I’ve heard this now too many times to count. Each time I, a highly organized and efficient American who plans ahead (all right, family, don’t laugh!), wonder why the person didn’t look at the number on the bus before entering. If we make allowances for the fact that some of these people are elderly and may not see all that well, the question makes some sense. But many of these folks are young enough to know better. What is it that makes them move first and ask questions later?
A parallel to this is when someone gets on a bus and then asks something like, “Does this bus go to Rechnoi Vokzal (the River Station)?” Again, why not just read the side of the bus, which lists all the major stops and the general route? Or why not do what some sensible souls do: duck the head inside and ask the driver or a passenger before getting on?
Again, poor eyesight could be a factor for some. Yet, a couple of weeks ago, a man in his late 30s or early 40s sat by me on a bus for quite some time, as though he knew what he was doing. Then suddenly he asked me, “What’s the final stop of this bus?” “Nizhnaya Yeltsovka,” I said with satisfaction, looking forward to getting home after a long day. Well, my companion had hoped that the bus would take him to the city center. So he had to get off at the first stop in Nizhnaya Yeltsovka, walk to a different bus stop on the main highway, and wait for the bus that would take him where he needed to go. An extra expenditure of 14 rubles.
Why do they do it? I’m not sure. There may be a combination of factors. One is a general lack of planning ahead, which, though by no means true for all Russians, is a cultural trait shared by many. Another factor may be the love of motion: Russians like to drive or ride, and sometimes the going somewhere is more important than the where. A third could be fatalism. Russians tend to accept as their lot what is, and if there’s some trouble involved in turning what is into what should be, then so be it.
It’s not, however, as though they don’t understand that people should pick the right bus. One Sunday morning, as I headed out for church, the elderly woman sitting next to me asked me, “Which bus is this?” I had to say, “I don’t know.” Then she mumbled something to the effect of, “What’s wrong with a man who doesn’t even know which bus he’s on?”
Why couldn’t I answer her? Because only two buses come to my stop, and they both go where I needed to get to. The available bus was the right shape and the right color, so I just hopped on without looking.
Maybe you’re thinking now that I’m becoming a little like them. You could be right.