On Sunday evening I arrived in Zurich airport and headed to buy my rail ticket to Zug. The lady who sold me the ticket told me I had 2 minutes to make the train so I quickly ran to the platform and past the orange vested ticket guys. I flashed the ticket and entered the train as it began to move. I had made it.
Not 30 seconds into the trip, the orange vested inspector asked me for my ticket and I duly presented it. I expected him to stamp it, return it and move on.
He spoke to me in German or a variant of it. I explained I didn’t speak or understand German. He replied in English. He told me I had not stamped the ticket before boarding the train and now I owed him a penalty of 100 Swiss Francs. I didn’t quite comprehend this…
“Isn’t it your job to stamp it?”
“No. There were little orange stamping machines on the platform for that.”
“Sorry, I’m not paying you 100 swiss francs for doing your job” I quipped in total disbelief. The ticket only cost 38 francs after all.
“But you must pay me 100 swiss francs,” he said.
“Not likely,” says I resolutely, “besides, I don’t have any francs.”
I then explained that I didn’t know and no one had told me that I had to stamp the ticket myself before boarding the train. How could I?
At this, he relented. 10 Francs then he demanded.
I tried to explain again that I didn’t have any francs.
I explained I had no Euro.
He looked not just puzzled but deeply disturbed by this revelation.
“Passport!” he demanded.
I gave him my passport. “Pounds?” he asked.
Sorry I explained I had no pounds either.
He then left with my passport and returned with two colleagues and a police officer.
We went through the above conversation one more time for everyone’s benefit and then told me I had told him to “F**k off as well.
This was new information as actually, at least until this point, I had maintained an incredulous but passive disposition.
“I did no such thing!”
I was again asked for francs. This time I said “Look, I have Czech Crowns….”
The disbelief among the 4 men was plainly obvious. I hastily pulled out my Czech permanent residence card. “That is where I live see… so no francs, no Euros, no Pounds… just Czech Crowns.”
They didn’t seem impressed by Czech Crowns. It was beginning to get ugly. He had my passport and it looked like he intended to keep it. I again told them I didn’t think this was right as I had no idea I had done anything at all wrong. It was now getting to the point where they kept asking for 10 swiss francs and I kept saying… with increasing amounts of impatience, I do NOT have any swiss francs.
The point is I have a credit card and when I travel I use it. Why would I pay fees to change a couple of hundred dollars, wind up with a bunch of useless coins or pay more fees later to exchange back if I am in the country just a few days at the expense of my client? The very idea that I wasn’t carrying ready cash and that I would argue as well seemed totally objectionable to these Swissies.
It was at that moment something else happened. A man sitting nearby stood up and handed the inspector some swiss francs. Indeed, a short conversation took place and he paid my fine for me.
The man explained that he agreed it wasn’t my fault and that the situation was getting out of hand for the supposed offence. I was, afterall a visitor and did not warrant such treatment. I thanked him profusely and offered to repay if we could find an ATM. He didn’t want repaid he said. He had been lucky that day.
We chatted for the remaining few minutes of the journey. I discovered that he was unemployed and actually having difficulties. He didn’t blame anyone but himself for his dilemma he told me and he was looking for work but he had been lucky that day.
I felt bad. I wanted to repay this generous person who was lacking money but would still pay my fine. He wouldn’t accept any repayment. We swapped email addresses and wished each other goodnight. My faith in humanity not just restored, but given increased confidence that good people really are out there…… there is hope.