The Italian course’s tutor, Judith, has spent some time in Italy and was amazed by Italian public transport. This blog was originally written during her studies in Bologna.
“I’ve heard of a book called Bologna Blues and that’s exactly what I felt every time I was on Bolognese public transport. It started right away when I got on the bus for the first time. In my home country I always say ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ to the driver, depending on his age. Bolognese drivers take the precaution ‘Non parlare con l’autista’ literally though and will most probably not answer the greeting. Instead they will fix their gaze on the little mirror above their head. A while ago I found out that this is not the mirror in which they can check the bus, but in which they can see themselves: Bolognese bus drivers have a Narcissistic complex. The same thing happens while getting off the bus: some time ago I was the only passenger during the whole trip, so logically I said ‘grazie’ when we arrived at my destination. Never have I seen such a surprised face before…! But despite the fact that they like to hang out their windows to have a chat with a colleague in another bus -in the middle of the road- the Bolognese bus drivers are perfectly normal (except the one that lost his way and asked *me* for directions, but I think this was quite a unique case).
No, it’s more the rest of the people on the bus, the passengers, that make the whole experience so special. In Bologna the rule is: ‘You may be in need but please give me your seat!’ So, when the bus opens, the young and fit people throw themselves inside the bus to steal all the seats from the old and slow grannies. Mothers with children are especially good at that: they drag their offspring after them, plant them on the chair in front of them and then if an old, crooked granny arrives they will intently admire the ceiling. Now I thought of giving the right example by standing up whenever I saw an elderly fellow creature, we’ve come to such a situation that they do not even get the hint. After a lot of pointing and forcing I managed once to get Grandma in a chair. Grandmá, because Grandpá will never accept the offer. After a few rejections I found out that in Italy it’s actually not done for a lady to offer her seat to a gentleman. Men will almost always stand up during the ride anyway, even if the bus is completely empty. A ±100 year old gentleman explained the reason to me a while ago: ‘Dearest child, I might have four or five years to go and then I can lay down forever…’
The last peculiarity concerns getting off the bus: in Bologna the buses are designed in a way that you can get in at the front and the back of the bus and the doors in the middle are to get off. Not that everyone adheres to that, but that’s another story. Now the following rule applies: one stop before you get out you press the button (if you can find one) and then you go limping and jerking towards the exit. Nine out of ten times the bus will be stuck in traffic for an impossible amount of time, be it because of a red light, be it for no reason whatsoever; it doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 100: cling to a pole and let yourself be hurled and shaken about by the bus, because God forbid you don’t get off at the right stop… This is quite possible given that it’s the habit of some people to walk towards the exit at a bus stop and then not get out at all. If you’re behind them you’ll be too late: the doors will inexorably close and the bus will take you far away from your destination. But that’s still better than ending up between the doors. This happens especially when you’re heavily laden with suitcases or groceries and you can’t reach the doors fast enough. It’s also funny when the bus drives off again while you’re still trying to get off. In that case you will fall on the ground in between all your groceries. This happened to me twice. So I would say come to Bologna and experience the Bologna Bus Blues!”