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Every German is familiar with the word Schwarzfahrer—literally, black rider but meaning ‘fare-dodger.’
Depending on what type of öffentliche Verkehrsmittel (public transportation) you are riding, a conductor or ticket monitor is not usually bei der Pflicht (on duty). Vorsicht (careful, watch out)! The Kontrolle (ticket monitor) could come aboard and ask to see your Fahrschein (ticket). Without your fare, die Kontrolle (ticket monitor, surveillance) will ticket you with a vierzig (fourty) Euro Strafgeld (fine). The practice of the honor system as a fare purchasing method, reaches beyond the German boarders. Countries across Europe like Italy, Austria, and the Netherlands use this system.
It was a Saturday night in Portsmouth, NH. I had just finished up my shift at The Wellington Room and was bringing up the trash barrel from outside. There were a few stragglers, friends of the waitress, nursing their Getränke (drinks) at the bar. The guy on the right drank wine and the man on the left sipped beer. At rather a most opportune time, Germany became the subject of conversation. The wine drinker mentioned an experience he had in Italy and told a familiar story about public transportation. He described how eine kleine, alte Frau (a little, old woman), was stopped by the ticket monitor and asked for her Fahrschein (fare/ticket). He witnessed how the old lady rummaged through her purse and pulled out, one after the other, four or five ungültig (void, invalid) tickets. Sadly, the old lady was removed from the bus and penalized with a fine.
As the wine drinker told us the story of the Italian lady, I was immediately reminded of my own Schwarzfahrer Erlebnise (fare-dodging experience).
As anyone may have the Gelegenheit (opportunity), so too was I a Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger). However, in my version the Teilnehmer (participants) could have avoided the ultimate outcome. You see, I had a gültig (valid) ticket at the time. I was a student at Lüneburg Universität (Lüneburg University) and we received free access to public transportation. I had my ID/ticket right after the Abfahrt (departure) from Lüneburg Hauptbahnhof (main/central train station) to Hamburg Haubtbahnhof (main/central train station).
However, on the way back the next morning I no longer had my Fahrschein (ticket) on me. I assumed it had fallen out of my pocket somewhere during the night. It was 7:00am after a night of dancing and walking around the city. There were three other people with me and we were all fix und fertig (dog-tired). To complicate things the youngest of us was a friend’s sister who had borrowed a Spanish exchange student’s ID/ticket. As the Schafferin (female conductor), in this case, came along, Jess—pretending to be Monica from Spain—showed her the borrowed Fahrkarte (ticket). Jess then quickly slipped it under the table over to me. I handed it to the conductor. She looked at the card and then looked at me and then looked at the card and questioned, “Sie heiβen Monica (you’re called/named Monica)?”—wir waren erwischt ( we were caught)!
At the train station, we were escorted into a grün (green) van at Lüneburg Central Train Station and taken to the police station. During the ride, I made small talk with the officers (who were extremely friendly). We even joked that I was really experiencing German culture. Inside the police station we were ausgefragt (questioned). While Jess was being accused of Beihilfe (abetment), her Schwester (sister) and I had to guide us through the process because we had told the Polizei (police) Jess was from Spain and couldn’t speak any English or German.
After we checked out okay, they brought us home. I, of course, was scheduled to return to the Gerichtsgebäude (courthouse) at a later date. I am not a hundred percent proud of this incident, but I do brag of how it brought me closer to understanding German culture.
Stories like the two above, gibt’s wie Sand am Meer (are a dime a dozen) and provide a common ground for dialogue. When you connect with someone who had the same experience, a bound is automatically created with that person. This is how, through communication, cultural Barrieren (Barriers) can sometimes be avoided.
What struck me about this conversation was that we were having it in a small restaurant in Portsmouth, NH, in a small city some thousand miles away from Germany; we all agreed that it wasn’t the first time the subject of the Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger) came up in conversation.
Links to videos about Schwarzfahrer (fare dodger):
Der Schwarzfaher-fare dodger
öffentliche Verkehrsmittel – public transportation
öffentlich – public
bei der Pflicht– on duty, at work, prepositional phrase, dative
Vorsicht –watch out
Die Kontrolle- surveillance, monitor, control
vierzig – fourty
Die Getränke – the drinks
eine kleine, alte Frau
klein – small
alt – old
Farhschein – ticket
Die Fahrkarte – ticket
Die Fahrkarten – tickets
Fix und fertig – dog-tired
Ungültig – void, invalid
Das Erlebnise –the experience
Die Gelegenheit – opportunity
Die Gelegenheiten – opportunities
Der Teilnehmer – participant
Die Teilnehmer – participants
gültig – valid
universität – University
Lüneburg – a small city in Northern Germany
Die Abfahrt – depature
Die Abfahrten – depatures
Der Hauptbahnhof central/main train station
Der Schaffer/die Schafferin – male/female conductor
Sie heiβen Monica—Formal you, verb, to be called “Is your name Monica?”
grün – green
ausgefragt – questioned
Die Beihilfe -abetment
Die Schwester – sister
Die Polizei – Police
Das Gerichtsgebäude –Courthouse
Die Gerichtsgebäude – Courthouses
gibt’s wie Sand am Meer – idiomatic expression for “a dime a dozen.”
Die Barrieren – barriers
Die Barriere – barrier