We’ve all been there—at the base of the stairs as the train you need comes rushing into the station. As you make the effort and sprint up the stairs, people inside of the carriage spot you, throwing an arm across the door to keep it from shutting before you slip inside. “Thanks,” you gasp, trying not to fall on your ass as the train lurches off from the platform. Or at least that’s how it typically goes in most US cities.
Most Americans understand that our public transport systems tend to…well, suck. If you miss your train, you might be stuck waiting another 10 minutes (or if you are trying to depend on BART, you might be stuck waiting another 25). They react with compassion and empathy, or maybe just on reflex.
So imagine my surprise when, on my first trip with the U-Bahn, I gave my customary best to sprint up the flight of stairs, and watched as the people inside let the doors close on me. Assholes, I thought, a little peeved, watching as the train pulled away. I turned to see when the next one was arriving, and with a little shock, saw it would be at the platform in 3 minutes. Sure, let’s see. Lo and behold, 3 minutes later, there was the train.
Trains, you might think, are one thing. But what about the busses—infamous for being late or delayed in traffic. But the busses are even more efficient than the trains, and nearly all of the bus stops have an arrival estimator, so you can at least see if it is delayed. Frequent runs mean that you rarely have to stand, and just like the trains, the carriages are clean and relatively new. The announcements are mostly in German, but in touristy areas, they add in an English translation for visitors.
Pro Tip: There are no typical turnstiles or farecheckers on the U-bahn, the way there are in the US. Paying for your fare is largely an honor system—random checks for proof of purchase do happen, but it’s pretty sporadic. So if you feel like living on the edge, try what the Germans call, “Schwarzfahren”—or riding without a ticket. Just be aware that if you do get caught, it’s a 60EUR fine.
Pro Tip #2: If you decide to be a responsible citizen and pay your fare, you may be rewarded. Occasionally, people who have bought a day-pass but no longer need it will leave it on the fare machines, giving lucky you a free pass with a guiltless conscience.
For Culture Shock #1, click here.