BUS ETIQUETTE #1 -- EMPTY SEATS
Buses in Colombia can often be crowded. Even when the bus is totally crowded, the driver will stop to let more people on. The philosophy is "There is always room for one more.**" There will be a lot of jostling and pushing. Finding an empty seat can be hard and they are often coveted. On my first trip to Bogotá in 1995 (has it really been that long), I remember getting on the bus and seeing one empty seat. There was a woman standing next to the seat holding the rail, so this gringa thought, "HMMM, guess she doesn't want that seat!" I quickly plopped myself down -- much to the horror of my husband, the woman and several onlookers. I recognized right away that I was being an ugly American, but I had no clue as to why sitting in an empty seat could be so horrifying. In my mind, if the lady -- who was already on the bus -- had wanted the seat she would have sat down. WRONG!!! Here is where the etiquette comes in.
Colombians will not sit down on a "silla caliente" (hot seat) in the bus. The definition of a "hot seat" is one where someone has just left. So typically, once someone leaves the seat, a person near the empty seat will stand next to the seat for several minutes while the seat cools down. Once some time has passed, that person will take the seat.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU??
When you get on a bus and see an empty seat, look around you and if someone is standing nearby ask, "¿Se va a sentar?" (say vah ah cenTAUR?) If they say "Sí.", be prepared to stand. If they say "No.", stand next to the seat for about 20 seconds and then sit down.
** This philosophy does not apply to buses labeled "EJECUTIVO" (executive). The EJECUTIVO buses do not typically allow people to stand. This means that if it is full, the executive bus will keep driving past where you are waiting. They are also more expensive to ride.