Observing the Bus

Chris BeecherEthnography, New Voices, Previous Editions

Everyone has their own daily routines. People wake up and get ready to go to work, school, or whatever it is that they do. But how do they get there? There are many types of transportation whether it may be a bike, car, plane, bus, or train that people need to get to where they have to go. Driving a car and taking the bus are two completely different scenarios. They both have their pros and cons. A few pros of using public transportation include not having to worry about gas or having to find a parking spot. A few cons of using public transportation involve having to schedule your day with the bus times so you do not have to wait for the bus for a long time and overcrowding on the bus. No matter what kind of transportation you use, you still need to get from point A to point B.

I have done an ethnography over time, observing how people act inside and outside the bus. I chose to do an ethnography while on the bus because I ride the bus home from school every day which takes about an hour and thirty minutes. I thought I’d take advantage of the time and try to get a good amount of observations. I took my observation notes with the notepad app on my iPhone. People are too busy going on with their lives and never take the time to just observe what is going on around them. By paying attention to what was going on, I have noticed some odd and interesting things. Much of it has to do with bus etiquette.

There can be some rude and obnoxious people that ride the bus. Once when I was on the bus home, there was a young lady wearing sunglasses that was sitting by herself with an open seat right next to her. When the bus began to get crowded she put her bag on the seat next to her so that no one would try to sit there. There were many people standing, and it seemed like she didn’t care that they were there, as if she was in her own little world. People around her looked at each other and looked down on the girl who then began putting on makeup. Sometimes there are people that have really loud conversations or play music through speakers that everyone in the front of the bus can hear. People need to be more considerate. Imagine riding the bus early in the morning to go to work or school, not having enough sleep the previous day, and someone sitting near you is playing their music and singing along to the lyrics. This can be quite irritating. Their music might be amazingly enjoyable to them, but other people don’t want to hear all their favorite songs.  Or sometimes people get on the bus and though they are sitting next to each other, they are having a conversation as if one is standing at the front of the bus and the other is at the back. Sure, the sound of the bus can be loud, but not to the point where you have to be screaming at the other person. Other people don’t want to hear your conversation or whatever is going on in your life.

Knowing that people don’t always wash their hands after using the bathroom can be quite disturbing. I try to avoid holding the bus pole as much as possible without losing balance and falling over. When I was on the bus, I noticed that when people cough or sneeze, they usually cover it with their hands (or don’t cover it at all), and continue holding the pole. The proper way of covering a sneeze or cough is to cover it with your elbow. One time I saw a lady unexpectedly sneeze on the woman in front of her. She got mad, turned around and said “That is not right,” and called her gross. Who wouldn’t get mad at someone for sneezing on them without even trying to cover it? Germs and bacteria are easily spread through the bus poles that many people hold. This is why I always try to wash my hands as soon as possible after getting off the bus.

Luckily there is only a small percentage of rude, inconsiderate people that ride the bus. I often see people give up their seat for older people. People move further back in the bus to make room for people in wheelchairs. Sometimes people bring in big heavy items and have trouble bringing it into the bus. Someone usually helps these people get their stuff on and off the bus. Sometimes mothers have trouble getting on the bus because they have to hold the stroller, baby bag, the baby, and pay the bus fare, so people usually help and hold the stroller for her. Aside from all the bus etiquette there are some interesting stories people talk about on the bus. When I was riding the bus wearing my new shoes, about two to three people asked about them and started a conversation about my shoes. One man that seemed to be a businessman, wearing a suit and dress shoes, talked to me about how he used to own shoes like mine back in the day and how popular they were. He went on about how he used to collect shoes and that he’s been looking to buy a pair like mine and asked where I bought it. I remember he mentioned that he used to work for Boeing. I found it interesting that a pair of shoes can spark up a conversation.


Other times while on the way to school I overheard people telling stories. While I was on the bus on the way to school there was a person wearing a college hoodie behind me and a middle-aged man was sitting next to her. He asked her if she went to that school and what her major was. He started talking about how hard it was when he was in college and what he does for work.  The guy then told her that no matter how hard college gets, keep going because it will all be worth it in the end.  He also mentioned how hard it is to get a job and how nowadays an undergraduate degree isn’t enough anymore. Then, an older woman said that she admires people that actually make it through college and become what they want to be because she came from another country, and when she went to college, she struggled and did not finish. Luckily, now she owns a little video renting place and has three kids attending a state university.


By observing people on the bus I’ve learned that you can learn a lot by watching and observing the people around you. Little things such as a sweater or a pair of shoes can start up a conversation with someone random on the bus. It is important to know what is going on in your surroundings. Some people that ride the bus don’t have proper manners and do not know how to be more considerate for others. Everyone has their own story.