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.