My first international trip was in October 2016. During this time, I backpacked solo through Europe. I started off in Iceland and then headed to Denmark, followed by The Netherlands. I spent a couple of days in Amsterdam and then decided to take a day trip to The Hague (Den Haag, as the locals call it.)
The train ride from Amsterdam to Den Haag was a little under an hour. Once I got to the main train station, I looked up directions to my hotel. According to Google Maps, I would have to take the tram to get there. A tram is a small, city train that runs on rails on the street.
There was no kiosk to purchase a ticket and something told me to look up whether the trams accept cards. Spoiler alert: they only accept cash and public transit tickets. As a typically Millennial, I never ever carry cash. I mean, I didn’t need cash in any of the European countries I visited thus far, and I also didn’t need cash in Amsterdam. Needless to say, I was unprepared for this.
There were not any ATMs nearby and I watched people just get on the tram without anyone patrolling, so I just hopped on the back of one and figured I could get away with it. It turns out I was going in the wrong direction because reading maps is not my forté. I hopped off the first tram, crossed the street, and waited for another one. Feeling confident in my scammer ways, I did the same thing on the second tram.
I put my head down for a few minutes and felt a tap on my shoulder. A tall, ticket control officer asked me a question in Dutch.
“I don’t speak Dutch,” I responded in English.
“May I please see your ticket?” he asked me.
I was surprisingly calm during this even though the pre-travelista me would have been sweating bullets.
I politely told him that I didn’t have a ticket and even tried to make up a lie about how I was going to buy one but I only had a credit card. The lie did not work so I just fessed up.
Note: this is why I don’t lie because the truth is truly more simple.
He told me that stealing a fare is an offense that costs at least 50 euros plus extra fees for tourists and that I could be arrested if I did not pay the fine. Still remaining calm, I shook my headed and apologized. Internally, I’m thinking, “bitch 50 Euros?! That’s a night at the hostel in Amsterdam. Get it together.”
Then something strange happened. He asked me where I was from and I told him that I was from America. He nodded and told me to get off at the next stop to buy a ticket at the central station and I agreed to. Two Black passengers behind me started talking and laughing in Dutch; I assumed that they were laughing at me being an idiotic, entitled, privileged American tourist who should have gotten fined instead of a slap on the wrist. I assumed this because that’s exactly what I do when privileged people in America get a slap on the wrist from the authorities while us less privileged folks get fined and locked up.
As the tram stopped, I tried to gather my things in a hurry but the doors closed before I got off. I stood by the door so that it wouldn’t happen again. The patrol officer approached me to ask me where my hotel was. I showed him on the map and he told me not to worry about getting off at the next stop, but to get off three stops after he did and walk up a block and I would see the place.
I was shocked! Literally shocked. I’ve always feared authority figures in the United States because they’re generally not kind or forgiving towards people who look like me.” At the same time, I was conflicted because it was the first time I experienced privilege in my life. Was this American privileged? More specifically, Black American privilege? I am certain that had I said I was from Cote d’Ivoire (where I was born) or Kenya, he may not have let me off the hook so easily. Regardless, I was thankful albeit embarrassed and confused.
The man sitting behind me told me in English that I was lucky because ticket patrol officers often do not let fare thieves go. I agree that I was lucky to not be fined and arrested in Den Haag and moving forward, I was sure to carry cash and always pay for my fare.
Don’t get arrested, y’all! Carry cash and pay for your damn ticket.