by Kung Fu Zu 9/7/15
Budapest is a beautiful city partitioned by the Danube, which flows through its center. Along with Vienna and Prague, Budapest is considered a quintessential Hapsburg city. All three were, for centuries, under Hapsburg rule and the style and ambience of each is heavily influenced by this historical fact.
In July of 1988, I was visiting Budapest with my wife and parents. After a stay in Vienna, we had taken a boat down the Danube to see the sights. Although Hungary was still controlled by the Communist Party, travel restrictions had been eased and the slow motion collapse of the “East Block”, which culminated in the fall of the Soviet Union, was already under way. But that is another story.
After two or three days in Budapest, we planned to return to Vienna by rail and continue our journey through Europe. I had previously been to Budapest and knew that there were only one or two air-conditioned railway wagons on each train departing Budapest for Vienna. The seats in those wagons were at a premium and had to be reserved. Therefore, to be safe, we went to the train station immediately we arrived in Budapest and purchased our return tickets. Once we had these in hand, we went about enjoying our short stay in the city.
On the morning of our departure date, we made our way to the train station and arrived there with time to spare. We proceeded to the platform from which our train was to depart, and strolled down the walkway looking for our railway car. As it was already hot, we were relieved to quickly find that wagon and enjoy the cool air inside.
The railcar was already almost full. Clearly, it had been wise to reserve our places and not buy them at the last minute. Unfortunately, when we found our seats, there was a Middle Eastern couple in two of them. Both man and woman were very well dressed in apparel which might have been purchased in any of a number of up-market stores one could find in Paris, Rome or London.
So as to be sure I was not mistaken, I double checked the numbers on the rack above the seats and reconfirmed they were the same as those on our tickets.
It is not uncommon for people to misread their tickets when traveling. Believing this to be the case, I turned to the man and the subsequent exchange ensued: (I ask the reader to try and imagine yourself in this situation.)
KFZ: “Excuse me sir, I believe you are sitting in our seats.”
Arab: “I do not think so. These are the seats numbers on our tickets.”
KFZ: Showing my party’s tickets. “There must be some mistake. As you can see, these are tickets for the seats you are sitting in.”
Arab: “That cannot be.” He waves some tickets at me. “See, our tickets have these two seat numbers.”
KFZ: As I hold my hand out to take his tickets, “May I see your tickets please?”
Arab: Reluctantly passes tickets to me.
KFZ: After a quick perusal of Arab’s tickets. “Ah, I see the problem. It is true you have the same seat numbers as we do, but yours are for car no. 3 not no. 4, which is the car we are in. All you have to do is move to the next car.”
Arab: Taking back his tickets and looking somewhat sour. Silence.
KFZ: As I place some luggage on the rack above our seats I ask, “May we have our seats now?”
Arab: Stands up and says, somewhat pompously, “I am a lawyer for the Saudi Arabian government and must be in Vienna tomorrow for a very important meeting.”
KFZ: Beginning to become a little perturbed. “I am very happy for you. I don’t wish to stop you from keeping your appointment. I simply want our seats. Just go to the next car and you’ll get to Vienna in time for your appointment.”
Arab: “But the next car is not air-conditioned, and this morning at the counter, they said it was too late to reserve seats for this car. We were told we would have to wait and see if there were any open seats.”
KRZ: “That is why we bought and confirmed our reserved seats three days ago.”
Arab: Pointing across the aisle to a Filipino maid holding a severely handicapped child on her lap. With a pitiful demeanor, “You see our daughter, she needs to ride in an air-conditioned car.”
KZF: Disgusted with the man’s ploy, “I am not asking your daughter to give me her seat. I am telling you that you and your wife are in our seats. Would you now, please move?”
Arab: Puffed up and strident. “These are our seats and if Allah himself came down and asked me to move, I would not!”
KZF: With a slightly sardonic smile appearing on my face. “Oh, no???” Turning to my wife and parents, I tell them, “I’ll be back in a minute.” And I leave the car.
It was clear to me that the man thought Americans were fools or pushovers; maybe both. But I had been around too much to let such a little ponce get away with his buffoonish bluff.
While boarding, I had noticed a conductress observing passengers entering the train. I went back to look for her and found her speaking to someone just outside the passenger compartment. Neither of them spoke English, but I spoke German and could explain the situation to them. I was instructed to show the troublemaker to them. I should point out that although things had loosened up by 1988, Hungary was still a Communist state. Creating a scene on government transport was frowned upon.
I re-entered the air-conditioned rail car followed by a blond haired conductress standing 6 feet talk who could have given Hulk Hogan a run for his money. She was dressed in a military looking uniform of grey, with a matching officer’s hat, which made her look even more imposing. The lady was not smiling. Stopping in front of the miscreant, she demanded to see the Arab’s tickets. He meekly produced them. Upon studying these, my heroine told him in no uncertain terms (this happened in Hungarian with the appropriate hand motions) to move to the next car.
The Arab and his Chanel clad wife rose to leave. As they passed me, I nodded toward my uniformed friend and asked the Arab lawyer, “Is she bigger than Allah?” He was not pleased with this, but as my Bruenhilde was still there, said nothing.
With the brouhaha past, my family and I settled in to enjoy the return journey to Vienna.
About five minutes after the train left the station, the Arab returned to our car and walked over to the Filipino maid holding his daughter. He said something to her. Immediately, she stood up and carried the handicapped girl to the non-air-conditioned car. He sat down in their seat and started to read a newspaper. A true Oriental gentleman, philanthropist and benefactor of mankind. • (1463 views)