The Sociology of Greyhound Buses

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  08.10.12 | 8:03 AM ET

Talk about legwork. Yale University PhD student Esther Kim spent two years criss-crossing the USA by Greyhound, studying the ways in which people create the illusion of solitude or privacy while crammed together in a public space. The Atlantic Cities has some highlights from her findings:

Kim says we distance ourselves from others by putting on a “calculated social performance” that lets strangers in a shared public space know that we don’t want to be bothered. This behavior is intended to keep us safe and undisturbed in an “otherwise uncertain social space.” ...Once passengers acquired a seat they began their performance to dissuade potential row partners. They avoided eye contact, stretched their legs to cover the open space, placed a bag on the empty seat, sat on the aisle and blast earphones, pretended to sleep, looked at the window blankly. They also contorted their expressions into the “don’t bother me” face or the “hate stare,” writes Kim.

Of course, we’ve all done these things—I’m a master of the fake nap with one leg stuck out into the empty space, myself—but it’s still interesting to see the same behaviors documented time and time again. I guess it’s a small, slightly anti-social world after all?


Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.


11 Comments for The Sociology of Greyhound Buses

Elle of Solo Female Nomad 08.16.12 | 3:02 PM ET

Oh no, I am completely guilty of all the points made above!  Especially the fake sleep….accidently, on purpose, taking up the extra seat! Sometimes, however, its nice to have someone to talk to during the journey, and I make as much eye contact as possible!!

Kemal Kaya 08.17.12 | 10:26 AM ET

U se to Greyhound bus in outback Australia, It was one of the expensive trip and was horrible bus. Not comfortable, but still expensive.

alanc230 08.24.12 | 3:32 PM ET

Used to do a lot of bus riding as a student. Guilty as charged.

Roger Treehorn 08.28.12 | 10:37 AM ET

I toured around the USA with a Greyhound bus Merry Pass about 10 years ago, it was fantastic. I loved changing buses at 2am at some strange outpost wonder who you were going to meet. Much better than flying and pretty cheap.

Josh - Badge of Awesome 09.10.12 | 6:04 PM ET

Good ol’ Greyhound. I’m very familiar and well-versed in the art of avoiding seat partners and maintaining privacy. I can’t count how many miles I’ve fake-slept through in my life :)

Sergey 09.13.12 | 6:56 AM ET

The opportunity to be alone for some time is becoming more and more precious nowadays

lou desipio 09.16.12 | 12:48 AM ET

well if you take all the bs out of this over educated author the bottom line is that greyhound made the damn seats a hell of alot smaller when they broke their union in the eighties! jUST like todays liberals comming up with total bs.get a real job and stop riding the DOG!

Casey 09.16.12 | 9:53 AM ET

No, not interesting just a point of view. Most of you must not have one and are conventional, based on the comments left in the insipid article. I love to ride a bus, it’s a chance to see the world form a different prescriptive and without interruption. It is also a chance to meet new people and learn about others and their journey.  Riding a bus is not much different than real life, “everyone” is different and on a different journey. Grow-up people and start thinking for yourself.

Lily 09.17.12 | 3:17 PM ET

Strange, I’ve ridden the Greyhound many times and never really seen this “calculated social performance.” People complain about riding the bus, but for one reason or another I’ve found it to be an interesting experience every time that always leaves me with a story to tell.

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