Published on July 21st, 2018 | by Ann Rickard0
I’ve enjoyed observing people on trains in Europe. I enjoy the trains in Europe, full stop. Fast, comfortable, efficient, with buffet carriages serving proper food and wine…the real deal.
We prefer to take our own food, at least my man does. He finds deep satisfaction in slipping into his assigned seat on a luxury train, pulling down the table in front of him, and then reaching into his rucksack for a newly bought baguette along with a slab of pungent cheese, strips of prosciutto…even a jar of mayonnaise and another of mustard.
With his small Swiss knife, he makes himself a tasty lunch. He even has a bottle of cold, yes, cold! wine in his rucksack. While I close my eyes in embarrassment at the gourmet clutter in front of him and pretend I’m not with him, I do like the reward at the end of his culinary ministrations when he hands me a richly filled baguette and a plastic glass of chilled pink wine.
All this while the countryside flashes past: wild red poppies, blazing yellow sunflowers and neat rolled haystacks to the horizon as the train glides along at 300 kilometres an hour.
Feasting aside, what I do like most about the trains is watching the people on board who have not paid for their ticket. You encounter them the minute you step on board, dispose your luggage in the racks at the carriage door, and make your way along the aisle to find your seat number.
This is a complicated affair as the seat numbers don’t seem to have any order, they jump from 115 to 4, or 96 to 3. It is weird, but I am sure there is a system to it, we just haven’t worked it out yet.
On almost every occasion when we have finally found our seats, there is someone sitting in them. The seat-stealer reveals himself to be a non-ticket holder by immediately jumping up and with a small apology and an air of determination goes to find another empty seat. There he sits with eyes fixed on the carriage door until another passenger comes along to find him sitting in
her seat. He repeats the process until the train finally glides out of the station and he is safe until the next stop. Or until the ticket inspector comes along. This is an anxious time for the seat-stealer, he must avoid the inspector, so he gets up out of his seat and discreetly (or so he thinks) moves to another seat behind the inspector, or to the toilet, to hide. It’s a game he must play, and it usually works, unless the train is full and there are no empty seats for him to leap-frog into.
I’ve often wondered if this trick would work for us, but we are too timid and righteous to try it. I imagine we would get caught and be dragged off at the next stop by the inspector, shamefaced and humiliated as he marches us along the aisle while we clutch tightly onto our baguettes and wine.
In Italy at the spectacular outdoor opera theatre in Torre del Lago, we watched similar seat-stealing proceedings as people who had bought cheap tickets way at the back of the 3,400-seat stadium, would wander down to the front, trying to look as though they were just having a pleasant walk before the opera began. They were searching for prime vacant seats purchased by well-heeled people who hadn’t turned up. They would sit in the vacant seats as though they belonged there, and then do the hopping up thing as the true seat-holder arrived with ticket, seat number and a dark look. Then the seat-stealers would wander again, eyes searching for another couple of vacant seats, sitting in them until the process was repeated.
Sometimes I wonder at myself…why I am so easily entertained? Do I really enjoy watching people cheating the system more than I enjoy the actual event?