Manners on Buses

Manners on Buses

I was young in the Fifties and Sixties and both of my parents and the Boy Scouts ' Brigade, of which I was a member, drilled into me how important it was to have good manners, to be polite - to be a gentleman.

One of the signs of being a gentleman was displaying your manners on buses by offering up your seat on a bus or a train to a lady or an elderly gentleman. It is quite rare to see manners like these anymore in the UK.

These days, I live in Thailand and you never see manners like that here either, but I was reminded of the good manners of giving up one's seat today by an incident concerning manners on a bus in Isaan, Thailand.

I was on a bus that would be making a journey of one hour, but it would have many pickup points along th way. We got on at the point of departure and had waited 35 minutes before it left the station.

Within 15 minutes, the aisle was full and the driver had to refuse further admission to the bus. Anyway, we stopped at the penultimate depot and all but six of us got off. The rest of us needed to go on to the outbound terminus, which was five minutes down the road.

I overheard an elderly Australian man behind me proudly telling the Thai woman he was sitting next to the following:

"There were women standing and men sitting. Did you see that? Well, they're not really men. I used the term loosely - no real man would remain seated while ladies are standing. Did you see? I gave up my seat to a lady."

She smiled at him and resumed looking out of the window. He tried again, but without the enthusiasm of the first time. I wanted to say something about manners in Thailand to him, but he didn't look the sort who would listen, so I didn't bother.

It did, however, remind me of an incident that happened to me five or six years ago.

My Thai wife and I were travelling on an eight hour, over-night bus journey. My wife had been to the bus station to book the tickets the day before. That had cost her five hours to do.

Anyway, the 48 seats were all full, but four other women got on. They would have to stand in the aisle for the duration of the eight-hour, non-stop journey.

Just like the Australian, I had wanted to get up and offer one of the ladies my seat (for an hour), however, my wife got angry with me:

"Do you know what those women are thinking?"

I admitted that I did not.

"They are cursing themselves for being too stupid to book a seat earlier or for not getting here earlier. If you give one of them your seat, she will think that you are even more stupid. At the moment, they think that you are clever and they are stupid."

"Maybe they will sit on the floor, when the bus gets underway," I said.

"You don't understand Thai people," replied my wife. "They feel stupid now for not having a seat, but if they sit on the floor in the aisle, they will prove that they are weak too".

And my wife was right. Those women stood in the aisle of the bus for eight hours and never complained.

I have never thought of giving up my seat in a crowded bus in Asia again, those four women have probably always bought a ticket in advance ever since and that Aussie needs to read this story, because people travel abroad and preach their manners and moral values where they are not wanted by the locals.

by +Owen Jones