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Do Not Sit Down Next to Strangers

Two Swiss Postauto Busses
Swiss Postautos - Sommaruga Fabio  /
I usually take a bus to work since public transportation in Switzerland is quite convenient and punctual. Lets do the math: I take the bus to and from work and I work five days a week so we can safely assume that I ride a bus in Switzerland at least ten times a week.

While riding the bus to work this last week I observed a most interesting phenomenon. People chose their seat on the bus according to a repeating pattern: If the bus was empty or almost empty the passenger chose any free seat with older people usually choosing one in the front of the bus and younger people one in the back. If the bus was full or almost full newly boarding passengers chose  any free seat available without giving much importance to its location.

However, a very strange thing occurred if the bus was half empty (or half full depending on your point of view): At first, newly boarding passengers chose either a free singular seat or a free seat in a free double seat (two free seats next to each other). Once all singular and double seats were taken, most passengers actually preferred to stand even though there were still seats available in the double seats (although only one of the pair was free).

Apparently, there is a strong tendency not to sit down next to a stranger. Couples or friends boarding the bus seem to have no problem sitting next to each other. Thus, I concluded from my observations that Swiss people are generally hesitant to sit down next to someone they don't know.

The following picture illustrates the situation: The blue dots represent passengers who are already seated. In this situation, most boarding passengers would prefer to stand in the area of the left red dot rather than sitting in one of the still empty seats.

Choosing a seat on a public bus

My suggestion for anyone traveling in Switzerland with the intention of experiencing the country just as the Swiss do, would be to board a half empty bus and remain standing for the whole ride despite empty seats being available to sit down. I can assure you it is a very Swiss thing to do.

However, for those who do not mind being recognized as foreigners and/or visitors, I suggest you try sitting down next to a Swiss person on one of those ominous double seats and start a conversation. Despite their obvious preference to sit by themselves, the Swiss are very friendly and sometimes even quite chatty. You are a tourist and most likely will draw attention so you might as well overstep some unwritten rules. And after all, it's not like you're doing something prohibited!



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