As a newcomer to any country it is always best to find out what is acceptable and non-acceptable behavior. Public transportation is one of the main forms of transport for most people in Kyrgyzstan. Even though car use has increased dramatically in the few years we’ve been here (which means more time sitting in traffic, bleh), marshrutkas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marshrutka), trolleys (in Bishkek), and buses are still used often. My favorite form of transport is the marshrutka. Marshrutkas have many routes to all parts of the city and are usually very easy to get to. Legally, a person is supposed to get on only at bus stops but when the police aren’t around a person just needs to stick their arm out to wave one down and it will stop.
They are the most expensive of the three forms, with passage costing 10 som (about 21 cents). Buses offer more head room, for those in need of the extra space, and while they can still get pretty stuffy the extra high ceiling alleviates the claustrophobic feeling just a bit. They cost 8 som (about 17 cents). If you don’t like lots of people touching you and would prefer to wait a little bit longer to get extra room then trolleys are the way to go. They aren’t nearly as packed but have fewer routes and often a person has to wait anywhere from 5-15 minutes. These also cost 8 som. Regardless of what you prefer there are a few common sense rules that must be followed:
1. Young people offer their seats to older people. Although if you fall asleep in your seat, it’s perfectly okay to keep your seat.
2. Pregnant women and people with young children get preferential seating as well. A person who is able to stand on their two feet must give up their seat to these people.
3. Keep talk to a minimum. Generally people don’t talk while they are in transit. Foreigners are usually easily spotted because they are the only ones speaking. I did witness this one incident where 3 local guys were listening to a comedian on a phone. The phone speaker was on in a way that all those in hearing distance could hear the comedian as well. It was pretty cool to see the other passengers smiling and laughing silently as the routine went on.
4. As much as you can, use exact change to pay. At the very least use small bills. I have seen some people pay for fare with a 200 som bill and sometimes a 500 som bill. Not cool.
5. Hold on to the railing at all times (that is, if there is a rail to hold on to). Nothing is more embarrassing than losing your balance and falling into the lap of a person sitting. This was embarrassing story #47 for my husband. These modes of transportation start and stop so suddenly that any moment you feel safe in letting go is a bad moment. Lesson learned.