I take the metro regularly in Barcelona, where I live. It’s cheap, efficient, and easy. But sometimes, the people who use it irk me. Whether they’re rushing in before commuters can exit, or—my personal pet peeve—hugging a support pole like a long-lost relative, many riders violate public transit etiquette.
There’s a bit of a learning curve for public transportation protocol, particularly for visitors who don’t use it at home. While there’s general etiquette that applies for most of the world’s buses and subways, there are other unspoken rules for specific destinations that may surprise you. Purchasing and validating a ticket is only the beginning. Read on for a few things you should know before you hop a train, bus, or subway abroad.
1. Crowd in as much as you can
Tbilisi, Georgia, and Changsha, China
In these two communities, the transit systems are so busy that contorting your body into any available space is expected, particularly at rush hour—which can mean being face-to-face with little to no space between you and the next passenger over.
2. Women and children only
Japan, India, Egypt, Iran, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates
In many countries, railway and subway systems offer cars intended to protect women and young children by separating them into a specific section where men are not allowed. These cars are often labeled with pink stickers and are sometimes only available at certain times of the day. In Mexico and Malaysia, there are entire buses that are women-only, and in India, entire trains. In Japan, most operators will also allow disabled passengers and their assistants in the women-only sections, too. With many cities having a problem with groping during rush hour on public transit, this designation is, unfortunately, necessary in some places.
3. Never sit in priority seats
You know those seats reserved for small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the disabled? Never sit in them, even if they’re empty—unless you actually happen to belong to the aforementioned groups. Signage may say you’re required to cede them when one of these individuals shows up, but local custom mandates leaving them empty unless you want a good scolding.
4. Don’t cross your legs
Thailand, the Middle East
In these areas, pointing the soles of your feet at others is considered an insult. Keep your feet on the floor and don’t cross your legs.
5. Give monks priority
When a Buddhist monk hops on board, be ready to relinquish your spot like a local. Also, if you’re in a transit station at 8 a.m. or 6 p.m., stand up out of respect for the national anthem, which plays at those times every day.
6. Hold the doors
Paris’s subway system is notorious for a reason—the doors often open and close faster than people can manage to board. So even though it’s not encouraged elsewhere, holding the doors for oncoming passengers is common courtesy in the City of Light.
7. Leave your paper
On the Tube, leaving your reading material behind for future passengers is a kind gesture. Just be reminded that in other countries, such as Austria and Germany, this is tantamount to littering and not welcomed.
8. Thank the bus driver
Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand
In many communities (particularly small to medium-sized cities) around Australia, Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand, passengers are expected to show their gratitude to drivers with a quick thank-you on the way to their seat and sometimes a second thank-you on the way out.
General Rules for Public Transit
While there are some destination-specific rules for riding the subway, here are a few nearly universal rules that will serve you well almost anywhere.
Let people get off before you get on
And then move on in, so that people behind you can get on board, too. Don’t block the doors from the inside, either. When other passengers need to exit, move aside, even if that means stepping out momentarily to make way.
Don’t hog the space
That means don’t lean on or hug the support poles and only take up one seat. Don’t manspread. Don’t leave your bags or place your feet in spaces where others can sit. Also, always be ready to give up your seat to disabled or elderly folks, parents with small children, and pregnant women.
Be aware and be prepared
This means noticing if you’re blocking an exit or a turnstile. You may be on vacation, but the person behind you might be running late to work. Have correct change when it’s time to pay, your ticket ready when it’s time to swipe, and your belongings in your possession, and work your way toward the doors a few stops before you want to exit.
Don’t confront or argue with anyone
No, it doesn’t matter how rude or obnoxious someone has been. No one needs the conflict in a reduced space.
Keep your scents and noises to yourself
Be considerate of the shared space. Skip smelly food, cologne, and perfume. Conversations, both over the phone and in person—not to mention anything you’re listening to on headphones—should be maintained at a low volume for the sanity of everyone else on board.