Wednesday, May 21, 2008

(mis)Adventures in Bus Riding

JenniferSo the bus service in Sweden is wonderful—let's just get that straight from the outset. Really, honestly, it is. The busses are clean, the drivers are competent, and, for the most part, the whole outfit is quite reliable. In the past few weeks, however, there have been a few, shall we say, incidents, in which the bus service has been less than perfect.*

The first and funniest happened when we were coming back from Bubbelgalop on sista april, this day that is marked by a general loosening of discipline. Our bus from downtown back to Flogsta was quite sparsely populated, and the driver was chatting animatedly with a friend. Long story short, he turned right at a place where he should have gone straight. Now we were on the E65 on–ramp, with no way to get off. "???" said the driver's friend. "!!!," said the driver, and they both laughed. Wheee! "We're goin' to Stockholm!" I exclaimed to Joe excitedly (he pointed out that we were actually headed to Enköping, a very small town nearby). We weren't upset—after all it was a holiday, and we weren't in a hurry. There is another off-ramp close to our complex, and the driver took this, no problem. But then he turned the wrong way (for the stop we wanted), and so he had to find a wide spot in the road where he could make a 10- or 15-point turn and head back to our stop. Poor guy seemed a little embarrassed by all this.

Then, the Wednesday before last, my bus out to language lessons didn't stop at the stop I requested. My mouth opened to protest... and then I realized that I didn't have any idea what to say. "Hey!!" sounds an awful lot like "Hej!" So I sat, mum, getting madder and madder because now I was going to be late to class. There is no hopping out and getting another bus back, because this one loops, and it's the only bus out this way. So I rode it all the way out to Ikea, where we sat for a good ten minutes further. I got out on the way back, was 20 minutes late to class, and made sure to ask the teacher what is a polite but firm way of getting someone's attention, like, oh, say, a bus driver who has not stopped. "In that case you say "Hallå!" and you had better wave your arms around a bit too," she said.

I told my tale of woe at fika the next day, and asked whether I had done the right thing, by not causing a scene with the bus driver. "Oh yes," they assured me. "It's okay to get angry but you must never show it." Graduate student P. said this has happened to her a few times, that the bus didn't stop, and she just sat quietly and got off at the next stop. "Actually," she said thoughtfully, "I think that the button at my seat wasn't working once, and I didn't even get up to find one that worked because I didn't want anyone to notice me."

On the next Monday night, going out to language class, the bus didn't stop at my stop again, but this time I was ready for him. "Hallå!" I said in a loud voice, and waved at him in his mirror, and smiled to show I was not angry. He stopped immediately, even though he could not get close to the curb, and let me out.

Now here's the funny part: Someone else got off too.

So now I have discovered my mission in life. Someone has to stand up for all these oppressed people, these people who are so shy that they would walk a kilometer rather than have anyone notice them. Someone has to rise up and speak for these poor wretched Swedes who can not speak for themselves... and that someone is me!

What happened to me on the bus is part of a far larger movement which will reach into every staden and kommun of Sweden. It is the effort of Swedes to secure for themselves the full blessings of Swedish life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Swedes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of shyness and modesty. And we shall overcome.
with a little help from President Johnson

If not me who, if not now when?

*I do not count out difficulties last weekend in Stockholm in this: it was entirely our fault that we got on a bus going the wrong way in the first place (although how we were supposed to know that service coming the other way was delayed for nearly hour?). "Like sitting at a bus shelter for 45 minutes in front of Skatteverket on a beautiful Saturday afternoon" has become my new favorite metaphor for despondency, and a realization the futility of life.


  1. I'm way jealous of the bus system, even if it is a *tad* flaky at times. I'd much prefer occasionally flaky than $300/month for gas ... =0

    But seriously? No one speaks up?

  2. I have seen one other person say "Hallå" when the bus didn't stop at the stop she wanted, but she did it so meekly that I am not sure the driver even heard her. And since he didn't stop, and everyone looked at her, she's possibly now scarred for life and will never do it again!