The ticket inspector glares at me over the top of my perfectly valid ticket.
You did not stamp it! he says in the tone of voice that a primary school teacher would use upon discovering a small child eating a purple crayon. He is perfectly correct. I have not stamped my ticket.
I’m sorry, I say in a sweet little voice, I didn’t know I had to stamp it. I did know, in actual fact, but I had no idea how to do it, being as I couldn’t find a machine on which to do so, and didn’t want to miss the train by running all over the place looking for one only to discover that I couldn’t work out how to use it anyway. I feel it’s easier just to plead ignorance than to explain this. He is not mollified in the slightest. I must now charge you for a new ticket, he informs me. I shake my head. Erm, no… I have just bought this ticket. It is valid. I didn’t know I had to stamp it!
The instructions are right there on the back! he retorts excitedly, waving it at me. I glance at it.
Well, yes, I agree amiably, but I can’t read Dutch.
His glare becomes even more glarey. You are in The Netherlands! he points out, rather unnecessarily, given that I am on a train and in possession of a ticket that says Rotterdam – Amsterdam. I stare uncertainly at him. Yes… I explain patiently, I know that. But I’m travelling all over the place… I can hardly learn the language of every single country I pass through.
This does not go down very well. Ticket inspector man stamps my ticket and retains possession of it, looking haughty. Have you tried to learn any languages in the countries you have visited? he asks, as if getting my ticket back depends upon my answer to the question. I stare indignantly at him. Yes! I exclaim defensively. I speak some French… and I’ve tried to pick up a few basic Dutch words… and I started learning Estonian when I was there!
Were I a less gullible person, perhaps I would notice a twinkle in his eyes at this point and deduce that he is winding me up. Alas! I am incapable of reaching such a conclusion without a subtle indication, like Zed standing by my side, nudging me and hissing He’s keeping you going! under her breath.
He waves the ticket in front of my nose and says sternly What can you say in Estonian?
I search the dusty, closed file labelled Random Estonian Phrases at the back of my mind, and pull out the first familiar one. Ma ei räägi eesti keelt, I declare confidently. I regret it the second that he says suspiciously What does that mean?
Embarrassed, I hang my head. I want to tell him it’s some sort of clever insult about arrogant Dutch ticket inspectors, but I don’t have the nerve. I don’t speak Estonian, I reply, ashamed.
Ticket inspector starts to laugh, and hands me back my ticket.