California Charm or American Presumptuousness
My journey to Stockholm was not without hiccups. My alarm went off as it was supposed to, and I departed Erik’s apartment in good time to catch the 8:30 train. I entered the ticket office and purchased my ticket at the kiosk per usual. Only this time I decided I would buy a return ticket now, since I was returning the following day, and save myself the time later. With minutes to spare I stepped onto the platform and onto the train, selecting a prime window seat in one of the front cars. The train took off right on schedule. One of the train agents came by collecting tickets and I casually handed her my travel document.
As I placed my ticket back in my bag, I glanced at my return ticket only to notice I had mistakenly booked a ticket for the same night rather than the following day. Forgetting to double-check while I was back at the kiosk, I literally paid the price and bought the wrong ticket. Knowing Swedes and their exacting nature, I shook my head in realization that rectifying this issue might prove difficult.
On paper, it seemed rather clear cut. I had made a mistake and simply needed to exchange my erroneous ticket for a proper one. Once at the Stockholm central station, I made a beeline for the ticket office. I was not the only traveler who needed help. If you have been to Sweden before, you may recall that instead of funneling customers into a line or several lines, they have automated ticket machines that give you a number, after which you wait until the number is called. Think of what we Americans do at the meat counter. I don’t know if there is a discernable improvement in taking numbers versus forming lines, especially when you have as many as twenty representatives providing service.
Anyway, there were many people with better numbers than I. But I was in no rush. Fifteen minutes later, I presented my case to the attendant at station 12. She was none too sympathetic to the circumstances of my predicament. We scanned through the train schedule on the proper day. The same departure the following day was almost double the price of the ticket I originally bought at the kiosk. Upon closer examination, we found an earlier train for about the same price as before. “Will you pay with credit card or cash?” she asked. “Wait a minute, can’t you just cancel this ticket and issue me a new one?” I inquired. No. I had purchased a “non-refundable” fare, naturally. “I’m sorry but there is nothing I can do.” She looked at me firmly.
Not to be denied, I realized I would have to raid my proverbial toolbox. Flashing a sultry smile, I released my California charm into play. I’d really appreciate it if you could help me out, I’m just a poor foreigner who doesn’t have any friends in this town, I’m really lonely. Yada yada yada. She stared blankly for several seconds as my twinkling eyes pleaded with her, then finally relented. “Let me see what I can do.”
That’s not exactly how it transpired. “There is nothing I can do,” she repeated. Besides the spelling, bureaucracy is clearly the same in Sweden as the U.S. “Can I talk to your manager?” It was a last resort, desperation move, but I had to try it. Her manager strolled over and addressed me. Once again I explained what happened and that all I desired was a new ticket to replace the mistaken one. “So you’ve already heard our policy,” he began. “You bought a non-refundable ticket.” My heart sank. Case closed. Or so I thought. “Well, we have our rules,” he continued, “but we also try to accommodate our customers.” Saying thus, he turned to his employee and said a few words in Swedish. Two minutes later I walked out towards Stockholm city center with a brand new ticket.