I wake up each morning to several reminders that I’m living in a foreign country. I look out my shutter-lined window and see the Mole Antonelliana, probably the most famous symbol of Torino. I lace up my shoes, as the regular flip-flops have been completely ditched since my arrival to Italy, and begin my trek to school.
After only a few blocks of walking and dodging crazy drivers, I arrive at the nearest bus stop. It is not uncommon here for an Italian to, despite an entire open sidewalk, step literally only a few inches in front of me as I wait for my bus. Lines and personal space simply do not exist here, which is no more apparent than on my daily bus rides.
If I’m lucky enough to grab a seat at the beginning of the ride, chances are I won’t have it by the end. Proper bus etiquette says to give your seat up to elders, mothers and young children. Some people choose not to abide by the unwritten rules, but it’s not easy to rebel. If somebody wants your seat they will stand directly over you and stare until you move. Some choose the “look out the window” approach and pretend they can’t feel that person’s breath down their neck. I, on the other hand, would rather stand and rough the crowds than be in such an uncomfortable situation.
It would seem that getting a seat on the bus would make the lack of personal space less evident, but I’ve learned that this is not the case. It is completely normal for a person to sit right next to you, even if every other seat on the bus is open. I actually get strange looks when I get onto an empty bus and walk to the back to sit by myself. While I find it odd and unnecessary for a person to crowd me on an empty bus, it is something I have adjusted to.
There are, however, personal space issues which I have absolutely not adjusted to. Just yesterday, a group of guys got on my bus which was left with standing room only, and after a few minutes of standing over me, one of them, I kid you not, just sat in my seat with me. I should clarify that it was not a seat made for two people and that this was not something that I had ever seen before. I was so completely taken aback that I did not know how to react. He must have seen the confusion on my face because he looked at me as if to ask if it were OK that he was sitting with me. Still stunned and confused by the situation and unable to respond, I opted to simply clench my backpack and stare out the window for the rest of the ride home.
The crowds that form on the buses are unbelievable, especially during rush hours and on the ever-increasing cold days. And while I do get a taste for the lack of personal space when sitting on the bus, it’s when standing that I really see the differences.
I hold on tight to my pole as the bus stops and goes, picking up more and more people at each stop along the way. Naturally, the more crowded the bus, the more hectic everything becomes. People will push and shove with no reserve to get to where they want to be. The bus usually continues to fill to the point where there is at least one person completely pressed up against me, I am sharing my pole with at least three other people, and I am officially feeling claustrophobic.
I sometimes take myself out of the overwhelming and usually exhausting situation and find it very surreal. Like a scene out of a movie, there are people coughing, babies crying and people shouting on their cell phones – it seems like total chaos, yet if you look around at the passengers they are not even phased. The bus ride for them is not a frustrating invasion of space as it is for me, rather it is a time out of their day in which they have to worry about nothing but getting off at the right stop.