Of all the things that I thought might happen to me when I went to Poland last year, getting busted on the street car was not on the list. They have this tricky system there of making it almost impossible for a visitor to get a ticket for the train. And to make it more interesting, there are undercover train cops lurking on the trains to check your ticket. My girlfriend told me afterwards it was because I was smiling and talking in English. So obviously foreign. Not supposed to do that in Warsaw I guess. They are no longer under communism regime. However the feeling of a need to keep ones head down and remain unnoticed persists.
The way to get a ticket for the train in Warsaw is to look for a little building that looks sort of like an ice cream stand. It will have stickers all over the windows and sell nothing but cigarettes and train tickets. They seem to have rather odd hours. They are not open on holidays or before or after a holiday. Or any other day that a tourist needs to buy a ticket. My friend and I wanted to go to downtown Warsaw so we decided to risk it. Or rather I did. She had a pass being a native and all. So we get on the train and away we go. Riding the train in Poland is a very solemn occasion. Or so it seemed to me anyway. Not much talking, and certainly not any laughing.
Now my friend had warned me that someone might ask me for my ticket. I thought that meant that I would say I didn’t have one because there was no place to buy a ticket. And just pay the fare to this undercover ticket spy. NOOoooo. Big mistake on my part. I was chatting away and looking at everything. I became aware of an onerous presence hovering over me. He asked me something in a loud stern voice in Polish, of course. For some reason the mischief-maker in me decided to play Mr. Bean and be just the stupidest tourist that ever was.
I knew what he wanted, but I looked at him with a big dumb smile. He asked again and started pointed at what I assumed was a ticket in his hand. The train got more quiet, if that was possible. My girlfriend nudged me and whispered “show him you ID.” That really ticked me off. Colonel Klink was demanding that I show him my papers? I’m an American, I don’t think so! I dug around in my purse and handed him a meaningless card. I think maybe it was my Costco Discount card. The guy was starting to get really agitated so my friend talked to him in Polish. Probably something about me not understanding and not in my right mind. He whips out a ticket pad and proceeds to write me a ticket for not having a ticket. He shows the ticket to my friend and her eyes got a little wide and she said “you have to pay a fine of 180 Slotykis.” He handed me the ticket, I shoved it in my purse without looking at it and went back to sight-seeing. I feel a kick on my foot and my poor friend said through gritted teeth, “you have to pay now!”
Well I knew that, but buy this point I was almost crying from trying not to laugh. “What do you mean I have to pay now? To this guy? I’m being held up on the train? How I even know who he is? I want to see some ID? More Polish back and forth. He finally produced some sort of ID and waved it under my nose. “Is 180 Slotykis a lot of money? Friend said something like 30 or 40 dollars. So I went into tirade about how expensive that was. That I was being taken advantage of, a damsel in distress. I was really hamming it up. So he lowered the fine to 160 Slotykis. See, I knew that guy was on the take. At this point I felt it was time to bring this show to close before they handcuffed me a drug me off somewhere unpleasant that served bad food. I had a crumpled wad of bills in my purse that I know was a little more than 160. I handed to him the wad of bills and said “Is that enough?” Suddenly he understood enough English to say “yes,” and walked off.
My poor friend was ready to faint by this time. She muttered something that sounded pretty dire. She got over it and we continued downtown and had a wonderful afternoon and evening, drinks, dinner and a movie. I think the adventure on the train was worth whatever I paid for it. And I still love to travel.
- Poland – Warsaw, Poland (travelpod.com)