The missionary adventures of the Stimpson family

Busted by the RATB!

So we’d heard rumors of plain-clothes RATB officials who sneak aboard busses, trams, and trolleybuses to check to make sure everyone paid for the trip, but I hadn’t seen any until yesterday.

Thankfully, too, because we’d forgotten to pay more than once.  It’s never been intentional.  It just kinda’ happens sometimes if we’re in a hurry, the tram is really crowded, we’re trying to figure out if we’re headed in the right direction, or we’re trying to keep our kids from getting eaten by dogs or run over by cars.  🙂  Sometimes you just forget.

Before I go further into my experience with the RATB KGB, a little background.  RATB (pronounced Air-Ahh-tay-bay and standing for Regia Autonomă de Transport București) is the body that governs all Bucharest-area public transport – tramvai, troleibuz, and autobuz.  Every city in Romania with public transport has an RAT-something.  Bucharest has RATB, Cluj has RATC, Timișoara has RATT, Brașov is RATBv, and so on…  Nice and orderly.

Yesterday, I needed to take the tram to a meeting I had with a medical student, so I hopped on board.  I waved my card in front of the reader, but it was broken and never deducted money from my account.  So I slowly squirmed my way through the crowded tram to get toward another card reader that I hoped would work.  I waved my card, it worked fine, and then I stood there and waited for my stop.

People in Romania stare at you way more than in America.  It’s just not inappropriate here.  It’s kinda’ cool that there’s no stigma against it but really unnerving at the same time.  People here also stand really close to you.  At first it freaked me out and I would tend to back up to give myself room to breathe, but now I’m mostly used to it.

So yesterday, as I waited, standing on the tram, lost in my thoughts, it didn’t really surprise me that a short Romanian woman in a white collared shirt would stand right in front of me staring at me.  I just thought, “Oh, she’s a Romanian.”  Then she mumbled something really quietly, still staring intently at me.

“Poftim?” I said, to which she responded in another hushed, mumbled response that I had no chance of understanding.

At this point, I was losing hope that I would ever understand what she was trying to say, so I decided to try to ignore her.  Why was she staring at me, standing inches from my face?  I didn’t know, but I would pretend she wasn’t even there, or that it was normal.

I hoped my attempts would convince her to leave and stare at someone else, but it didn’t work.  She continued to stare.  Then I suddenly noticed her hand, holding an RATB badge.

I tried to tell her I paid, she mumbled something in return and stared even harder, so I pulled out my wallet and showed her my card.  She grabbed it, held it up to the reader and, as far as I could tell, made me pay for another tram trip.  I told her, in extremely well-spoken Romanian, “No, not two.  One.”  Now it was her turn to ignore me.

The second ride she made me pay for only cost an extra $0.30, but I let it ruin the rest of my trip on the tram.  Now it’s funny, but at the time, I was really annoyed, not so much at her but at this culture that I don’t understand.  I love Romanians, but I sure don’t pretend to understand them.  They constantly talk about how bad things are, they stare at us all the time, they stand really close to you, they mutter a lot, they’re obsessed with appearances, they speak this strange language we can’t understand…

In spite of the stuff I don’t understand, I really do love these people, and it’s fun to figure this place out.  One day, it’ll feel just like home, but right now, it’s still mostly a foreign country to us.


3 responses

  1. Kim

    You have it right in not understanding the culture, yes you can’t help but to love them.

    June 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm

  2. Just in case you’re scared now that everyone in Romania will do this stare-you-down-at-close-range trick, this was the first time I’ve experienced it. Romanians do tend to look right at you more than Americans, and they aren’t as afraid at invading personal space, but normally it’s not that uncomfortable, just different. Anyway…

    June 16, 2012 at 9:06 pm

  3. Welcome tyo missions 101 Brother jake i have had same thing happen in Krakow Poland, Moscow Russia, and Stockholm Sweden….. It seems as igf in every countryu I monister in theyu have reasons certain things won’t woirk inb their countries….. Many lkove to complain.

    In evangelism they always say street wotrk won’t work, door to door won’t work, small groups won’r work…. In Russia they told us not to teach tityhing it wouldn’t work….. Yet in ten years we planted 1500 churches….. Street work Jesus said go to the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, go into the streets and lanes of the city….. or house meetings daily in the temple and in every house they ceased not to preach or teach Jesus Christ…

    GOD GAVE US THE METHOD AND THE MESSAGE…. no matter what the nay sayers tell us…. Godf is not looking for our abilty but our availibilty a vessel through whomm HE can pour HIS life…. be blessed brother!!!

    June 17, 2012 at 2:54 am

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