Bus-Riding in Montevideo

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Among the many new aspects of life I’m experiencing in Uruguay, I’ve gotten to enjoy one in particular: travelling on buses. Montevideo doesn’t have an underground metro and is otherwise a very car-centered town, but it is well served by a multitude of bus lines crisscrossing the city, many of which intriguingly don’t proceed along an obvious line linking Point A to Point B but detours and meanders along rich and poor neighborhoods alike.

I ride buses out of necessity (I can’t drive), but also out of choice. Taxis here are small and cramped, and the reckless driving can give you headaches on bumpy concrete roads. After observing a number of collisions, I came to the conclusion that travelling in a bigger vehicle would not only be more pleasant, but would probably keep me alive longer. Sure, bus drivers have their distractions too; they take money, issue tickets and change, drive, talk and sing along to the radio (often all at the same time), but all in all I trust them more than those crazy cab drivers.

Riding buses is a civilized and very social business here. Men routinely step aside for women, especially those accompanied by children. Should you stand, soon there is a tap on your shoulder informing that there’s a vacant seat. And then there are the live performances. I wonder if I should say bus musician instead of street musician, but anyway there’s almost always some performer (or the occasional pedlar) hopping on the bus for a couple of stops. So far I’ve been entertained by Spanish rap, ballads, witty monologues, and, on one memorable occasion, a soulful male duet accompanied by guitar and trombone(!). (Incidentally, there is a notice on the back exit exhorting riders to refrain from making use of “sonorous instruments”. They do it anyway.) Not everyone on the bus gives money, but they all applaud at the end of the performance. Sometimes I will be standing at a bus stop with the afternoon sun in my eyes, and a bus will trundle by, polite clapping spilling out of the open windows. It is a strange but wonderful sight.

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There is one more thing about buses that I haven’t been able to figure out yet: the advertisements. As I mentioned in my last post, stationery ads are surprisingly common here, many of them plastered to the sides of buses (where you would more commonly expect, in Korea at least, ads for more lucrative businesses such as clinics and cram schools). Are spots cheap? Do they ever recoup the cost? And what is the point of advertising products that are not at all new, and often the only kind offered at most stores (like Papiros student notebooks), or the cheapest available that people will buy anyway (like BIC Crystal ballpoint pens)?

But maybe all this is normal – it is, after all, an industry like any other. It’s just that it’s been such a long time since I’ve seen such public ads for stationery. We might ask ourselves why we don’t do it back home more often.

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12 thoughts on “Bus-Riding in Montevideo

  1. Your bus ride experience juxtaposes mine; sometimes I wish it is a social and civilized activity! There is definitely less stationary advertisement in the States, but more prevalent in Taiwan. I was thrilled and surprised to see a Coleto commercial on TV and pointed it out ecstatically like a nerd to my sister. She definitely looked at me as if I going nuts!

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    1. I don’t remember seeing many stationery commercials on TV, but those I did see were all in Japan I think, for newly released products. I can totally relate to the nerdy excitement ;)

      Apart from the bus ads, I’ve also seen a back-to-school TV commercial starring footballer Luis Suarez.

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  2. Thanks for this report from your new home. I find the observations fascinating.
    Recently I have actually seen very similar advertising on buses here in the English city where I live.

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    1. I wonder if it is a trend? There used to be many more ads like these when I was growing up, and featuring not only big international brands but local brands too. I miss them a lot. Hopefully the era of quality advertising for quality pencils will come back…?

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  3. Hi Sola, reading between the lines I begin to wonder if the reason why Uruguayans are susceptible to stationery advertising is a lack of connectivity and greater reliance on old fashioned writing culture? Anecdotally, not one of the people in your photos appears to be holding or using an iPhone — the passengers’ heads aren’t bent down. Enjoy your new city!

    P.S. In response to a post of yours from last year to which I did not reply…
    #Sometimes Pens #Sometimes Other Things #Always Pencils

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    1. Hi Junius, thank you for your comment :) No I don’t think it’s a lack of connectivity, everyone is just as attached to their phones here as anywhere else, all the more because there’s a wildly popular bus app called Moovit! The only difference I’ve noticed here is that the market share for the iPhone appears to be surprisingly small; most people have Samsung phones (Ricky Martin fronts ads for LG).

      I wish I could say they retain a more analog culture but I’m not sure about that either. The stationery selection here seems to be constrained by the fact that Uruguay is 1. a very small country 2. hemmed in between two giant neighbors 3. in a region not known for free trade agreements (except intra-Mercosur trade maybe). I’ll write more about it once I get to know more and get my thoughts organized :)

      And of course… #siemprelápices #happinessisayellowpencil ;)

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  4. 저는 최근에 독일로 유학을 왔습니다만 독일도 프릭션의 약진이 두드러지는 듯합니다^^ 일단은 버스 광고에 나오는 것 같은 캡식만 보입니다(노크식은 없음).

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    1. 프릭션은 의외로 구형만 수입하는 나라가 많은 것 같습니다. 저는 제가 아는 프릭션이랑 너무 다르게 생겨서 처음엔 다른 펜인줄 알았어요 @.@

      문구선진국으로 유학을 가셨으니 공부가 즐거우시겠어요. 펜생활 연필생활 많이 즐기시고 다양한 경험 많이 하시길 바랍니다. 이삼십대에 경험한 것들은 굉장히 강렬하게 박혀서, 두고두고 마음의 자양분이 되더라고요^^

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      1. 사실 공부에 집중하고 싶기 때문에 완물이 될 만한 물건들은 대부분 한국에 두고 왔습니다. 유일한 사치라면 들고 온 M200에 넣을 먹을 한 병 사는 일일 텐데, 이틀동안 상점에 가보았지만 아직 고르지 못했습니다. 검약 속에서 즐길 때에 비로소 취미(취향의 맛!)의 참다운 묘미가 음미되는 것이 아닌가 합니다. 모두 다 가지고 싶다고 해서 모두 다 가져 버린다면 무슨 즐거움이 있겠습니까? ^^

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      2. 맞는 말씀입니다^^ 저도 지난 1-2년간 열렬히 이베이를 한 결과 급체가 온 게 아닌가 하는 생각이 들 때가 있습니다. 여기는 유혹도 적고 남미답게 규제도 많아 자의반 타의반 있는 물건으로 즐기며 살아야 하는 상황이 되었답니다. 저도 이제는 모으기보다는 쓰고 관찰하고 생각하며 즐겨 보려구요^^

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