Monday, July 14, 2014

Learning About Train Tickets

I had an interesting experience on Saturday. I spent 5 hours in total at the airport waiting for some people that were flying in to do a short term trip...but that is a story of delayed flights and lost baggage, not the story I want to tell today.  No, the story I have today is about riding the train and continually learning.

Up to this point, we haven't needed to buy a car. We can use public transit to get most places that we need to go. To be honest, it is really great most of the time. Unlike transit systems in other cities, there is no pass to scan or long lines to wait in. With our year long rail pass, we can simply go to the platform, get on the train and ride. It is really slick. Every now and then, you get randomly checked by a person in plain clothes that shows you a badge, but since we never "ride black", this is not a problem. It is usually a stroke of my rule-following ego that I in fact follow the rules, unlike those other miscreants. 

Another thing you need to know is that our year-long passes are good for all the bus, tram, and train rides we can handle (and here comes the important part) inside the city limits of Vienna. The airport is outside these city limits by only 2 stops (come on people, really?!). So we need to use another ticket to supplement these rides.  For this, we usually buy these tickets that have spaces numbered 1 - 8 with a small machine at the entrance to the train that stamps one of the spaces.

Ok so here is my story. I was riding along listening to my podcast and enjoying the time. The checker came by to look at my ticket and so I produced a ticket and my year-long pass, as I usually do. He looked at it for a second and then looked at it for a few more seconds. I was a little confused, but he told me that there was something wrong. At this point, I was glad for my language skills because I could A: understand what he was saying and what he meant, and B: explain to him that I had never heard what he was explaining to me before. I was also glad for point C: I sound like a foreigner so that it is plausable that I made an honest mistake. Basically, he told me that you have to punch the ticket in number order from 1 to 8 and not just any given point on the ticket that you feel like. For some reason I had punched 1-4 and then on another day some time in the past I had punched 8, before going back to punch 7 today. He said that because 8 had been punched before 7, technically when I punched 8, I had also punched 5-7 along with it. This actually makes a lot of sense because sometimes, you travel through multiple zones which each require their own punch, but I had no idea this was really a thing.

Looking back on it, because I hadn't left the city limits (there was still one more stop until then), I could have gotten off the train, got a fresh ticket, and caught the next one. And because the flight of the guys I was picking up was delayed, it would have meant waiting for the same amount of time in two different places instead of just at the airport. The ticket checker let me go because he recognized an honest mistake, and I am still out those few Euros for the ride that I accidentally overpaid for.

I think oftentimes it is easy to say, "language and culture learning time was the first section of our time here in Vienna and now we've moved on," which is a very results-oriented (and frankly, American) way of thinking. The reality is we will continue to learn for as long as we live here. I hear stories all the time from people that have been here 30 + years that still learn a new piece of language or a cultural nuance. It is humbling to know I will never truly finish this stage, but it is also the joy and challenge. Experiences like this reinforce my need to be a learner in this adopted home of ours.

1 Cor. 3:18-19a "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God."  (ESV)