A week ago, a new bus mascot happily presented itself to the world in Sabadell, a city outside of Barcelona in Spain. For some, it was big, unique, and colorful, with a certain je ne sais quoi. I, like many others, thought it looked like Pixar’s Baymax, Spanish style. Others were taken aback by the mascot, even going so far as to call it the stuff of nightmares.
In the end, I’m certain Sabadell’s new bus mascot would have made a splash on social media in some way or another. However, it made an absolute tidal wave because of its name: “Bussi.” As someone who is always among the last to learn the latest slang, I didn’t think much of it. I thought it was just a funny name. However, my brain exploded when my editor tsked tsked and passed me the definition of a similarly spelled word from Urban Dictionary. I’ll leave you to look it up.
The coincidence led to delight, lots of laughter, confusion, and pledges of loyalty to Bussi (the mascot) from many in the LGBT community on Twitter, and now I understood why.
However, as someone who is bilingual in Spanish and lives in Spain, I can guarantee you that “Bussi,” the name of the city’s new bus mascot, is absolutely not associated with its English spelling. It just doesn’t mean the same thing here.
In fact, Bussi’s name means something completely different. As Agustí Hurtado, director of the Illa Escola d’Art i Disseny, an art and design school in Sabadell, told me in a phone interview on Friday, the mascot’s name is a combination of the words “bus,” which has the same meaning in Spanish and English, and the word “sí,” which means “yes” in Spanish. In other words, Bussi, which is not a real word in Spanish or Catalan, also spoken in Sabadell, means “yes to the bus.”
Why? Because the entire idea of Bussi is the promote the use of public transport, specifically of buses, among children in the city. The colorful lines on the mascot, in fact, are the same colors used in maps that show the bus lines in Sabadell.
“The issue with the name? That totally escaped us because, of course, jargon that is so specific to the U.S., it didn’t even pass through our minds,” Hurtado said in Spanish. “It is kind of funny, though.”
When asked to speak about Bussi and the reactions to its name, the local city government told Gizmodo that it would not comment on the controversy.
According to Hurtado, Bussi was the result of a contest cosponsored by the art school and the local bus company, Transports Urbans de Sabadell, or TUS. The school has a long history of collaborating with the TUS, he explained, and in the past has created exterior and interior signage for the company’s buses, sleeves for storing bus cards, and promotional catalogues.
During the last school year, TUS came to the school and said it wanted a mascot for the activities it hosted for kids to promote sustainable public transport and civility, such as showing kids to offer their seats for the elderly while on the bus. Hurtado agreed, and the students took on the task, guided by their professors.
About 30 mascot proposals were submitted, which were judged by a jury. The jury selected a series of finalists, and of those, student Arianne Lara Carrillo’s design was chosen as the winner. She and the other finalists received a small monetary prize. Carrillo’s big prize was seeing her work adopted by a company and used in the city.
“The news here shouldn’t be whether a hater on Twitter likes the mascot or not. The news should be that here we have a small city company that wants to collaborate with a school, with students,” Hurtado told Gizmodo, referencing some of the negative reactions Bussi has received on Spanish social media. “It’s a brave bet on behalf of the company for young talent, for talent that’s being trained.”
There was another question I had for Hurtado, which after the mascot’s name was the one that was seemingly on everyone’s minds: What exactly was Bussi? The interpretations have had no relation whatsoever. Some said it looked like Baymax, a lovable and adorable robot, while others compared it to an evil clown similar to the one in It. Hurtado remarked that some have even said it’s an alien, while others have asked whether it’s an onion, which is the vegetable on Sabadell’s city crest.
As it turns out, Bussi is none of those things. Lara, the contest winner, was inspired by marine animals when she created the mascot. Yet, since she wanted to create a mascot with as few known connotations as possible, she decided to create something entirely new: an imaginary animal.
“The day of the presentation, the kids would all ask [Bussi], ‘but what are you?’ It’s as if they were saying, ‘you’re not a dog, you’re not a dragon, you’re not a cat, so what are you?’” Hurtado recalled. “And then I would tell them, ‘Bussi is what your imagination thinks it is.’”
In fact, as told by Hurtado, the kids loved Bussi and all wanted to play with it and take photos with it. He also addressed one video on social media where it seems like a child is running away from Bussi in fear. The child wasn’t scared, Hurtado said, he was playing with Bussi. Bussi just can’t run, which in that costume is to be expected.
Just like Bussi lit up English social media, it also made an impression on social media in Spain. Unlike the reactions in English, which made a big deal out of of Bussi’s name, the reactions in Spanish have been centered on the mascot’s appearance, and some have been less than kind.
Diana Gómez, for instance, known for playing the lead character in Netflix’s Spanish-language series Valeria, tweeted in Catalan that she now felt a bit iffy saying that she was registered as a resident in Sabadell. Others on social media have said Bussi is scary and that it resembles an overweight beetle, according to local outlet La Vanguardia. Don’t worry, there are also Bussi stans in Spain, including some that want the mascot on a keychain or as a plushie.
People on social media also pointed out that it’s not the first time Sabadell has made headlines—and caused embarrassment, as some would say, although I disagree. Back in 2013, a group of Sabadell citizens made a video with their own version of South Korean artist Psy’s famous song, “Gangnam Style” titled “Compra en Sabadell” or “Buy in Sabadell.” The video aimed to, naturally, encourage people to shop in the city, although it apparently only managed to create embarrassment, rage, and controversy.
When it comes to Bussi, Hurtado said the school doesn’t like the critiques the mascot has been receiving from haters, especially considering that art is subjective. He also stressed that the local city government has paid nothing for Bussi, contrary to what’s being said by some on Spanish social media. The student was given a small monetary prize by the bus company because her work was used, but that’s it.
“It’s true that when you launch something like this, it’s inevitable that the entire world has an opinion,” he said. “There have actually been really funny meme reactions. From a humorous perspective, we can laugh at those memes, too. But when it comes to hateful comments, comments where people say ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it,’ that’s subjective.”
Moral of the story: It’s fine to laugh if it’s in good fun. However, we should always stop and, when possible, try to find more information on something before we go out and insult it or say we hate it. As we’ve learned in this case, you never know who could be behind it.
Now for more photos of Bussi, which is what you all came here for anyway. Click and you shall receive.