Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Strange things expats do: Confuse ticket agents on public transport

I'm pretty adept at traveling, especially on public transport.

I've navigated the London tube, the Barcelona metro, le metro a Paris, the DC system, Boston's T, trams in Prague, ferries to remote Scottish islands, Malta's emblematic buses from the 1950s, and local train services in Eastern Slovakia (using a bumbling mix of Slovak, German and Russian). I have never been to Asia yet (would love to) but I'm confident in my worldliness.

I can get about. I actually enjoy those moments in the first hours of arriving in a new country - wandering around like a bemused toddler, trying to figure out how the world works. Spending far too long struggling with ticket machines in transport stations and annoying lines of commuters behind you. Getting stared down by locals who know you have no clue what you're doing, especially when you get off a train and cross the platform to go back the other way, oops.

But when you move somewhere it's different. There's more pressure. You don't get the cover of being a pesky tourist. You need to start acting like a local. Stat.

So imagine my embarrassment yesterday: I stumbled to the ticket booth in a morning daze to get the train to Philly. I murmured politely, blithely, "Discovery Ticket please."

"What ma'am?"

"Discovery Ticket please."

And it dawned on me. I had made an expat faux pas.

Every city has an unlimited pass, sure. In Philadelphia it's the Independence Pass, with its nice Love Park motif.

Discovery ticket? That's Glasgow. You know, that city I keep comparing to Philly? The words had just slipped out, like it had for six years previously. Same nonchalant intonation.


I know this is a minor trip of the tongue, but it is one of those many little things I really have to concentrate on when I'm doing. I have to reprogram my reflexes, use an extra braincell or two when the coffee hasn't quite kicked in yet. And when it happens it's like a sad reminder I'm not quite a seasoned local yet.

I corrected myself, paid, and slinked away in my own personal humiliation of trying to pretend I'm cool and know what I'm doing in America's funkiest city.

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