Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Adventures in Budapest: The mind-boggling stupidity of tourists, part 27

Right, back in Australia for some R&R (the story of making a 36 hour Cambridge-Canberra trip before going directly to a cocktail party armed with two litres of duty free can be saved for another occasion).

Anyway, the last port of call in Europe was Budapest, where armed with enough Hungarian to say “thanks” and a weekly public transport pass, I decided it would be fairly easy to get the metro and then the bus to the airport at the end of my trip.

Which it was. Emerging at the metro terminal and following the bus symbols towards the bus station, I passed a very obvious ticket booth. I queued patiently, presented my weekly pass and said: “airport?”

The ticket seller nodded her head gravely, and I took it I was fine to get on the bus without another ticket.

“Köszönöm”, I said.

I went to the stop with the red plane painted on the sign and got on the bus.

Simple, you might think. A matter of the smallest exercise of observational powers and common sense.

Apparently not.

The funky thing about Budapest ticket inspectors is that they are in plain clothes, other than huge red arm bands, which they get out and drape around their wrists.

Second last stop before the airport a lady boarded and whipped out her red band. My weekly travel card passed muster. Then she hit the English and the French dude next to me.

When both their ethnicity and lack of Hungarian became apparent she passed each a card in their respective language, explaining, I imagine, that - Sir or Monsieur - you're busted.

The fine is approximately 10 times the price of a valid ticket.

The Frenchman clucked and tutted and “Mais non”-ed in the hope that a display of Gallic incredulity might defeat steely Magyar determination.

The Englishman took an equally stereotypical approach.

“You can’t do this,” he said loudly and slowly in English. “There needs to be a sign. There wasn’t a sign anywhere. It’s not fair. You have to warn people. No, sorry, I don’t understand a word you’re saying.”

As someone who speaks English and (some) French, I chose to bite my tongue, because all I would have had to say was: “Buddy, even if they’re obliged to put up a sign stating something as blindingly obvious as ‘riding without a valid ticket is a criminal offence and will incur a fine – just as it does everywhere else in the world’, they’re not obliged to post it in English.”

Or: “Dude, if you can’t understand her, what makes you think she’s suddenly going to sprout the power to speak English? And more to the point, if you don’t speak Hungarian, how do you know there wasn’t a frikken sign?”


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