a story. and a film.

Monday, December 13, 2010

the other day, i was taking the train from my school to another to town for a tutoring appointment. i had a few minutes before the train came to buy my ticket. i stood at the machine, as i always do, and pressed the button to select my ticket only to realize the machine wasn't working. i looked around the platform, hoping to find someone who could help me, but all i could see were students (who don't use the machine to buy tickets; they have student passes). if this were a normal train station, i could simply wait in line at the ticket counter, but this station is not so much as a ''station'' but rather a lone platform. suddenly, an elderly woman approached me and asked if i needed help. i showed her that the machine was not working and asked what she thought i should do. she told me to board the train (without a ticket) and find the controller (scary man walking up and down the aisles of the train checking tickets; aka tom hanks in polar express) immediately and explain to him that the machine wasn't working.

this means that i would need to board the train without a ticket. that is called ''schwarzfahring'' and that is scary. in german speaking countries (germany, austria, switzlerland - doesn't matter), schwarzfahring is taken very seriously. you can pay anywhere from 40€-80€ if you are caught riding without a ticket and these controllers show no one mercy. what's arguably worse than the fee is the embarrassment; controllers take pleasure in yelling at schwarzfarhers, humiliating them in hopes of scaring them away from ever again committing such an offense. it is one of my biggest fears (being caught on a train without a ticket), so much so that i compulsively check my wallet 3 times before boarding any train, tram or bus. so stepping on this train without a ticket rebelled against every fiber of my being but i did it nonetheless.

i walked up and down the aisles looking for the controller but could not find him. that's not too unusual; on some train rides, you don't get controlled at all. i was about to take my seat when i saw him walking down the far end of the aisle, his trusty little ticket puncher in hand. i took a deep breath and walked the length of the train to approach him. i explained to him that the machine wasn't working and asked him if i could purchase a ticket from him. he asked me which machine wasn't working, why it wasn't working, why i thought it was okay to board the train without a ticket, and so forth. at this point, i could feel my little german voice getting weaker and weaker and i thought, ''i am literally going to get fined 40€ for riding this train without the ticket that would have cost me 2€''. suddenly, the same elderly woman from before came to my rescue. she literally appeared out of nowhere and validated my story with the controller. i could tell he didn't want to believe me but he did and he sold me the 2€ ticket right there on the train. i thanked him, smiled, thanked him again and sat down but he did not return my smile or say you're welcome. just for that, i smiled at him every time we made eye contact for the rest of the journey. i also sat next to the eldery woman and when i stood up to exit the train, i said to her, ''Danke dass Sie mir so viel geholfen haben!'' (thanks so much, you really helped me out). she looked surprised that i was even thinking twice about her actions and said to me, ''Nichts zu danken'', which means you're welcome, or quite literally means, ''nothing to thank''.

as you know, some days i just hate the german language.
on that day, i chose to love it. i suppose that knowing this "awful little language" (to quote mark twain) sometimes really helps me out a lot. and by 'sometimes', i mean 'all of the time'.

on that note, here is a short film. it's 10 minutes in length, but most definitely worth the watch. i viewed this in my first german class in 2007. i had never been to a german-speaking country before, though (or europe, for that matter) and therefore couldn't fully appreciate this. the irony in pepe danquart's oscar-winning film schwarzfahrer is that the word ''schwarzfahrer'' literally means ''black rider''. personally, i find the film absolutely hysterical.


9 comments:

Krystal said...

THAT film was SO funny. I thought maybe she would have forgotten her ticket, haha but that cracked me up!!!! I also live every day in fear of forgetting tickets/cards and it's HAPPENED!! One time I had left my cards in marks pocket the night before so didn't have them the next day and totally forgot. But the lady was super nice and sold me a ticket - and then I could go to the station to get most of the money back - just a 5chf fine. And then one time I got to a station (via train) and went to buy a ticket to somewhere else and didn't have my WALLET! omg!! no money or travel cards...it was a nightmare. but at the last minute i signed up for the SBB mobile app and bought a ticket that way which saved the day!!
p.s. sorry i've been so absent and missing your posts! i had a ca-razy weekend :)

Dani'sfadingmargins said...

Wow that sounds incredibly scary! Especially when it's not in your native language. As opposed to Lima, in which there you always get on the micros without tickets, and they have to come around and solicit your fee.

Lynn said...

great story! the fines there are astronomical, no wonder you were wary of proceeding. the video is interesting, love how fare-dodger got hers in the end!

pea ess: thanks for your awesome comments lades!!! ♥

this free bird said...

i absolutely loved reading this and you had me at tom hanks/polar express which is my favorite modern day christmas story.

girl you are brave and thank the stars for that German lady. whew!! that guy sounds like a tyrant!!

xo,
c

Jessica said...

So glad that lady was there to help you out! That guy sounds like he was pretty grumpy.

Debby said...

There are some really sweet people out there! So glad you found one when you needed help. xo

bonjourbohemian said...

actually, I think there's a law that says that you don't need to pay fines for "Beförderungserschleichung" (a.k.a. "Schwarzfahren") when the ticket machine is broken. I just read about it today. But the woman was right: in such a situation you should either call the number which is often on those machines or search the controller in the train. He should've taken your data and the Bahn must check if the machine is broken - if so, you'd never hear from them again. :)

but yes, them controllers are mostly scary.

Jan said...

God is so good isn't he? That lady was a blessing. And that man was not nice like Tom Hanks!!

Caroline said...

Just found your blog ... AND I love it! xo