The Day I Became An Ugly American.
I have a confession. Come closer, I’d hate for this to get out. (Deep Breath) O.K., last September, on a sunny day in Rome, I became an ugly American.
Not only were we running really late for our train, but the smallest bill in my pocket was 20 euro. In America, a $20 bill is the accepted cutoff for making change. Not so in Paris and Italy, where clerks seem to loathe making change of any sort. I knew this and I knew I was pushing my luck by not changing it the night before.
So, as Beth and I powered our way down the early morning sidewalk with our rigged luggage wheelie thing and Beth’s bulging backpack, and then into the deep underground station. There were several flights of stairs we rushed down (me carrying the ridiculous luggage contraption) to get the platform. I prayed…I prayed for a working 21st century ticket machine.
Either, the Soviet-era machines weren’t accepting credit cards, or they were not dishing out change. I jetted from machine to machine getting more frustrated with each one. So with limited time to spare, I took to the streets and left Beth below ground with the bags. I was sweaty, my blood pressure was rising. Out of all train rides on the entire European leg of the trip this was the one we couldn’t miss – the only one. The train would bring us to the middle of Tuscany where we were meeting with our wwoof farm host and if we missed it, we would miss our ride to the farm. Without a cell phone or wifi we would have no way to get in touch easily with our host.
Speaking in generalities, if Americans love fast food, then European shop clerks love their coins. And you know what, I get it. I love using change too; it’’s quick, easy and efficient, but sometimes–like this situation–you just don’t have any.
I entered the corner cafe with one purpose: break my bill by buying a bottle of water. Seconds later, I left the store empty handed and pissed. What transpired in those seconds pushed me over the edge; the teenage clerk refused the sale because of my bulging 20 euro bill. Have you ever been denied purchasing something because you had too much money?! I thought it was the other way around. I started to panic.
Storming onto the avenue, my hands flailed and I muttered obscenities to myself as I headed across the intersection to the tobacco store. In addition to smoked goods, phone cards and snacks, the Italian tobacco shops (Tabacchi) also sell public transport tickets.
Inside the shop, I pounced on the clerk with my ticket request in broken Italian. “We don’t have tickets,” she said. “I know you sell tickets,” I shot back forcibly in English. “You can’t fool me.” Again, she repeated she didn’t have any (it hit me later that she probably meant she was sold out). Livid now, I grabbed three bags of Ritz Bitz, threw my 20 euros on the counter and angrily said, “How many of these will it take to break this?” I guess three was the magic number, because she broke it.
As I scurried back to the underground, I felt bad, really bad. Seriously, did I really just yell at a woman who probably doesn’t even want to sell bus tickets? But it was too late to turn back and apologize, I had a train to catch.
Have you ever lost it on the road? Or, do you have any tips for dealing with those moments when everything comes to a head in a hot mess? If so, we would love to hear them – feel free to let us know in the comments below!
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