The great tourist cities like London and Paris and Rome and countless others are so tremendously well-suited to tourism that it’s sometimes easy to forget that they’re also cities. People live there and work there and use the same mass transport to get from home to work and back that you use to get to Disneyland or the Tower of London.
Which brings us to the ticket booth. In most cities in most train and bus and metro stations the role of the ticket booth is to sell tickets. Sometimes, and only sometimes, an exchange of information can smooth the transaction — say there’s a subtle price distinction between a weekend pass and individual tickets. And that’s it. It’s not a tourist information booth. It looks a lot like a tourist information booth and there’s a good chance that the individual behind the bulletproof glass has picked up by pure osmosis over the years the information you’re after and hell, he doesn’t care, sure he’ll join you in speculating about the most scenic approach to Mt. St. Michel or if your flight’s likely to depart on schedule, he gets paid the same either way.
But the rest of us behind you in line need to get to work. I know you think that we’re just impatient to ask our own stupid questions the answers to which we could have easily and much more fruitfully googled on our phones in the time you took to fail to say “can you recommend a good vegan restaurant” in French but in fact we just want to renew our metro passes and go on about our day.
Here’s a hint. If it says “tickets” or “billets” or “biglietti” or some variation of that, it sells tickets. Stick to that. If you can’t make out what it says, assume that it says tickets and again, stick to that. If it says “tickets/information” I confess this is a grey area but remember the context — it’s tickets or it’s information about tickets. Do not ask the guy beneath the “tickets/information” sign if the weather’s appropriate for a day trip to Rimini.
And for the sake of all of us and those of us to come do not, under any circumstances, joke with the ticket vendor. He’s busy, I’m waiting, you don’t share a maternal first language nor, probably, a sense of humour and you’re communicating through a telecoms system installed in the age of disco. It should be obvious to anyone that this matrix of conditions demands only the most concise needs communicated in your sparsest Globish and yet I can’t believe how many times I have to endure something like:
“Two child tickets please”
“Two child tickets. We’d like two child tickets.”
“For you? Child tickets are for children under 12. There is the student pass but for this you need a student ID.”
“Ha ha. No. Just kidding. Two tickets please”.
“Student tickets? Do you have a student ID?”
“Uhm. No. We’re in our sixties. We’re not students. It was a joke.”
“I said it was a joke. I WAS JUST KIDDING.”
“I don’t understand”
“Can we just have two tickets, please. Just two standard tickets”
“Yes sir. €2.60”
The tube in London carries over 3.5 million passenger journeys per day. Per day. That’s a lot but no match for Paris’ 4.5 million. Moving the population of a large American city over the course of 24 hours is a logistical balancing act on a par with a satellite launch — a daily satellite launch — and it requires the cooperation of everyone.
So when you stop to have a good look around at the top of a packed escalator you’re causing a chain reaction that will ruin the day for 2000 people for every second you stand there taking in the scenery. If you can’t remember to stand on the right of the escalator and walk on the left, stay off the escalators. And do not under any circumstances confuse the ticket booth for a travel agency.