Cognitive Dissonance

Anyone who has traveled internationally knows that the farther you get away from  the tourist areas of town, the fewer signs are translated into different languages. If you don’t speak the language well, it becomes difficult to navigate, and can increase stress. If you decide to take local transportation, it can be even more stressful. In a metropolitan city like Milan, most of the people speak at least passable English, if not better than passable, but once you get into a subway station, one needs to have a fairly clear understanding of which station is their final destination. Train stations are similar, but the traveler must figure out which track his or her specific train is on, which is nearly impossible on a day when the communication system is down, and the displays, which generally let travelers know which trains are on which (of 12-15) tracks, and what time they will arrive, aren’t functioning. This is what occurred as I attempted to depart Milan for Florence early Monday morning. I left my apartment and walked to the nearby subway station, bought a ticket and found the right track without incident. When I arrived at my destination, I lugged two suitcases and a very heavy camera bag into the train station, then up and down four or five sets of stairs until I got to a ticket sales kiosk. The kiosks had English translations, so I was able to purchase a ticket, leaving in half an hour, for Milan. More suitcase dragging. I looked at the ticket (no English here), and tried to determine at which track my train would arrive. The information wasn’t listed. Video screens were blank. A man in a business suit and tie asked if I needed help with my bags, and by this time in the journey, I was happy to give up the heavy one. He asked which track, and I said I didn’t know. He got out his smart phone, checked his app, and took me to Track 3 (after I’d lugged the luggage up and down unnecessary stairs to Track 6). Once there, I verified with a female passenger that this was, in fact, the correct track, and she took pity on me and escorted me onto the train (I allowed her to help with the lighter bag). We were getting off at the same stop (still in Milan), so she helped me off the train and to another track. She was interested in hearing about my master’s program, and why American students of communication would come to Italy to study. Once on the new track, she departed, and to verify I was in the right place, I asked a young man whether this was the train to Firenze. He assured me it was, then hustled away, as if to avoid further conversation with the crazy Americano. My train arrived. A bright red, fast-moving machine. I got on, and noticed my assigned seat was occupied. I moved farther into the car, and took another seat. After getting settled, I looked at the train’s electronic board, and noticed it was a non-stop train to Rome. I was on the wrong train! I grabbed my belongings and started toward the door, when a woman carrying a child got on the train and walked down the aisle toward me, blocking my escape. I moved back to my seat to let her pass, then started for the door once again. I made it two steps before the train began to move. I guess I was going to Rome! When the man came by to check tickets, all he said to me was “Grazie.” I wondered why he hadn’t at least mentioned I was on the wrong train, but thought perhaps he hadn’t wanted to embarrass me, since I’d surely figure it out at some point. About halfway through our three-hour trip, a young woman stopped to tell me I was on the wrong train, and she helped me purchase a ticket from Rome to Florence. She didn’t charge me for the extra distance I would be riding with them, above and beyond what I’d paid for, which was both kind, and good customer service. Eventually, we arrived in Rome, and I wandered around the train station (no extraneous stairs, escalators to and from the tracks) a bit, checking the (working) video boards to find my track. I wandered down to Track 12 and waited half an hour for a train. It was, in fact, my train, as I was able to verify on the (working) video board above the track. An hour later, I was in Florence, and 15 minutes after that had met my roommate and classmate for the next two weeks. Plus, I now have a good story, and I can say I’ve been to Rome!

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