Friday, May 25, 2012

SBB CFF FFS...!

.....and there's no swear words in there at all.

Gare Cornavin, central Geneva on a Thursday afternoon. Swiss Rail - or SBB CFF FFS* as the not-so-short acronym proudly painted on all the carriages - as Milly and I negotiate fast-moving crowds of people in business clothes and wheelie suitcases on shiny and slippery new tiled floors.

I don't normally take Milly with me into a ticket office, but it was a beautiful day and as I gathered my sheets of scribbled notes, handbag and sunglasses, she positioned herself by the door and gave the look.

You know the look - the please please please please please please don't leave me here I love you I'll do anything for you if you please please please please take me with you wherever you're going - look; made even more appealing with glistening bronze eyes, a slight shift of the front paws and the steady thumping of her tail.

"Oh, all right then. Just don't lick any bare legs on the tram going in, OK?"

Half an hour later, we arrived, both of us covered in loose orange dog hairs. Milly is always willing to accompany me on trips, but her first sighting of the down escalator rendered her panic stricken, claws back sliding on the floor as she tried to escape the scary mechanical snake sending people underground. After a few apologies and several "No, please, you go ahead," phrases I managed to lift her up and (mostly) subdue her until we completed the 30 metre ride.

Monsieur C---- read his name tag but he looked like a burlier version of the Dad from Malcolm in the Middle. "Can I help you," he said, guessing straight away from my out-of-style jeans and sensible shoes combo that I wasn't a local.




















"Er yes please. Is this the right spot to ask for some help in planning a two week holiday in Germany for five people?"

"Yes." His face remained politely blank.

I tried again. "No, seriously, monsieur. I've never been; we've got fourteen days and here's a map----" a much-crumpled google map of the German nation scored with stars, arrows and hand written comments was taken out of the plastic sleeve and slapped onto his counter "-------and honestly, I'd really like your opinion - as a person, not a ticket seller - on where the best spots are. Is this the place or do you want me to make an appointment or see someone else, or...?"

He smiled. "Yes, my answer is still yes. I can help you."

And help me he did. I changed the dates, itinerary and route plans several times and he managed to come up with a better alternative, decent price and sight seeing suggestions every single time. Who knew that the French-Suisse Bryan Cranston would be such a gem?

All around me, the crowds came and went with clear gaps between the arrival of trains and trams. A cross-eyed Chinese man at the counter beside me was keen to visit Marseille on the weekend. Three tanned Kiwi backpackers wanted return tickets to Montreux and a tired looking African mother gasped audibly when told the price for a family of six to Paris and back. "Whaaaaa? And that's just the second class fare...?"

The flat screen was blaring running adverts for Bruce Springsteen - live in Zurich. Get your concert, train and hotel tickets here. "Yep, performing your latest album about the struggling 99% in the world's second-most expensive city seems like a good idea." Mr C was busy with my final schedule, but he had the grace to nod. 

A young lady rushed in, sobbing loudly, her face as pink as her t-shirt. Most of the ticket office stopped to stare at her, a wave of sympathy almost visible.  A couple of US interns kindly stepped aside and let her into the front of their queue.

As Mr C tapped away and I half-leaned over the counter to see what leg of the German journey he was booking for us, I suddenly found myself sliding to the left and about to hit the floor. An old man had clearly decided that the take a number and wait system wasn't for him and it was preferable to shove me aside.

Rearranging myself and holding firm in my position felt like being at the edge of a mosh pit holding the surge back as he tried to shove me again.  My sensible shoes gripped the floor: I wasn't having any of it.  He gave me a look of complete disdain and barked at Mr C.  

This is when the French 'up yours' attitude works perfectly.  Mr C took his good time before lifting his gaze away from the computer screen, indicated me, then pointed to the ticket machine and presumably suggested that the gentleman wait his turn. The old geezer turned on his heel - narrowly missing stepping on Milly's tail and pushed to starboard the young student at the next counter.

I leaned in closer to my new buddy Mr C and whispered, "Gee, he's a bit rude, isn't he?"

Glancing imperceptibly to his right and to his left, he nodded. "He is a regular. Very wealthy man. Doesn't think that he should have to wait."

"One of the one percent, eh?"

"Yes. But he wastes more time pushing in and being told by all of us---" he gestured more obviously to his fellow workmates "---- than if he took a number and sat down."  Mr C pressed 'print' and continued, "One day another old man even hit him with his walking cane."

The pink crying girl was now in those waiting chairs, still sniffling with tears streaming down her face as she tried to SMS someone on her phone. I decided to see if I could help her; offer to buy a coffee perhaps, once Mr C had sorted out my tickets.

"Sorry Madame, but the computer - yes, even here in Switzerland - has decided to, err, have a bad moment."

"No worries, I'm happy waiting," I said, leaning down to scratch Milly behind her ear and whisper a few sweet nothings. Mr C looked slightly puzzled. "Oh, I don't have a child down here, it's my-----" I bent down again and lifted my protesting beast up over the counter "------my dog."




















He wasn't surprised. I don't think that there'd be much that would surprise someone who, in his direct eye line, could see one of Geneva's only two fat transvestites madly clacking along the pavement in stacked heels trying to catch the Number Ten bus. Wearing a sausage pink strapless dress.

Mr C handed me my wodge of tickets. "Here you go, madame. I am sorry again for the delay."

"Monsieur, it was less than two minutes and the help you've given me has saved me hours of trying to figure it out on the internet, so thank you very much."

Milly jumped up in relief, only to slump slightly again when she realised that our walk was only to the waiting section.

I gently tapped the pink girl on her shoulder. "Parlez vous Anglais?"
She looked me up and down and decided I was harmless. "Oh yes," she breathed in obvious relief.
"I couldn't help noticing how upset you are. Did you lose your tickets or get your wallet stolen? Can I do anything for you?"
"I missed my train."

Knowing how often and efficiently the trains run here, I waited for more information. None was forthcoming, so I pressed on. "And....?"

She gulped. "And there's not another one to Zurich for another two hours." She put her head in her hands and sobbed anew.

"And....?"

The crying stopped so that she could look at me with an expression of contempt. "So I have to wait HERE for two hours."

Oh. And that was despite the fact that another ticket office guy had bought her a cup of coffee, sorted out her new ticket; still in possession of her wallet and a well-stocked newsagent within walking distance. "It seems like you'll be OK," I muttered, before flicking Milly's lead and leaving.  It was the interns who let her push in ahead of them that deserved the coffee, not Pink Fit.  Ah well.


"Ark!" screamed the old lady on the tram.

"Je suis desolee," I said quickly. "I am so sorry. You're wearing a lovely skirt with pretty sandals and my dog just wanted to lick your toe. Very sorry."


* SBB = Schweizerische Bundesbahnen; CFF = Chemins de fer fédéraux suisses; FFS = Ferrovie federali svizzere

15 comments:

Andrew said...

Great story. I was mesmerised.

Kath said...

Thanks Andrew. Unless you meant it sarcastically...?

nuttynoton said...

I know from experience you need the right person in these places, by the sound of it you did, hopefully you will benefit from the experience and help. Like you I would feel like shaking pink girl and say get a life!! Great people watching though and you have that knack!

Kirstie said...

Oh poor Miss Pink, two hours, she might have been forced to read or talk to strangers ;p
We have a similar character who visits our store and thinks lines aren't for him too.
Well you brightened my day with multiple laughs nonetheless.

Alexia said...

What a lovely person M. C--- is. And how sweet of Milly to want to cool the old lady's toes off. And what a nice person YOU are, to offer to help a spoilt self-centred little cow...
Entertaining as always :)

The Elephant's Child said...

You know how it is one of the least endearing parts of sharing one's life with an animal that you have to clean their nasal secretions from off every window? Yes, I thought you would. I was so engrossed in this tale that my nose was getting closer and closer to the PC. And I am not cleaning snot from the screen. Don't do it again. For a little while. Please.

River said...

I think Miss Pink got exactly what she deserved. Two hours in a waiting room! Hah!
I think it's nice that Milly had an outing, she has lots of new memories now, even a scary escalator.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

We need more Monsieur C's in the world.

Germany eh? I've only been there once - way back in 1983.

Note to self - must go back there.

:0)

Cheers

PM

drb said...

Miss Pink might be autistic and can't cope with any simple deviation from routine. Autism is not there uncommon - 1 in 160.

Only the severe cases are like Rainman. The rest may look and speak normally enough but behave and react differently to circumstances.

Even though I grew up with dogs but keep any dog saliva away from me please. ;-)

Fenstar de Luxe said...

An amazing mix of the polite and helpful to the rude and arrogant. With a little overreaction (the missed train) thrown in! Fabulous tale though.

Anji said...

What a nice man. it's amazing how far you can get if you are polite and friendly. I'm looking forward to reading your German Adventures.

ExposeYourBlog! Joining up bloggers for almost two years.

Jackie K said...

Great story - so many interactions from one little trip!
My dog is giving me that look right now, but I'm ignoring it...

wilbo43 said...

Excellent story, I was walking with you all the way. Give Millie a pat from me. When are you going to Allmagne?

diane b said...

A great yarn and character study. Reading your story is like people watching in words. It is good to here that the French Swiss Mr C was so helpful, we haven't always found them to be overly helpful.
Enjoy your trip to Germany and the fabulous trains. Have you seen the Swiss train with the acronym F.A.R.T. plastered all over the carriages? Its aways good for a giggle.As you can see we are home again.

Wally The Walrus said...

We found people like Mr C in the German end of Switzerland. I was very skeptical about being sent to Swiss Rail to get tickets to somewhere or other for something or other.

So imagine my surprise to have a chap exactly like yours - nonplussed, spoke english perfectly well, competent, and willing to help! Sorted everything out, no fuss... They do exist!

I hope you have a good trip. I hope you are spending a few days in Berlin.