Today I was on my way to work on a bus that was really packed. A woman boarded at some point pushing the people already on board and near the entrance (including me) really hard. My reaction was asking her in an aggressive - but low - tone what she was doing (others complained too). She didn't reply and continued to push her way into the bus.

A man accompanied her (both were about 60 yo) and asked me (!) very aggressively why was I pushing. Well this baffled me a great deal and I said "excuse me?" to which he replied "Didn't you understand the question? Don't you speak the language well enough?". I was completely confused and didn't reply at all - they left the bus after a while, her pointing and making threatening gestures at me as she was moving away.

Well, I guess at some point everyone faces such irrational behavior from strangers, but I felt really offended by their rudeness and a little angry at myself for not being able to answer properly.


What is the most appropriate and mature way of dealing with such situations? How to react to people being irrationally rude to me in public places without being annoying/rude to bystanders? Is there a way to avoid such things from happening in the first place?

NOTE: My country is in Southern Europe.

  • I think Southern Europe is specific enough, thank you :) Are the busses often very stuffed?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 8:08
  • 1
    @Tinkeringbell it depends on the day and time. This morning was extremely stuffed and this happens 2 or 3 times a month maybe. But I have never experienced such a behavior before.
    – clueless
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 8:15
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    When you got to your destination after this odd encounter, did you find that you were missing any valuable items from your pockets?
    – shoover
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 16:10
  • @shoover fortunately not...
    – clueless
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 17:04
  • What country in southern Europe? In my mind, this isn't enough information: there a lot of differences between countries in southern europe; southern europe doesn't have a universal definition, etc.
    – user288
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 23:14

8 Answers 8


I travel by public transport a lot. So I have also dealt with a fair share of overstuffed trains and buses. And the rudeness people exhibit in these situations. I'm from Northern Europe though.

First of all, it is important to remember that the other person wants to get to their destination just as desperately as you. Just the sight of an overstuffed bus or train is most likely to ruin their mood. They need to get on it, whatever it takes, because they have places to go and times to be there.

So never ask "what do you think you're doing". That should be quite obvious: They want to get on that bus, whatever it takes.

This is of course absolutely not a reason to be rude, but I find it easier to remember to be polite myself. My solutions to these situations are most often based on these thoughts as well.

  • My number one solution when somebody starts pushing to get on the bus? Shout out a loud cry of pain. Act like their pushing is hurting you. The surprise of you shouting out will probably stop them pushing for a while (at least, it has always worked for me); Then ask them to please stop pushing, since it is hurting you.
  • To show a sense of goodwill, I usually follow step one with a shout across the bus/train, and ask the person to please wait a moment:

    Hey guys, this person really needs to get on this bus/train as well. Can we somehow make some room for them? -- Please wait a moment madam/sir, we are trying to make some room for you.

  • If that doesn't stop the pushing, I start 'fighting back'. Don't move, however hard you are pushed. Just state calmly:

    Madam/Sir, you can push all you want, but there really is no room here. I have no place to move to, I have no room I can make for you.

When I am on a bus, I usually make sure to say the last thing so loud, that the bus driver can hear this as well. The bus driver then usually changes the sign on the front of the bus to say "Sorry, this bus is full" instead of the sign saying the bus number and destination.

As for the situation with the male, I don't think you could have done any better. If people really choose to be that rude/mean, and they are complete strangers, the proper answer is to say nothing. You have tried your best to be polite, and if they choose to not reciprocate, that's entirely their fault. If you are really confident, you could make a comment like

I wasn't pushing, I'm sorry but I know a full bus can be really uncomfortable, but I really did not have the room to move when she started boarding, so it might have felt like I did push back, when instead we just collided.

But be prepared that somebody who already has his mind on unpleasantness might not react well to this. So, in my opinion, not feeding his unpleasantness was the right thing to do.

  • #1 and #3 are right on spot, as it actually did hurt - that's what my reaction was all about, and the bus was so stuffed I couldn't move to anywhere else (I always move when there's too much traffic where I'm standing).
    – clueless
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 13:12
  • @clueless, see also this . Apparently there was room somewhere :)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 13:21

In Europe, over the years, I have faced this problem many times in crowded bus/subway/tramway, due to strikes (less lines open) or accident (delay) or just any event that draws many people to the same place at the same time (i.e. game / concert...).

What is the most appropriate and mature way of dealing with such situations?

To me, the best way to handle this is:

  1. move if you can (even a little step, squeeze yourself a bit, so you show them that you try to help and care about their problem), stand still if you have to and can't help them getting in.
  2. say nothing, or, if they're pushy, just smile and tell them: Sorry Ma'am/Sir, I can't help more, move and push others.
  3. never argue, just go back to step #1 if needed.

How to react to people being irrationally rude to me in public places without being annoying/rude to bystanders?

When standing near the entrance (what I usually do in order to avoid bothering/pushing people on my way out), there's not much you can do. People who are late or don't want to wait are already upset (being delayed and seeing others in front of them) and rude to you and the others already onboard. I just use the 3 steps above because arguing will lead to a never ending conflict.

Is there a way to avoid such things from happening in the first place?

I don't think so, as you can't, within a 10-seconds span of time, educate people who lack such easy common sense as waiting their turn, and, therefore, respecting others. These are people who can't wait in line without showing manifestations of impatience.

Don't argue, don't talk to them as it will only escalate. THEY are rude, not you. Don't give them another chance of being more rude...

Related: Pushy commuters - 'social thuggery'. Even though it's Canadian-based, it gives good hints about different behaviours and why some people just can't understand why they're either rude or stupid or whatever you call them... I like the 2 examples Lady yelling on the phone and people cutting their toenails on the subway. Especially because it shows you can't always have a positive influence on some people, and that keeping calm and silent is sometimes better.

  • 3
    When standing near the entrance, there may be one thing you can do: Get of of the way of people trying to get further into the bus / car / etc. Don't block the aisles if there is room inside but not near the entrance. During rush hour, I frequently see subway cars with empty seats but people stepping onto each others' toes near the doors and I hate getting into those cars. Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 12:20
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    I agree. Don't block, don't bother. That's why I 1st mentioned move if you can.
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 12:22
  • Thank you for your reply. This is pretty similar to the one I chose. The article was pretty interesting too. I agree with you that not answering to fight-seeking people is the best choice (at least now that I'm thinking clearly).
    – clueless
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 13:14
  • @clueless : glad it helped ;)
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 13:20

There are both sides of the story:

  • people getting in are pushing ones who are already inside in order to to get on board.
  • people already in are not moving, so they are effectively pushing the newcomers out.

Who's actually pushing whom is clearly nothing but a matter of interpretation. People inside feel entitled to keep their positions. People on the outside feel entitled to having room made for them. One side thinks it's rude to move in, the other side it's rude to not move in. Both sides think they're right, but nobody actually is.

The conflict is already there, just waiting for someone to burst out, even if everyone is benevolent. Sometimes an actually aggressive person (like the couple you've encountered) happens and then argument is unavoidable. There is no proper answer. Everybody thinks it's them who's right and it's others who are wrong, so a resolution is impossible.

Even in your case, it was possible that it was you who was wrong, maybe you were standing in a passageway (close to the door) so you were obstructing the flow of passengers. I'm not trying to excuse how that guy behaved, I'm just trying to partially explain reasoning that lead him to what he did.

If you chose to engage, (which is expressing your feelings in any way, including speaking or even sighing) there is one rule of engagement that you've broken: you can never use phrases like "excuse me". It's vague and unclear so your opponent will definitely interpret it to his advantage and it pushes you into defense, so you're losing initiative. In such altercations, the more aggressive and louder person "wins". Your words must be precise and clearly put the blame on your opponent, like "stop pushing!".

  • 3
    In such altercations, the more aggressive and louder person "wins". Mahatma Gandhi's belief in Ahimsâ wouldn't agree with you. You may be right, sometimes, in a certain way, but I truly believe that it's better to not communicate than to argue and let it "mature" into an escalation process... Loved the answer until I reached the last 2 sentences :/
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 12:27
  • 1
    @OldPadawan That's why I wrote "wins" in quotes, because there is no win there. But OP clearly have a feeling that he had "lost".
    – Agent_L
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 12:57
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    @Tinkeringbell I ride very stuffed bus every day. There is always room for more people, provided they push hard enough and people already inside don't push back even harder. The fact that the aggressive couple OP described made it only proves that there was, in fact, room for 2 more people.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 13:02
  • 2
    You guys should look up "Japan Metro Pushing" on YouTube and see what real pushing is like. They're fitting at least an extra 25% when they use dedicated people pushers.
    – Nelson
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 4:20
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    @clueless Yes, you're right. As I wrote. The problem is that the other side is also right. You have a point about manners, but in a crowded bus manners just don't work. I've witnessed many times when people outside ask and nobody inside ever moved, especially the ones deeper inside where there was still plenty of space.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 9:31

I live in Rome, where the public transports are in a desperate situation.

I always meet people pushing and what i do in these situations, is to push them back, out of the transport, not phisically pushing but just by highly maintaining my position and if they keep pushing, by occupying more space to don't let them push in anymore.

I know it's a bad attitude, but i see people hurting eachother to step into the bus and by acting this way i never had problems.

If i have the space to let someone in i just move away, but if i don't, why do you keep pushing? If you keep pushing when i don't have enough space, there is nothing to tell you, i can just speak your same language by pushing you out.

  • 3
    As Agent_L already pointed out, there is still space, and you refuse to give that space to those outside, it's just plain rude. If other people standing close to you is really bothering you, why do you not get out and let 3 other people have your place? So you can wait for a nice and quiet vehicle you can enjoy in solitude.
    – user2848
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 15:40
  • 2
    As i said i do that when there is no livable space Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 15:44
  • 1
    +1 for "i can just speak your same language by pushing you out" :)
    – Maxim
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:23
  • 2
    That's the ultimate rudeness. You try that when I'm trying to get on the bus at your own risk.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 21:54

It's not easy to avoid things like that from happening when buses are packed in southern Europe. Allow me to share my experience as I've been in your situation many times and even worse. I have been groped a few times on top of that.

In the beginning, I chose not to say anything about the pushing. Or if someone gave me an angry look, I would tell that person who clearly thought it was me pushing, something like,

Hey, wasn't me, I got pushed. I'm sorry.

or I would exclaim,

Who the heck just pushed us? How rude!

Lately though, when someone pushes me, especially if I have seen who it was, I will let that person have it. And you know why? People like that need to be embarrassed and exposed OR they will keep doing it because nobody has managed to say anything.

So one time, I was waiting to get off the bus when a 60 year old woman pushed me. (It's usually older people who are really rude and feel entitled as if the bus belongs to them). This is what I said loudly and firmly,

Why are you pushing me? Would you like it if I did this to you? Can't you just ask if I'm getting off, first?, Next time, wait your turn like the rest of us, ma'am.

The relief I felt! And occasionally, I have even got the other people who were also pushed to stand up for themselves after hearing me complain.


I've faced a few overpacked bus rides myself, and I try to preempt such actions by observing the situation and taking matters into my own hands. More often than not, there will be gaps in the aisle where standing passengers have opted not to resituate after previous riders have disembarked.

If I see that this is the case and that we are coming up on a crowded stop, I'll ask people near me to please move back and make room, hoping for an impromptu game of telephone or monkey-see-monkey-do. If nobody complies or not enough room is made, I will loudly direct my request toward the entire vehicle.

  • Exactly, I do that too. A polite request and then 'excuse me's all the way through. Not aggressively pushing unsuspected passengers.
    – clueless
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 4:52
  • I do it as a pre-existing pasenger -- the "you" -- in preparation for potential "her"s. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 5:09
  • I see. This is a nice suggestion. In some cases though you don't know if the people waiting in the station want to board your bus or if they do, they are willing to enter a bus which doesn't allow their ideal personal space or which entrance they will choose. If you are in a packed bus it's possible you can't even see where they are heading. But provided you can see their intentions, then yes, this is a very kind and practical approach.
    – clueless
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 6:57
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    With the exception of a few key intersections, most stops along a bus route in my city are for one route only, and people are only allowed on at the front, so it's a fairly simple task in my case. Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 11:58

Pushing is only marginally acceptable. Sometimes you have to squeeze by another, and the only way to do that is by using a bit of gentle pressure to get past. Especially if you have to do so to get off (or miss your stop) or if someone behind you also needs to get by and is waiting for you to move.

Pushing is NOT acceptable when there's just no more room for another person, and pushing isn't going to accomplish anything except making things unbearably tight for everyone.

Where I live, many people have the habit of getting on -- and then stopping (and blocking the entrance). In this case I will push (but just the minimum amount necessary) because they're acting as if they are the last ones who need to get on. Other people want to get on too!

Other than the above exceptions, don't push!

One last comment: look for a spot not close to the doors and move there if you can. There is usually more room there, and it's a good place to grab a seat from if one opens up.

  1. Tell them to stop pushing you, as politely as you can manage. If they're causing pain, also tell them this.
  2. If you can, move to make room,
  3. If there's space further along, ask people to move along politely.
  4. Tell them "There is no room on this bus".

I'd hope I'd work through these steps, repeating 1 as often as is relevant - even if there is space, they have no right to push you around. If I reached 4, I'd also repeat that until they got the message.

The key, in my mind, is making the statements as calmly as you can (although I'd be tempted to drop the "please" after the first attempt). Don't shout as I'd expect this would lead to escalation. Staying calm (or appearing to) is hard, so we all need to practice.

Here, you are doing all you possibly can while reminding them of polite/adult behaviour. This is all you can do, in my opinion.

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