A Global Public Transport Etiquette Guide

Written by: Rebecca Root

Don’t You Dare Upset the Locals

Any seasoned traveller knows how it feels to try and find sleep on a night bus in some far flung Asian location. They’ve packed themselves into sweaty and smelly corners of trains in South America and probably had some awkward encounter in a shared taxi in Europe.

Yes, every backpacker knows that with each epic trip comes a bout of public transport travel. But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Traveling alongside locals is one of the ways you can really get a feel for a country. It can craft some of your best travel memories and ultimately makes the final destination all the more worth it.

However, in each country there is social etiquette to bear in mind. Every country has their own set of dos and don’ts in general, and this extends onto public transport too.

Of course there are the obvious rules that apply in almost every destination on public transport: phone conversations tend to be frowned upon, you should always thank the driver, loud mouths are stared down and wandering hands are certainly deemed a major no-no.

For more specific transit etiquette, we’ve got a few tips to help keep you straight when traveling to some of these exotic locations.

Travel light in Bermuda

It seems if you’re laden with luggage and hoping to get to your destination with a cheap and cheery Bermuda bus you’ll have to rethink your plan. Passengers with suitcases are not allowed to board the buses here so traveling light is key unless you want to pay steep taxi prices.

Minty fresh Toronto

Using the streetcar is the best way to travel across this Canadian city, but it seems Torontonians only like their passengers minty fresh and garlic fume free. There’s an old law, still technically in effect, that says anyone who’s eaten garlic can’t board the streetcar on a Sunday. Any other day and you can munch as much as you want.

Keep it together in NYC

Recently, the New York subway has launched a campaign encouraging those ‘man spreaders’ to be more courteous and keep their legs together. New York females find it bad form for a long limbed man to stretch himself across multiple seats, stopping people from taking a pew. Let’s face it, it’s not the nicest sight.

No boys allowed in Japan and Taiwan

This is one for the boys. Be extra observant when boarding a train in Japan or Taiwan as there are many ‘female-only’ carriages. In a bid to stop the odd rush hour grope and allow females a peaceful commute, no boys are allowed in certain cars until 9.30am. It’s certainly a good way to stop man spreading.

Up close and personal in Samoa and Fiji

Samoans and Fijians are all about getting to know their commuters a little better. Not a fan of the personal boundary, locals will happily allow others to sit on their lap if there are no seats left on a crowded bus. Don’t be afraid to wiggle down, hold on and get comfy on an unknown pair of thighs.

Musical Mexico

Like many countries, buskers are to be expected on public transport. In parts of Mexico, traditional musicians have no problem clambering onto a packed bus, sombreros and all, ready to perform at the highest volume. Unlike other places, Mexicans appreciate the musical interlude and clapping along is highly encouraged.

Monkeying around in India

If you’re taking the bus or train in India do not go ape if you find a monkey sitting beside you. It would be extremely rude to shoo away this cheeky passenger because they are considered the representatives of a Hindu god. It’s this belief that has locals feed the animals twice a week and has seen the country get rid of their monkey control unit.

Must have a pulse in London

In the UK there is actually a law that prevents taxi riders bringing a corpse as their travel companion. Yes, expect to be turned away (and maybe a visit from the police) if you try to bring that decaying body you’ve had lying around on your taxi ride.

Stare downs in Montreal

Those Canadians aren’t afraid of a good bit of eye contact. Looking at a stranger directly is a common custom in Montreal, with public transport being a hub for it, so don’t be alarmed when you think the lady across the way is looking at you: it’s because she is.

The more the merrier in Morocco

In this north African country it is not unusual to climb into a shared taxi in order to reach your destination at a cheaper price. However, these cars are usually run down, dirty vehicles that lack any kind of safety measures. Despite the dirt and need for a death wish, it can be seen as rude if you’re not willing to climb in and get cosy.

It’s a waiting game in Africa

In certain parts of Africa it is custom to wait until the last seat is filled on a bus before setting off. This can mean waiting for up to an hour for the bus to move but travelers are expected to be polite and basically deal with it. Be warned, complaining or getting annoyed is not tolerated.

Polly politeness in Russia

Russians are all about being polite and observing the most common of public transport etiquettes. They take these basic rules very seriously, so if you’re talking loudly, taking up excess room or are on the phone expect an icy stare or even a Russian insult.

Stranger danger in Japan

In Japan they take that familiar childhood advice very seriously and never talk to strangers. Many Japanese find it incredibly rude to talk to someone they don’t know, so if you need directions keep quiet and forget any notion you had of a friendly commuter chat.

Keep it quiet in South Korea

Here there is no other way to travel but in silence. Again, not a fan of social interaction, it’s eyes down and quiet time for the Koreans as it is considered rude to talk and travel.

Who needs manners in Norway?

If they need someone to move aside on a train or bus Norwegians prefer to ask for this with a grunt, nudge or even an awkward shuffle, anything to avoid uttering those awful words ‘excuse me.’ You would receive some puzzled looks if you actually used your manners.

Colombian kindness

Here, you have to be careful – when a Colombian takes your bag on the bus it does not mean they’re mugging you or are after your worn out backpack. In Colombia they believe it is only polite to offer to carry a person’s bag if they don’t have a seat themselves so just hold off on the cries for help and let them kindly help you out.

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