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I Got Scammed by a Polish Transit Cop!

And I tapped into my inner Karen, too.

By Steven Christopher McKnightPublished 3 months ago 6 min read
I Got Scammed by a Polish Transit Cop!
Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

Let me say something: I believe people, though probably inherently good, are capable of immense and irredeemable evil. Turns out a lot of those people choose to be transit cops in Warsaw. This is not a complaint letter; I acknowledge that the system works in this way, and that a belligerent American tourist won’t change anything of note. But I thought I might as well share my story, so that people traveling to Warsaw might know what to look out for.

Of course, my story begins where all Warsaw-stories begin: in Warsaw. It’s kind of a tourist trap city. I never found it particularly exciting or interesting. Most of the historic architecture was destroyed in the Second World War (through no fault of their own), and what can be considered their Old Town is a reconstruction of what the Old Town used to look like. The city rings hollow for me. That’s not to say that it’s not a good city. For me, it’s not, at least, but I’m not most tourists. Anyway, I was not in Warsaw for touristing business; it was a transitive place for me, a place to pass through to get to Lviv and later on to Kyiv for further theatrical research. I’d booked a hotel for a couple of days because some of my friends live in Warsaw, but I wasn’t there for much of a reason other than to catch a $15 bus to another country—the only proper way to enjoy Warsaw.

A boyfriend of a friend that I was to meet later in the summer met me at Warsaw Centralna, the central bus station, one afternoon and brought me to an English-language improv comedy night. (I admit, I participated, though that does not make me look good.) The night went splendidly, and afterwards, this boyfriend-of-a-friend brought me back to Warsaw Centralna, pointed me to the proper bus to get me back to my hotel, and told me something that will be important later: “If the ticket machine isn’t working, generally, you’re not responsible for paying for the ride.” I usually try my best to pay for services when I receive them, mind you, but this was good to know.

I hopped on my bus, try to buy a ticket. It didn't work the first time. I tried a second time, then a third time. Still didn’t work. So I sit down, promising to myself that I would try again later. As soon as I’d sat down, however, a ticket inspector hopped onboard. Methodically, he went through every passenger (not many, it was 1am) and he got to me. I had no reason to distrust this man; usually, people can be trusted to perform their jobs and not scam customers. Dear reader, I was mistaken. This man is the villain of the story.

I explained to him that I had tried to buy a ticket three times, and at first he was diplomatic. I asked if I could go and try again, and he agreed. I bought my ticket for four zloty (about $1) and returned to him. The ticket machine was working now; I was happy to pay for my ticket. At this, though, he shook his head.

Said the villain, producing a card machine from his jacket pocket, “That will be a fine of 240 zloty (approx. $60). Will that be cash or card?”

In disbelief, I said, “I bought my ticket. You saw my ticket.”

“Yes,” said he, “but you didn’t buy it when you got on the bus.”

“The ticket machine wasn’t working then. But I bought it now. It was working now.”

“I just wanted to know if you were lying to me.”

It was at this moment, dear reader, that my heart sunk. I’d realized I’d been played like a fiddle. Not only had I been charged for a perfectly valid ticket, but I had been slammed with a fee from a system designed to scam tourists.

The bus stopped at my stop, the doors flew open, and I attempted to step out.

“I’m not paying that,” I said. “I bought the ticket. This is my stop.”

Alas, though, the brute stepped between me and the exit, shoved me back, yelled something in Polish to the bus driver who shut the door and called back to me, “No, no, you must pay, you must pay.” Defeated, I paid the fine, stepped off at the next bus station, and walked 30 minutes through the Warsaw outskirts at 1:30am back to my hotel. It is important to note, dear reader, that transit cops in Warsaw are paid on commission from fines. In essence, they have no incentive to tell the truth.

I’ll admit to you, dear reader, that it crossed my mind to scream profanities at this scam artist. Perhaps one or two, I directed at the situation, though not at the man himself. I am proud, however, of this last bit. As I stepped off the bus, I looked this dead-eyed man in the eye and said, “I bet your family stops smiling when you enter the room.” A low blow, I’ll admit, but a fair one. If I told my parents that I got paid to scam tourists, they would be disappointed in me. I only hope his parents, his wife, his children, his siblings are as disappointed in him. From the look in his eyes, I believe they were. Profanities can cause fear, but it takes great creativity to inflict psychological damage.

I understand that this story is highly self-aggrandizing. Maybe I was at fault. Maybe I didn’t try hard enough to be a good little American tourist. Maybe my parting blow was too mean, and I wasn’t sympathetic to the struggles he dealt with in his personal life. I argue, though, that if you are being paid to lie to people and cheat them out of their money, you have surrendered the right to “off-limits.” Maybe that’s my inner Karen talking, though.

A part of me is scared of this rage I feel, this sense of self-entitlement, and as someone who has worked in retail before, I don’t know if this is the feeling that certain Karens have felt dealing with me when they felt robbed by having to pay $2.49 for a pair of shoes they thought was $1.99 (a story for a different time). I have had them attempt to inflict psychological damage to me, claiming that I would not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, insult my size and my appearance, even vapidly exclaim, “Shame on you.” Perhaps my understanding of the service worker’s psyche has made me better at inflicting damage upon scam artists such as this villain from Warsaw. But what if I use this power for evil in the future, or worse? What if I already have?

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About the Creator

Steven Christopher McKnight

Disillusioned twenty-something, future ghost of a drowned hobo, cryptid prowling abandoned operahouses, theatre scholar, prosewright, playwright, aiming to never work again.

Venmo me @MickTheKnight

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  • Mackenzie Davis26 days ago

    Ohhh what a dilemma. My conscience would say you said the wrong thing, just on principle. It was unnecessary and the world does not thrive on individual people's sense of fairness (especially in the emotional sense; that always ends up backfiring). But my individual sense of fairness says you acted the best you could given the injustice of the situation. Like you said, you could have been a lot worse to this man. He used his authority to steal from you. You simply made an observation and decided to share it with him. But the heart of your observation was to cause him distress, to cut to the core of his soul and make him hurt. I hope it made him think about his actions. Hopefully there was some degree of change that you caused. Regardless, it wasn't a moral thing to do. I suppose the best way to have left the situation would have been to say either nothing at all or something like, "Sir, I disagree with your conclusions and believe you are scamming me because I am an American tourist." Then paid the "fine" and left (to avoid getting into legal trouble in a foreign country.) Like you said, his job is to scam tourists. Like the state actually sanctions his behavior. All of that is immoral. But at the same time, he has no real reason (financial or ethical) to stop. In one way, you pointed out the difference between ethics and morals to him, and in a very succinct and effective manner. I hope it worked to change his mind. However you were not being kind to him. It wasn't exactly demonstrating "the golden rule." Not sure it's akin to Karen behavior. You didn't demand to speak to his supervisor, and I doubt it would have done you any good to have done so. You simply decided to insult him to make his injustice on you feel less unfair. Apples and oranges, really, though I'm positive that it helped. I really don't want to visit Warsaw now, lol! Sorry for the philosophical ramble. Your questions got me thinking! And I very much enjoyed reading this personal essay. Your insights here were remarkably refreshing and very thought-provoking. I missed this when you first posted it!

  • “I bet your family stops smiling when you enter the room.” I freaking laughed so much for that! 🤣🤣🤣 But I'm so sorry you had to pay that fine 🥺

  • Andrei Z.3 months ago

    Yeah, I got in a similar situation on my way from Chopin airport to Warsaw city some 5 years ago. The only difference was that I bought a reduced-price ticket for students. When the ticket inspector came to do his duty though, he was not conviced that I was a student, because I did't have a Polish or international student card. As a result - a fine fine. Even though I had the ticket. Or alternatively, at least he could ask me to buy the full-price ticket inatead of fining me. And yeah, talking all the time in Polish... Pan this pan that (read pan as pun lol). I'm pretty sure though that they don't consider themselves to be villains. They sinply follow the law, and we simply broke it.

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