Getting off the train in Napoli Central in Naples, Italy, I feel a surge of excitement. Naples, Italy, is the place where my grandparents are from. Hell, half the population shares my last name of Festa. I already feel at home.
I have been backpacking through Europe for a month and a half already and have gotten pretty used to the public transportation system. My hostel, Hostel of the Sun, has given me specific directions on how to get there by bus. Usually when boarding a local bus in Europe, I have simply asked the driver how much (many of them have luckily spoken a little English) or will perform a kind of charades/gesturing act to imply I want to know the fare. Either way, I have paid inside the bus.
When I see my bus pull up, I let everyone else go on ahead of me. Once everyone has boarded, I hold up a 5 Euro bill to the driver to indicate that I want to pay. He doesn’t seem to speak any English, but communicates to me with a big smile and beckons me onto the vehicle.
“The people of Naples are so nice,” I think to myself.
The doors slam shut behind me and the bus drives away. Standing there, I am still waiting for the driver to ask me for money. Then I see him pull out a notepad and begin scribbling on what I think to be a receipt.
He hands it to me, and as I read it, I begin profusely sweating. “52 Euros?!” I scream, confused and upset.
Not a moment later the bus driver and another official looking man begin screaming at me in Italian. I don’t know what they’re saying, but I’m terrified. Everyone on the bus is staring at me, waiting to see what I will do. Holding up my hands, I try to explain that I’m not going very far, maybe 5 stops, and I don’t understand why the fare is so much.
That’s when a local woman sitting in the front seat sticks up for me. I can’t understand her words, but I can tell by her facial expressions and gestures that she’s angry at them. By now I am starting to realize what’s going on and the woman, who apparently speaks a bit of English, confirms my fears.
“They are fining you for not buying a ticket,” she says, looking angry. “It’s because you’re a tourist.”
The bus driver shouts angrily again, and I am positive whatever he is saying includes various obscenities.
She scowls and looks at me. “They say if you do not pay they will call the police.”
This is one of those situations that you don’t want to be in when traveling. If I were back in New York, I absolutely would have cursed out the driver and let him call the police. However, here in Italy, I am a foreigner who is traveling alone, doesn’t speak the local language, and has just been humiliated in front of about 30 locals.
I pay the fine, angry at the injustice but grateful to not have to deal with foreign police.
When I get to the hostel, I tell the girl at the desk about my incident.
“They’ve tried that sh*t with me,” she says. “Next time, don’t pay it!”
I laughed. It’s so funny how just being in the place that you live can make you so confident, and when you become a foreign that confidence can get so easily lost. Still, I believe that when traveling it’s best to dilute your confidence just a bit in order to become more open to (or to save yourself from) a different way of doing things.
So I was down $70. At least I wasn’t in Italian jail.