Letter from a French tourist in Crimea: 1. People-watching in the public transport


Ronald Zonka

in Boulevard Voltaire, September 6, 2015

Translated from French by Tom Winter

Translator’s note: the author tells me that he will be three months in Crimea; I happily look forward to more of his posts, and will share them in English here at Fort Russ as soon as I get them!

Original title: Crimea, land of respect

There’s nothing like using public transport for watching how people behave in a country. Here in the Saki region of Crimea, I’ve been taking the famous “Marshrutka” every day for the past three weeks. Not a large bus, just 25 seats.

What strikes you for a first impression is is the age of the buses. The buses seem at the end of their rope, but they perform their public service mission valiantly. One striking thing is that despite their seeming well-worn, they are not damaged by graffiti or other malicious acts. Visibly, users respect the equipment that is dedicated to their use.

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Whether you get on board from the front or the back, you have to pay the driver and his cash register is up front, unprotected. When folks get on at the back, they pass their money hand-to-hand up toward the front, and they wait with no visible emotion as their change comes back the same way, passed hand-to-hand. No hawk-eye watching, no anxiety for the money out of his wallet. Payment for passage is a matter of calmly counting on everyone else. The price of transportation in an urban area, encompassing the peripheral towns is 12 rubles, or about 17 cents.

With the inter-city routes, recent legislation is being followed. All passengers are seated and the police, it is plain to see, actually ensure the implementation of the rules of the road. As for the mandatory signage inside the bus, the signs are starting to be posted in Tatar language in accord with post-referendum arrangements regarding official languages of Crimea.

Getting on or getting off, the passengers on the often crowded buses are routinely courteous to the elderly, children and the fairer sex. You don’t see a man sitting if there’s a woman or a person with difficulties standing near.

Similarly, a pregnant woman or a woman accompanying a child will be offered a seat by any seated passenger. It is to be noted that it’s the men who carry the packages and would rather be tossed about, standing than see their wives in such a situation. It makes you wonder if we should still be following French gallantry rather than Russian as our model.

Although the buses are not equipped for this type of situation, the appearance of a stroller immediately engages the sympathy of passengers, who spontaneously help the new mother and her baby get settled.

This reflects a difference between the Russian mentality and the Western one that is supposedly more civilized. We are constantly in search of technical perfection and comfort to compensate for our people’s lack of attention to our fellow citizens. While it is true that the technical level and comfort of the Crimean buses are very far from our European standards, there are human values that our societies have lost for almost 40 years in the name of materialist individualism.

Individuals who respect themselves and respect others deserve respect from us. Starting with respect for the choice they made, that of regaining their motherland, Russia.

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