The words of a well-known song say “You can't beat the Warsaw smart-ass!” So the methods seem to be varied: someone gives a bribe, someone says he has no documents, another simply runs away. But no matter how big smart-ass the people in Warsaw are, someone still doesn’t manage to get off scot-free. And then the ‘Canarinha’ win. Obviously, I don’t mean the Brazilian football team but so-called ‘canaries’, a nickname given to ticket controllers. Sometimes other cases happen apart from those mentioned above. A friend of mine told me that when he was coming back from Ukraine he presented the controllers with a bottle of Ukrainian cognac. Naturally, this gesture warmed the heart of our ‘birds’ and they quickly took flight with the alcoholic loot. Another friend, whose complexion makes him look more like an inhabitant of Sofia, not Warsaw, told me that he was so shocked when the controllers asked him to show a ticket that he lost his tongue. They took him for a foreigner who didn’t understand their request and since they didn’t know an adequate phrase in English they abandoned further procedures. When ticket controllers were introduced in Lviv, people had difficulties with accepting it. Not once have I heard about a situation when a group of old ladies beat up a ‘canary’ when he demanded that they show a ticket. Old ladies in Poland may sometimes be a bit aggressive but they simply operate on different waves… the waves that are sent by the famous radio in Toruń.

But let’s come back to those controls in Ukrainian trams. Over time came some changes in this mode of transport - women dressed in aprons with two pockets: one to keep a roll of tickets and the other for some ‘kopecks’ to give the change. They strolled along the carriage and sold tickets. And it was almost impossible to deceive such a lady because she remembered very well whom she had already sold a ticket and whom not. Right now the function of a tram usher does not exist anymore. It’s a shame we won’t meet an energetic lady pushing her way through the crowd by using a knee. Such a shame…

However, the old system of selling remained in ‘marshrutkas’. The word ‘marshrutka’ probably derived from ‘marshrut’, which means ‘direction of travelling’. Marshrutka is an equivalent of a Polish minibus. They are used not only in city transport but also intercity travels, and those big buses used in transport of persons in Poland seem to be unnecessary in Ukraine… After all, forty people can also be packed in a marshrutka so why bother? Besides, a small size of the vehicle makes it easier to move in urban space.

In Ukraine quite often lots of passengers try to get on a vehicle. A driver doesn’t waste his time on selling tickets, he just hurries everyone to get on quickly. And obviously the culture – everybody gets on, no one is left on the stop because no matter how many people are already inside, there’s always some place for just one more person. When everyone is on board of this marshrutka, the sale of tickets is organized with the use of ‘pass it on’ method. You pass the money on through the other passengers so it finally gets to the driver and – keeping proper manners – you receive a ticket and change if you didn’t hand over the exact amount of money. Everything goes smoothly and with no sign of rudeness.

This method of payment might be difficult to comprehend for some Polish passengers but they could be even more surprised if they travel by bus from the ‘Stadion’ Station in Warsaw to Ivano-Frankivsk and after getting on the bus a driver asks everyone to sit down and only later, when the bus starts, the driver’s replacement checks and sells the tickets. So you can simply take your seat and a ticket will come to you.

Right now I recall the words of my friend, who once told me a story of his travelling by bus in Masuria region back in the communist times. Every time he got on a PKS bus (Car Communication Enterprise), his grandfather repeated that if a driver takes the whole sum, he should ask for a ticket. But you could also do it another way – simply talk with a driver, give him half the money, quietly sit in the back seat and reach your destination…

On the other hand, the system of selling tickets in Polish means of transport may shock the Ukrainians because once I heard from a Ukrainian passenger in a Polish PKS bus: “What a boorishness to have to stay in the line before getting in and buying a ticket!” But unfortunately - every country has its own customs – so all we can do as passengers is to get used to different customs in means of public transport.

In marshrutkas there’s also a different culture of giving up your seat to other passengers. It’s different as you rarely meet with it in Poland. Once I was on a Ukrainian bus and wanted to give my place to an older lady but she told me to sit down because I paid for it and it’s mine… Maybe she was a retired ticket-selling lady?

Paweł Łoza

Translated by: Iwona Białek