On my Nottingham adventure and buses

I was not, in fact, kidnapped by the Merry Men in Nottingham. I did, however, have that song, “(Everything I do) I do it for you” in my head all day.

My main qualm with the Nottingham adventure was unrelated to either Kevin Costner or Bryan Adams. Why are English bus drivers so rude?

When I first started spending time in the UK, I found myself surprised at the etiquette surrounding visiting people in other towns. When one was invited to visit an office in another town for job purposes, it was unlikely that you would be picked up at the rail station and extremely likely that you would be given detailed instructions on how to make the bus and/or walking trip on your own to the place you were due to visit. I’m more-or-less accustomed to this protocol now, and even revel in my ability to decipher the instructions and make my way to the meeting location. But I find the bus drivers in different UK cities to be mystifyingly rude.

If one is standing at a bus stop, and a bus approaches, is it reasonable to expect that the bus would stop? I thought so, at least until I moved to England. Here, if you want the bus to stop at a clearly marked bus stop on its route, you still have to flag your intentions and hail it with a single upraised arm, the way you would hail a cab in the US. I know this because I have been loudly dressed down by the bus driver for not doing so.  I admit the job does seem to have an unlikely administrative burden; when on a bus with a broken ticket machine one morning, I sat and watched as each “customer” paid and the driver subsequently filled out a hand-written ticket from a little book with carbon-copy duplicates.  Each additional customer was clearly a major annoyance that morning and the driver made it clear with his loud sighs and grumbles; it probably goes without saying that the bus arrived at its final destination very, very late.  I can’t imagine an American bus driver hand-writing carbon-copy tickets; I seem to recall that we would normally pay and go sit without any exchange of paper at all.

It is also customary English behavior to thank the driver as you exit the bus. This goes down in my book as a bit much–I am still alive and have reached my destination but paid for the privilege–it’s likely not been a pleasant trip, so why the obligatory thank you behavior?

The buses in different UK towns are seemingly independent systems.  The Nottingham bus driver was annoyed with me over my lack of knowledge of local bus customs–I messed up the ticket purchase in two different ways in the space of a minute.  The bus drivers in the UK clearly come from the same school of thought as the English waiters who only bring the bill if you beg for it–you as the “customer” are an annoyance to them and are interrupting their otherwise pleasant day with your presence and pitiful needs.

I managed to catch a ride back to the rail station and did not have to take a second Nottingham bus trip.  I’m back “home” and the arrival of my parents is imminent, so surely many more adventures and stories to come as I try to explain England to them over the next few days!

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