Commuting Culture Clashes in Italy

On the train from Lecco to Milan the other day, the conductor came down the car, as they usually do, to check tickets. A Spanish-accented woman in the seat in front of me had a generic (distance) ticket, but had not stamped it at the station before getting onto the train, as you are required to do with all tickets. She told the conductor that she had been late and had to rush to get onto the train, and hadn’t had time to stamp it. There are two legal solutions to that problem. One is to seek out the conductor as soon as you get on and ask him to stamp it for you, the other is to write the departure station, date, and time on the ticket yourself. She had done neither. Had the conductor not come around (sometimes they don’t), she could have saved it for another journey, as perhaps she planned to do.

At first I thought the conductor was unnecessarily rude to her. “Pay 5 euros to ‘regularize’ this ticket right here and now,” he said brusquely. Which sounded odd to me; did he mean: “Pay me 5 euros to leave you alone, and we’ll both avoid the hassle of me having to write up a fine” ? But the woman vociferously refused, continuing to complain that she had a ticket, she simply hadn’t had time to stamp it. “You can pay 5 euros, or you can pay 20.46 euros as a fine,” he snapped. “Show me your ID.” (Which he would need to write up the fine.) She refused to do that, either, and was both whiny and abusive about it. “The fine is 70 euros!” he shouted. “You’re refusing to show your ID. Do you want me to call the police?”

We pulled into a station just then, and the conductor used his cellphone to call the local railway police. He may have been faking it, but his “conversation” persuaded the woman to leap off the train. She then stood on the platform complaining loudly to someone who happened to be standing there about how badly she’d been treated.

I was in two minds about this. I disliked the conductor’s manners and attitude, but I had witnessed a very similar scene just a few days before, possibly with the same conductor, and I couldn’t blame him for being tired of the flimsy excuses and bad attitude he was having to deal with. It was clear that each party went away with its own pre-conceived notions firmly embedded: “Lousy, stinking immigrants, they’re all liars and thieves,” on the one hand. “Nasty, overbearing Italians, they pick on us just because we’re immigrants,” on the other. Both sides are right. Both sides are wrong. <sigh>

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