a complete novel that only takes place inside the same Danish bus, exploring the lives of the many silent faces.

The Danish bus silence can be an enriching experience, particularly for the creatives. It is a gold mine to observe the silent cardinal rules of Danish interaction inside a bus. On my journeys, I have so far observed the following cardinal rules:

1. Be silent and smile if someone looks at you. Always appear polite and calm.
2. If you receive a phone call, speak in a calm voice and don’t show any irritation with the person on the other end of the line, even if it’s your arch enemy. Shouting at the person on the other end of the line will only lead to the negative silent judegement of many strange eyes.
3. If the person sitting next to you presses the stop button, prepare to make way for them to get off. If they start fiddling, then give them the right of way to pass through. All this must happen in silence. People avoid speaking to each other as much as possible, so remember to read the body language.
4. Avoid looking people directly in the eyes. It makes them feel uneasy and may be considered offensive.
5. When it’s your turn to get off, press the stop button and start fiddling, so that the person next to you can prepare to make way, then walk calmly towards the driver’s door and then get off. It is acceptable to say Tak for turen to the Danish driver, but it is not a requirement.

I am still observing this phenomenon each time I ride inside a Danish bus. I marvel at the silent choreography at play.


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