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  • Paul Stara

The Subtle Art of Travel Positivity


I have yet to meet a train ticket inspector in Western Europe who doesn’t have an abnormally extreme Napoleon complex. At this point, it’s almost like I expect it. It’s literal clockwork—wherever I go. Speaking of clockwork, I journeyed to Switzerland over fall break. Upon arriving, I found the nearest train ticket kiosk and ordered up a one-way ticket from the Geneva airport to my hostel in Nyon. Now, I had two options. I could pay 14 CHF (Swiss francs) for a “regular” ticket or 7 CHF for a “reduced” ticket. Being the frugal college student that I am and thinking (logically, I would argue) that a reduced ticket is for students, retirees, etc., I opted for this one. Fantastic! I boarded the train, we departed, and not five minutes had gone by before I heard the clacking of boots and clicking of a hole-puncher. I whipped out my ticket, ready to say, “Bonjour!” and then “Merci!”. Neither happened. No greeting of any sort.

“This is a reduced ticket,” he said triumphantly. “Oh right, let me show you my student I.D,” I replied. “No student, no. No. This is reduced,” he continued. I came to find out that one needed a special yearly permit to utilize reduced tickets, since that makes so much sense. “You must pay fee since you have the wrong ticket! The fee is 100 francs!” he stated, again very triumphantly. At this moment, I knew that this guy wanted to see me absolutely horrified, nervous, embarrassed, even apologetic. I decided to play a little game with him instead. “…ok,” I said, with a slight smile. Crickets. He gave me a look of supreme astonishment. The other train passengers, already clearly annoyed, turned to watch the spectacle unfold. “Ok,” I repeated. “… …ok…ahh ok, so you are okay with…with the fee?” he stammered. “Yup, sure.” I pleasantly replied, holding out my credit card. Now, to be perfectly clear, I was not ok with the fee. I did not want to spend $110 for a dumb mistake, but to be honest I’ve spent $110 on dumber things. I waited. He waited. We made eye contact and held it—well past the this-is-getting-awkward-I-should-look-away point. Finally, he spoke: “…well, normally people aren’t ok…you know especially if they are just visiting.” “Well, then I suppose I’m not most people,” I said, myself beginning to doubt what I was trying to accomplish. “So…are you going to fine me?” I asked politely. “Normally we don’t fine visitors, especially since you made an honest mistake.” “Oh, ok then. I appreciate the information,” I responded. “Just remember to buy the full-price ticket next time,” he stated.

I secretly wondered how the next guy would know whether it was my first time “accidentally” buying a reduced ticket, especially if I used a different card each time.

“Ok, roger that!” I finished cheerfully. He was clearly more annoyed with me than I was with him, and so I considered this a mission accomplished. Don’t worry, I did in fact buy the full-price ticket from then onward, but the entire encounter prompted me to write this article. How much of the time, myself included, are we all just out to prove ourselves as superior, or more knowledgeable than another person? What would our world look like if we were all just a bit more accommodating and understanding? I reflected for a while on this, and I’ve begun to realize that it is within all of us to be just a bit more helpful, a bit more charitable to those we meet. It would have been far easier for the ticket inspector to simply inform me of my mistake and move on. He chose not to, and I was happy to have played my little game with him. Perhaps he will choose to be more hospitable to the next person because of it. Stay positive, my friends, and don’t let a simple mistake disrupt your travel excursions.

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