BBC World’s “Clic” programme (it deals with high-tech stuff) reported on February 18th that someone had “tweeted” an employee of the Toronto’s Transit Commission (TTC), a ticket collector, who was sleeping on the job. Apparently, Torontonians, who had just had their fares raised according to Clic, were somewhat p.offed that the guy was sleeping, instead of working. Some TTC folks, apparently taken aback by the commotion of the “tweet”, tried justifying the fellow’s temporary “absence” from this world by stating that he perhaps could have been ill, or who knows, perhaps even dead.
That was obviously not the case as the poor old chap, a 30-year veteran of the TTC, was in fact caught sleeping.
I chuckled when I read this because this for me signified the basic, and I say basic, difference between Canada and Italy. Some 15 years ago, when I used to take the subway in Rome to go to and from work (6 subway stops actually), on several occasions I caught the ticket collectors, and at 8 am in the morning during rush-hour, sleeping (they were far from being dead too!). Not only were they sleeping in their small and air-less booths, but seeing that I’m only 1m90 tall, one day I pass by, peered inside and saw one collector in a rather pensive mood. I figured he must have been thinking about something related to his job. Au contraire! Guess what he was doing? He was trying to figure out the results to that weekend’s soccer lottery! Yes, would his beloved Roma win, tie or lose against mighty Milan? And on yet other occasions, the collectors who were supposed to be in the booth were either on the public payphone right next to the booth or totally absent. And NOT for 5 minutes either! Some would disappear for more than 30 minutes.
So, what did this all mean? Did it mean a wave of human protests from subway travellers as in Toronto’s case? Of course not (I still recall that I sent the local dailies an e-mail protesting these episodes, but I certainly must have been the only” fool” to do so, but that was because I came from another culture)! It meant that in a land, Italy, where “furfantismo” (being coy and ripping off the system) and dishonesty reign SUPREME and is an integral part of an Italian’s DNA, no-one checking a traveller’s ticket meant what? That you got to travel for free (which I did on COUNTLESS occasions, something that I could NEVER get away with when I used to take the metro to go to work in downtown Montréal. Had I tried I would have probably ended up being whizzed off to a Guantanamo-type of Canadian prison), what else!
That, essentially, is the difference between the two countries: that pure lawlessness in Canada is NOT tolerated whereas it is in Italy (a friend in the Toronto area sent me the news that many Canadian politicians in Ottawa have been arrested, I say arrested, for a variety of crimes. We have sitting in the Italian parliament former terrorists, and they calmly govern some 58 million Italians, and they’re certainly NOT in any Italian jail!).
I conclude my analysis with what happened to me, always some 15 years ago in Rome. I “mysteriously” had my car stolen (the thieves apparently used a tow-truck on the street adjacent to my apartment to take it away, probably for used parts as it was a 10 year-old Citroen). We went a few metres from our place to report the theft to the Carabinieri, Italy’s equivalent of the RCMP. The wife, saddened obviously that we were now without wheels (the car was mine by the way), said to the young officer: “But can’t you do something about all these car thefts (n.b. Only 135 per day are stolen in Rome!)”? He looked at us and told us the entertaining story of how one day a young chap was caught shoplifting in Rome in the equivalent of Canada’s The Bay. The cops arrived and he was promptly arrested. It turned out that the kid was the son of some powerful political minister. Was the cop who arrested him rewarded for his outstanding work and contribution to maintaining law and order in Rome? Of course not! The poor sod was shipped some 3 years in the outback of the island of Sardinia as a “reward”. And no doubt the poor guy was probably demoted too.
The young officer looked at my wife as he was typing the report, as though to say: “Hey lady, you want ME to arrest a car thief, and then maybe end up like my colleague? No thanks”! As taxpayers, that’s certainly NOT the response we wanted to hear. And I doubt that the average Canadian taxpayer in Canada would want to hear the same thing from Toronto’s finest.
The funny, or sad, thing is that I shall never forget that in exactly the same period Jack Straw’s son (Straw 15 years ago was Blair’s Foreign Secretary) was caught smoking a few harmless joints. And what did the British public opinion demand? The head of Straw Sr. (as though our parents are ALWAYS responsible for what we do as kids)! That back then, like the TTC case, said it all: the main difference between a society which is NOT awash with corruption (like the British one) and one like Italy’s which together with Poland is by far one of THE most corrupt societies in all of Europe!
On a very final note, 20 years ago I’d take the subway to go to work in downtown Montréal (I lived in that fine city 3 years). I’d either show the ticket controller my monthly pass or I’d slip my ticket into the electronic reader (the same system I noticed was in Paris’s subway system, back in 1993 when I went there for a short visit. Funny too that many of the trains were identical to the ones used in Montréal, seeing that they were manufactured by Canada’s Bombardier company, the same makers of the Canadair if I’m not mistaken). If the ticket was expired, the turnstile wouldn’t open, and I’d get one mean look from the ticket controller, as though to say: “Not trying to rip-off the system, are ya”? Well, when did they FINALLY get the same system up and running in Rome’s subway? Only about 2-3 years ago, which means that practically since the birth of the Rome subway (commenced I believe under Mussolini himself), you could practically travel with the same (used) ticket all day, and hardly any ticket controller would ever stop you. “When in Rome…”, as they say!