This letter is in response to your editorial on the tickets checkers from the Bratislava Transit Authority ["Ticket checkers: Slovakia's austerity package footmen," Vol. 5 No. 6, Feb. 15-21].
Last August, I had lived in Slovakia for only three months and my knowledge of Slovak was very minimal. I took a tram from the main station with my children, ages 7 and 14. As I rose to depart at my stop, a man came up to me with an expression that made me think he was planning to rob me. He said something quickly and angrily of which I understood absolutely nothing. He repeated this again and again, quickly and in an increasingly angry tone.
Since it was completely incomprehensible to me, and I had at that point become quite frightened, I rose to leave. He grabbed me by both arms and thrust me back into the seat, again loudly and angrily repeating something, which thank God I now understood to be "listok" (ticket). I gave him my ticket and he moved on to the next passenger.
The children and I left the tram visibly shaken. What an image for my 14 year old son to carry back to the United States with him! At that time the fare was 7 crowns, so for 21 crowns (for the 3 of us, approximately 55 cents), I was assaulted for the first time in my life. The physical damage wasn't lasting - the finger marks on my arms faded in minutes - but my wariness of travelling without my Slovak husband lasted for a very long time.
Why I did not simply say that I did not understand Slovak? Because I was too shocked, startled and frightened to do anything more than look, with what I am sure was a slack-jawed expression.
It is a shame that this kind of thing is allowed to happen. Slovakia is a beautiful country, rich in culture, music, art and full of many wonderful, warm people. For a resident, even a foreign one like myself, the opportunity remained and remains to have many pleasant encounters to counteract this one. However, for a foreign visitor, the image of Slovakia that they take home is less than cordial if these kinds of incidents take place over something as trivial as a 7 or even 10 crown tram ticket.
21. Feb 1999 at 0:00