Crossing Borders and Language Barriers

This was an entry from my journal that I kept on my 3.5 month backpacking trip through Europe. This entry is from August 27, 2011:

I’m currently on a train to Belgrade, Serbia and I’m riding in the first car of the train.  Rob and I woke up this morning and ate some breakfast quickly.  We bought a few things at the Spar grocery store to eat throughout the day and then we made our way down to the station in Budapest.  We got on our train to Belgrade and sat down for our seven and a half hour ride, which of course includes stopping at any number of small towns along the way.  We were riding in an old run-down car, the kind with little separate compartments that have 6 seats each.

I had my ticket ready and was waiting and waiting for the inspector to come and check it.  After about 45 minutes of waiting I was starting to fall asleep. Since it was just me and Rob in the compartment and since it was going to be a long ride I decided to try to get my collapsible pillow out of my bag.  My bag was on a rack above the seat and so I stood on the seat and was trying to get it out.  Of course standing on the seats is not allowed and of course that moment is when the inspector came to check our tickets.

I felt like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar and I imagined myself in some fantasy scenario getting caught by some big strict German “Frau” in a uniform with huge biceps and hairy arms who would pick me up by the scruff of my neck and the seat of my pants and then throw me off the moving train for potentially having damaged the seat.  I figured I would at least get told that I was not allowed to stand on the seat.

This inspector was a skinny older man, who didn’t seem angry and instead he checked our tickets and then began to talk to us at length, I assume in Hungarian, none of which Rob or I understood.  It didn’t seem that the inspector was reprimanding me for standing on the seat, but I wasn’t sure.  He tried again to explain something – Nope, I still didn’t understand anything.  He didn’t appear to be chastising me at all, but instead he seemed to be trying to explain something.  I contemplated just pretending I understood so that he would go away, but thought better of it because maybe what he had to say was important.  He seemed as though he really wanted us to understand whatever it was he was saying.  After a little while he seemed to give up trying and he said “Come” and motioned for me to follow him.  I hesitated for a moment and then he said, more emphatically, “Komm, bitte” (German for “Come, please”).  I put my sandals on and followed him.

He took me nearer to the front of the train a few compartments away and he opened the door on a compartment with three guys and one girl in it.  He pointed his finger at one of the guys and commanded: “Speak,” and then walked away. I remained at the door staring into the compartment at the guy who the inspector had just pointed to.

The guy in the car laughed at this situation for a second and then spoke to me in English with an American accent.  He told me that the entire train is not going to Belgrade, and that only the first 2 cars are going there. The rest of the cars of the train will be left behind somewhere in Hungary. Since we are presently riding in cars that will not go all the way to Serbia, we will have to move up to one of the first two cars within the next two hours.  He motioned to the girl next to him and said that she was helping to translate what the inspector was trying to relay. The girl timidly waved at me.  The guy said that the girl didn’t speak the best English, and she explained the best she could. He said that he wasn’t 100% sure that this explanation is exactly what the inspector was saying, but that was what he understood from it all.

I went back to my compartment with Rob and started to explain to him what I had learned.  As I was explaining the inspector returned. The inspector suddenly opened the door to our compartment. Standing next to him was a confused looking guy, presumably another passenger to Belgrade.  The inspector pointed his finger at me and said: “Speak.”Image

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