Ticket window worship in Sofia , Bulgaria


women in glass boxes

the cold war against tourists: the battle to buy a ticket


There is a breed of ticket seller out there encountered only by the foreign national travelling to, and through, the countries of the former eastern bloc. If you intend to travel to any country which makes up this huge European neck of the woods, you will meet her. Oh yes, you will. She's waiting...and be warned, she eats naive tourists like you from the rich West for breakfast. 


experienced travellers beware

Oh, and don't think your 'I've travelled loads' bravado will disarm her. She sees straight through it, just like she manages to somehow see straight through the sticker-encrusted booth in which she squats: this is her habitat; her lair. Her glass box, on platforms and concourses across the continent, is transparent, open, aids communication. It clearly will not do. "This will not do", she mutters and thus sets about on her mission of obstruction and partitioning. In her head she rebuilds the Berlin Wall, recreates the Iron Curtain not through the use of concrete, "no, that would be too much", she reasons. She uses stickers and notices, of all shapes, sizes and ages, and, indeed, of varying degrees of relevance, to construct the barrier between herself and the polite, unfortunate souls who have no other option but to approach her glass cage (whether this cage is to keep us out or her in, I cannot be certain). Having assertively, and effectively, dealt with the unsuitable transparency of the box's glass, she marvels at some of its more appropriate communist design features. She particularly delights in the miniature window hatch through which many a word, and whole sentences, are lost. She revels in the fact that this Alice in Wonderland-style hatch is pitched humiliatingly low as she knows that this causes weary travellers to bend down to her - she particularly likes this. Glass box worship. Like.

She has a particular way of selecting her victims - she chooses those in the direst need, those tourists with only minutes to spare before their whole itinerary is thrown out of kilter, those travellers whose beads of sweat reek of desperation. She wallows and bristles with satisfaction in this scenario ("the game just got interesting", she muses). She enacts her 'watch them squirm' strategy: she moves achingly slowly, she repeats tasks pointlessly to sap time and your will to live, she asks you to repeat your request endlessly. She is the master of the passive aggressive. She coined the phrase 'computer says "no"' in this very booth.


a graduate from the stalin school of charm

The job of the woman in the glass box is to try to not sell you a ticket and to be as unhelpful and uncommunicative as possible. She reserves the right to not sell you a ticket - even if you meet all of the criteria in her slowly modernising country: the money. "No, money is not always enough", she ponders. She emits only monosyllabic, zoomorphic grunts at your beseeching and eloquent requests for a journey. She probably speaks English well, but refuses to let a single Anglophilic word pass her pursed, shrivelled lips. She is a graduate of the Stalin school of charm.

As the tides of change turn against her, she has devised new methods of thwarting your attempts at buying tickets and obtaining accurate information. No longer able to be openly aggressive, she employs more surreptitious strategies instead: this way she can be rude and keep her job ("Ah, a win win situation" she reasons). She tried this new tactic on me in the Srpska Bus Station, just east of Sarajevo. Luckily I arrived armed myself - with a tour guide! Our Bosnian guide helped disarm the Glass Box Woman's new Cold War strategy - the pretend or exaggerated language barrier, her main weapon of attack: the Cyrillic alphabet. She had nowhere to hide when spoken to in the local tongue and so begrudgingly and sneeringly coughed up the tickets for the seven hour bus journey at a cost of 36 Bosnian Marks.


information, please?

The Woman in the Glass box has another passive aggressive strategy up her beige blouse sleeve: dis or omitted information. On the advice of a Romanian ticket seller in a booth who, through a hatch the size of a matchbox, sold us tickets for a bus which should have taken us to Bran. It didn't. It merely took us to the bus station from where we should catch a taxi for the remainder of the journey. Of course, she did not explain this (I can picture her giggling in her little glass box at our unfortunate unknowing) and thus we spent the next hour completing two and a half circuits on the bus before a kind local gentleman helped us by explaining what had gone wrong. You will find it is often kind-hearted locals who intervene on the Glass Box Women's wicked tricks.

Leaving Transylvania was a problem, too. The first train to Bucharest was in red on the computer screen of a rude little lady at the 'casa' (that must be Romanian for 'Glass Box'), at Brasov station. We indicated that we needed to travel on that train. Her response was to shout at us, "No!" I momentarily lost it and shouted "No!" back at her, treating her to the same volume she had afforded me. Her sticker and filth-encrusted booth acted as the perfect sound barrier - a force-field repelling all attacks like a Hoxha concrete nuclear bunker. She didn't even flinch.

Born out of a communist mindset of 'get what you are given', she is realising that her time obstructing weary and imploring travellers is up. Her country is moving forward, opening up, employing sharper, younger, and more professional staff. She now looks like a relic of a bygone era. I thought we were all 'comrades' and equal, citizen? Obviously not.



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