I took the 25 bus from my street into the center. It’s a line that runs up into the hills surrounding Florence, and only briefly runs through to Piazza San Marco and then turns around and heads back out into the outskirts. Because of this there are rarely tourists, though I’ve noticed a few more in the recent months – maybe from the NYU villa, maybe from more villas selling their souls to become Airbnb, I’m not sure.
But today the bus was quiet as usual. I got on, scanned my ticket, and sat in the front seat on the right-hand side. As we turned past Piazza Liberta and stopped again, an officer stepped on board and announced he was doing a ticket check. I have a ten-trip pre-paid card that I scan when I get on the bus – I had always been curious how they’d check to see if I had actually scanned it, and was anticipating him scanning it/reading it somehow, but the woman across from me distracted him, and he just handed it back to me, trusting me.
“Your ticket madam?” he asked her again, with authority, but politely.
“I have to pay the driver.” The woman responded in American English.
“Ah, ok,” the officer said, misunderstanding, thinking she had paid with a credit card (you can do that now with a contactless card) “can I please see the credit card then?”
For a little back story, it’s necessary to pay for a bus ticket before getting on the bus. Though there isn’t much information at the bus stops for this, there certainly is online (like my post in the link), and also on the bus, and in this ridiculous situation, this woman was sitting in the seat that has the instructions, in Italian and in English, directly in front of her face. If you don’t pay the ticket, you’re riding for free, and if you get caught, you’re subject (rightfully) to a fine.
“I only have cash.” She insisted and started fumbling through her purse. They went back and forth, this man speaking as much English as he could, attempting to understand what this woman was saying, and explain that she had to have purchased the ticket before she got on the bus, but now it was too late.
“I DON’T UNDERSTAND,” The woman huffed and threw up her hands like this man wasn’t attempting to speak her language. I wanted to say something. I wanted to chastise her, this middle-aged woman in another country, not speaking a word of the language, riding public transportation like she owned it. I couldn’t decide if I should or not. It’s not any of my business, yet I knew I was from the same country as she was. I knew that it was people like her that make a bad name for “Americans,” and I knew that she thought she could get away with this because she saw those that “didn’t speak English” as less. Maybe if I spoke up she would have backed down. Maybe she would have gotten even more ridiculous. I’ll never know because instead, at least this time, I chose to let the officer handle it and do his job, and he did it much more gracefully than I ever would have.
“Please madam, you did not pay for the ticket, it is explained here,” he pointed at the sign directly in front of her face, “but you didn’t pay and now you are riding for free, and this is not possible, so can I please see a document?”
“You are talking TOO fast,” she complained snottily, “I don’t understand at all – anything,” she said, still failing to produce any type of ID. The bus stopped at a red light and the driver turned around to survey the situation. He caught my eye and made a face of mutual amusing disdain for the situation at hand, then turned back to the green light.
The officer kept trying, not allowing her to get away with it. He kept asking for her ID (so that he could issue her a fine) and she kept refusing, and digging herself a hole at the same time.
“I’ve paid the drivers in the past though!” She protested, and with that, successfully threw out her previous argument that she didn’t know how it worked. “You are being extremely rude to me now!” she began again, and I almost lost it, but still I stayed silent, and still, I’m not sure if I should have. The officer tried to calmly explain it all to her again with the patience of a saint with only a slight tone of irritation slowly building behind his words. If this was the US, this woman would never argue with anyone of authority this way, not in this rude, ridiculous game she was playing pretending not to know, pretending that she thought it was absolutely fine to ride the bus without paying.
As our stop came, she protested she had to get off, and we all did, because it was the end of the line. As I headed off to the library, I turned around once more as more of the men that work in the ATAF office came out to assist their colleague. I don’t know if they managed to get her ID. The last I saw and heard was her yelling for them to “Here TAKE ALL THE MONEY I HAVE!” as she reached in her wallet, took out a few paper bills and shoved them onto the clipboard the man held in his hands.
“WELCOME TO ITALY!” She sarcastically screamed at them as she walked around the corner and disappeared into the crowd, and I walked the other way, still wondering if I should have reprimanded her or not, but still so proud of the Florentines that kept their cool when faced with an absolute disgrace of a person that thought it was ok to treat people as “less.”