When Bigotry Marches with TILO Train


Regional trains Ticino Lombardy or Treni Regionali Ticino Lombardia TILO was established in 2004. It created a very efficient connections between the towns in canton Ticino and nearby Lombardy region of Italy. When it comes to trains in Europe, Switzerland trains are the most punctual and most reliable one compared to all other trains. You may plan your trip in their on-line timetable at TILO.ch or SBB CFF FFS. 

Pinches of Discrimination

Twelve years ago, a week after I came back from the funeral of my father whose life was robbed by a motor tragic accident, I also had a very disappointing experience with a Swiss-German train inspector of TILO. I’m sharing you here the wisdom, reflections and realisation of what I have written in my diary.

Lugano Train Station

After the artistic gymnastics training of my eldest daughter, we hiked downhill from the gym to the Lugano central train station. We were just in time to get the TILO regional train which left just a minute after we were seated. The inspector came at once and spoke to me in Italian with a very notable Swiss-German accent. I have a whole year train and bus subscription and I found out that I brought only one subscription of my daughters who were seven and eight years old at that time. I have the receipts of my annual subscription for both of my daughters but the strict inspector easily wrote an eighty Swiss francs fine for not buying tickets for my daughters. At that age, usually if you have a subscription and as well as for the children, they travel for free in the train. The train inspector scolded me. Some snippets of the conversation:

Inspector: You see, you’re like all migrants, you just cheat the system. You’re all here just to squeeze more unemployment benefits. You prefer to be here than in your poor country.

I was of course fuming with anger but I explained to him not to generalise all migrants as economic parasites.
He continued his sermon so in the end I got the eighty francs fine and paid him in cash right at that moment as he wanted the money as soon as possible.

Prior hopping out in Mendrisio train station, the inspector came again to our wagon and scolded me further. I told him:

“I got your name and I will report you at the central office because here is a proof that I have subscriptions for my daughters but you still gave me a fine. Your intimidation has pinches of discrimination in it!”

He said, “I am not a racist. I am married to an African woman.”

I looked at him and gave him a genuine smile as I ushered my children slowly down the train. I told him in a firm, loud but diplomatic voice, “Good, at least your African wife can teach you how to be compassionate.”

As soon as we were in the Mendrisio train station, I reported the incident at the office. I showed my receipt of annual subscriptions for my daughters and they promised to refund the eighty francs later by mail which the Swiss German inspector got from me in the train. They got his name. Many months later, I didn’t get my refund, but the Swiss-Italian family who invited me for lunch in Mendrisio felt sorry for me so they were the ones who gave me eighty francs back. I never heard again from the SBB or TILO. Maybe I should have nagged them but I was a busy divorcee raising my two daughters on my own and my priority goes to my daughters and my part time jobs as a piano teacher, flights dispatcher and coordinator of private jets and English-Italian translator.

My second daughter told me that I could have told the inspector that I was a flight dispatcher of Citation X and Hawker 800XP private jets and not a jobless person which the train inspector assumed as he already branded me as one of the unemployed migrants who are economic parasites of the land of cheese, banks, Alps, pharmacies and chocolates!

People can behave worse than dysfunctional machines especially if they are unhappy with their jobs.
Machines: without head nor heart but with one aim, to produce quicker monetary results.
Have you experienced unfairness and injustice despite being an honest, law-abiding citizen? Between men and machine, men who act like machine while at work for the sake of cashing in money.
How can an inspector unjustly give fine when you have paid or have a valid yearly subscription? Intimidation with threats. Intimidation with shaming. Intimidation with obvious, racial discrimination.
How about passengers who engage discriminating look on “brown or darker skinned” migrants or passengers of public transport?
How about passengers who look down on migrants with their matching discriminating comments about being a foreigner?

Coping Mechanism in Case of Racism

When you are in a flux from such illogical inspector who misuses his job functions just to be always right even if they are at fault, face them with firm determination as you explain your side in a diplomatic and respectful manner. You have a right against any form of discrimination.

Keep in mind how many true happiness and blessings you have in life and do not let any illogical, “stronzi” discriminating inspector destroy your day.

Despite being an honest, good and law-abiding, diplomatic and respectful passenger, there are “stronzi” elements of society who can destroy the start of your day.

Despite explaining yourself in a polite manner, there are others ruled by their clouded prejudice expressed in their intimidating, rude manner when they see your passport, age and appearance in congruence with their hidden racial discriminating spirit.

When this hits you, think of all the unique blessings of your life. Never let any “stronzi” unreasonable, and offensive elements of the society destroy your cheerful aura.

Regardless of race and country, the worse ones can depend from your own experiences and your coping mechanism, and from the fault of irregularities of others who are often doing illegal ways, the good and law-abiding ones become the victim of the prejudiced, illogical inspector which in another perspective, if you think about it in his side, he was simply doing his job.

Despite you give them respect and diplomacy under their intimidating ways, their subconscious hatred of their job or other factors such as fatigue and other possible reasons of his rude behaviour, the god syndrome complex of not listening to an explanation, and not seeing the complete overview of the situation especially when you’re right and the inspector is the one who wrongly accuses you.

Reflections of a Migrant

Switzerland is a very  beautiful country but it is also where I experienced many forms of racial discriminations in fourteen years I have lived there.

Many times, the “superior white skinned people” would always think and see Asians, the brown or darker skinned migrants as a second class citizen who come from the Third world countries as the common law breakers of their new adapted, resident country. That’s how some or many of them would often make migrants feel even if you’ve been living there as a law-abiding, tax payer, naturalised citizen who holds a good job, for more than ten years already. Xenophobia breathes among many people amidst the breathtaking  Alps, serene lakes and the magnificent nature’s beauty of the countryside.

Even if you’ve adjusted, obeyed the law, acquired and learned their three of their four national foreign languages, German, French and Italian and flexibly adjusted to their system and culture, there are xenophobes or prejudiced elements of the society that would always put you down despite that you’ve been respectful, hard working and honest. There are prejudiced people in the society that may unjustly and unfairly draw conclusions of tagging you for what the rest of your nationality compatriots have done (i.e. illegal ways).

This type of stereotyping, discrimination, racism and wrong accusations and abuse of job functions just to get an upper hand and push you into a corner is the fastest means of unjustly cashing in money even when you have honestly used the prepaid travelling card subscription in a proper way. There are arrogant “stronzi” inspectors who have high pride and have no understanding on what is being explained and shown. It is easy for some inspectors to intimidate considering the fact they have seen your your passport,  age and size and a particular vulnerability they can strike upon.

It’s a small world

Four months after the incident, my daughter participated the cantonal gymnastic artistic competition in Altdorf. She ranked fifth in the results and she embraced me and whispered, “Mum, I defeated the daughter of that stronzo inspector. His daughter got the tenth position.”

I asked her if she probably mistook a guy who looked the same like the Swiss German train inspector but as we passed close to the the other team, I saw the train inspector who also caught my eyes and was shocked to see me and my daughters. I searched for the African wife he mentioned some months ago and I saw that his daughter has Caucasian attributes and as well as the blonde haired mother with milky white complexion. There was no sign of his supposedly exotic African wife as he claimed some months ago. My seven year old daughter said, “Mamma the girl’s mother is a Swiss German. He lied at us so he won’t appear like a racist.”

. . . one day in a life of a novelist . . .

Angelica Hopes, Odyssey of a Heart, Home of a Soul. One of my personal experiences when riding the Intercity and TILO train in canton Ticino, Switzerland.

p.s. A new Italian word for you: “stronzo” is the slang word for describing male gender asshole. Stronza is the female gender description for asshole. Stronzi is the plural for assholes.