Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Swedish Bus Routine

I have fallen into a bit of a routine here in Sweden. A Swedish routine. And I didn’t even realize it until this morning.

I found myself waiting around for the bus. And by waiting around I mean standing in line. A very orderly line. I turned back in line and saw at least 20 people doing the exact same thing. Headphones in. Heads tucked in newspapers. Not a word being spoken. But probably the nicest line I’ve been in since at least elementary school where lining up properly before lunch resulted in beating the other classes to the cafeteria.

As everyone stands in line, engrossed by their newspaper or iPods, they also look in the direction of the buses arrival. As if watching will somehow make the bus come faster. When the bus finally pulls up, there is a brief rustling of papers, a slight fuss as everyone prepares to climb on. And then the bus driver does something that never ceases to amaze me. He pulls a bus that has damn near the same area as my apartment centimeters away from the curb. He does not hit the curb. That could kill someone. He doesn’t leave a large gap between the steps and the curb. That could lead to catastrophe for the old ladies who I inevitably find myself standing behind. He pulls within inches of the curb. As if it was the easiest thing in the world. I struggle to pull the Saab into a parking spot without scraping the car next to me.

Sweden has by far the most orderly public transportation crowd I have ever seen. I think it has something to do with the ubiquitous line-up system you find in banks throughout the country. Take a number and wait. It has become such a habit to properly wait your turn in the exact order of arrival that it has extended to public transportation. And this morning was no different.

It’s all very fair. There’s no jockeying for position as the bus pulls up. You’ve already staked claim to your position. Just stand quietly and accept your lot in life.

It was amazing. Amazing that everyone quietly lines up to climb onto the bus. And I did it too. Amazing that no one speaks. And neither was I. Amazing that the bus driver can command the bus like he does. And I can’t.

For some reason it all seemed very Swedish. The line. The silence. The snow. The slowly spreading daylight. It was the epitome of a Swedish winter morning during the commuter rush. I soaked it all up. It was glorious, in a strange sort of way.

I couldn’t help but chuckle heartily. To myself obviously though. There were people around. And this is Sweden.

So, Welcome to Sweden.

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  1. I can't help to smile when reading this. Sounds exactly like my mornings :)

  2. Haha, I'm so glad I found your blog, and I miss the things you are experiencing.

    I'm in Canada since 3 years, and I actually teach Swedish to kids like you; kids who either started their lifes in Sweden and now live in Canada or were born here to a Swedish parent. I hope I can make them wanna go to Sweden one day, to find their roots, just like you have.

    And about the line-up, Sweden is probably the only country in the world where you line up to take a line-up-number :P

  3. You guys never been to Japan?

    They are good at lining up...

  4. @Izi - I dont think we're alone then.

    @Mysmasken - oooh... a good point. I forgot to mention the lining up to take a line-up number.

    @nevil - never been. do they have line-up numbers there as well or are they just good at lining up in general?

  5. A nice piece of story, once again! About waiting for a but, and yet interessting. You should consider writing a book or something, the talent is there. I could easily relate to it, then again I had an advantage of having been there too.

  6. Haha, that is very typically Swedish :)

    Here in Singapore they are pretty good at lining up as well, well sort of anyway, all depending for what. They can queue for hours at, for example, a doughnut shop that has gotten great reviews (and if they have to travel from one side of the island to the other to get there, no biggie, as long as it's the best you can get). They also line up very good whenever there is anything free involved. Or if it's a huge sale going on.

    Public transport though, now that is a completely different issue. Whenever entering an MRT-train (subway), don't let passengers get of no, if you do that you might not get on before the train leaves. Squeeze and press is the best approach. Oh, and first on wins :)

    Then we have the buses. First of all - and this is actually quite important - when going by bus here, just because there are people standing at the bus stop don't assume the bus will stop. Nope, you have to wave to indicate that you want to take the bus that is approaching, if not it will just drive past. Then we have getting on it. They do not do the close-to-the-curb thing here. Far from it. So count on a step down before taking a step up. And like on the MRT, everyone wants to get on at the same time. Older ladies being the worst so if there is one wanting to get on the same bus as you, let her get on first...unless you want either the look who could kill, a stomped foot or a nudge that almost puts you to the ground. Speaking from experience here.

    And before you ask. We do have line-up numbers but they are rare to find. But if you do, do line up to them as well.

  7. Hej "Hairy Sweden", i read you daily, and i found it ... sweet. Do you mind if i transalte it in Italian for my blog? (of course stating that the text come from this blog)
    I am a "Italian Italian in Sweden" and i write about the things i see and live in this country, and i think i couldn't find better words to explain the same sensations i have at the bus stop every morning :)


  8. Hairy!

    A perfect observation and well said. I have experienced and thought exactly the same things and thoughts. So, why didn't I say it first?

  9. Is there a commentary on the 'passionate' way Swedes talk within the family and friends? I have seen several times what would look to others as yelling and screaming arguement one second but the next be perfectly calm. From what I am told, it is just the way the folks here talk... either that or I coincidentally am surrounded by many manics.
    an American immigrant in Umeå

  10. @smek – I think that’s the beauty of this. If you’ve ever been to Sweden and been out during the morning commute, you have had this experience, to some degree at least.

    @Anette – oh wow. Public transportation sounds exhausting in Singapore. You must need sharp elbows to make it over there.

    @Mauron – the bus is quite the special experience isn’t it. and no worries, just note that it came from here and Im fine with it.

    @Ron – Thanks! I think most people have found themselves in a similar situation. It’s pretty entertaining when you step back and think about it.

    @Lacey – I don’t know. I haven’t seen much of that at all actually. I have heard though that there is a bit more passion up north. Mostly because there are fewer people and everyone knows everyone so you find yourself in very intimate situations on a much more regular basis. Maybe that has something to do with it?

  11. @Hairy Swede - That is probably it, then. Up here I even get a few nods hello or the occasional murmur hej.

  12. that sounds like a foreign country. well more foreign... because I guess Ima lready in a foreign country.

    it is amazing how different sweden can be from region to region considering it is a relatively small country.

  13. When you describe Sweden it sounds like a foreign country to me too, Hairy. I'll have you know that I say "hej" to people on a regular bases and about half the time it's in reply to their "hej". I even say "go' morgon" if it's really early. Never "go' middag" or "go' kväll" though. Somehow that's a lot more formal.

    But yea, regional differences...
    Before I was born, my family moved south from Norrbotten to Östergötland (where I live). My father tells me that my farmor (paternal grandmother), who was herself from sörmland had some comments regarding this. "östgötar är ena dryga ena". ("Öschötte guschelôv och gubevars" as the regional saying goes...)

    My parents moved down here in 1970 and neither would describe themselves as "norrbottningar" anymore but when my father describes someone as a "typisk östgöte" he's certainly not talking their praise - He's talking about someone who's too nosy about his business and too free telling their own (money etc). To his mind this is a regional trait - And I think he's probably right. Just this week I had a bugger ask me how much money I had in the bank - and when I very clearly stated "det har inte du med att göra" ("that's none of your business") one would have thought that that was the end of that. But no...what I got was "okay...but ABOUT how much do you have then? You don't have to be exact..."

  14. @jacob - it really is interesting how different the regions can be. and I think alot of what I see stems from me living here in Stockholm.

    everything from people saying hej to describing someone as typisk östgöte I think really differs from city to city. because here being a typisk stockholmare means you dont say hej. or anything for that matter.

    that being said... the person asking about your money was pretty ridiculous. and nosy. very very nosy.

  15. I'd say try moving to Gothenborg :)

  16. I keep hearing that. a lot actually.

  17. It's never very orderly when I get off my train at Östermalmstorg at 8:40am and there's only 1 escalator working... even if there is an obvious line forming people will push past and then cut in front...

  18. it is pretty lame with only one working at that station. plus you have to fight all of the old ladies who live in the area. and with old ladies, all bets are off. even swedishness.

  19. Hairy Swede, Umeå isn't a town where everyone knows everyone..

    Umeå have over 115.000 inhabitants.

    The "phenomenon" where everyone knows everyone is located everywhere in Sweden. Not just up north. Northern Sweden have less of "those" places because people up here search for the coastal areas and the bigger city's for work and school. Only a small amount of Norrland live in the smaller society's

  20. fair enough, but even the big towns in northern sweden aren't exactly big.

  21. Try taking the bus in Uppsala. We do the waiting thing, but when the bus arrives, it's every man for himself the proper chinese way.