The weather was fine, yet I decided to take a tram. It was late and I wanted to watch “The state of America”. We trundled to the next stop.
You might think the EU is one big mass of bland sameness: same currency, same rules, same Zara, same zero-coke. Forget it. This merger was concocted by statesmen. Politicians force it upon states and inhabitants with varying success. There are all kinds of exceptions, so I should have known.
I had boarded an EU-intercity-train running between the Netherlands and Brussels, using a Dutch day-return ticket valid right up to the (EU-non-existing) Dutch-Belgian border. I had a day-return ticket valid from this (EU-non-existing) border to Brussels.
At Antwerp, I had gotten off the EU-intercity train running between the Netherlands and Brussels. There are also trains running from a Dutch border-town to Antwerp. It is possible to change at Antwerp and catch a train to Brussels.
In Antwerp, I had collected an award for a piece of writing and met acquaintances. I could not board a next intercity-train from the Netherlands to Brussels, as this connection had broken down around the (EU-non-existing) border, due to a power failure. So I boarded a Belgian train leaving Antwerp for Brussels.
The Belgian guard had an off day. He was making passengers in front of me miserable. When it was my turn, it was clear he had never seen international tickets before. He could read, so at least he held mine up the right way. But he could not make sense of them.
So he decided, me getting off a train bound for Brussels at Antwerp and there board a train to Brussels was against NMBS laws. It was not done.
I had been doing this regularly for over three decades. His colleagues had never made a fuss. I challenged him.
Fellow passengers shook their heads warningly behind his back.
My arguments did not interest him: NMBS law is the law in Belgium. I was not allowed to get off a train at Antwerp, if my destination was Brussels and then board his Brussels train.
He was going to be kind and not fine me.
He was going to be so kind: he was not going to force me to buy a second return ticket from my departure town to Brussels.
He was so kind: I had to buy a single ticket Antwerp – Brussels from him.
Fuming, I paid in paper money.
He had a problem.
He did not have the correct change.
Paying me back part of my change, he needed coin money for the remainder.
His solution? He would find me when the train pulled into Brussels Central and hand me the remaining change on the platform.
If you are familiar with the rush on train platforms, you understand why I said: “Fat chance!”.
When he had left, my fellow Belgian passengers started to relax. Their reactions reminded me of occupied Belgium under German WWI and WWII rule. They had been scared witless! They warned me never to challenge authority in their country: it was not done!
Their fear was shocking to witness.
Just before we pulled into Brussels Central, he was back at my seat.
He counted out the remaining change in one-Euro-cent copper pieces. Most EU member-states and shops no longer accept such coins.
At the station, I checked the price for a single ticket Antwerp-Brussels. At least the price charged had been correct.
Later that day, I was having a beer at my regular Brussels pub.
I paid for my beer and added the copper one-Euro-cent coins to a large tip.
The waitress made no problem: they have a piggy-bank for Euro-copper-coins and its content is regularly donated to charity.