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little guy fights back story

Here’s a for instance of how stories and the memories they inspire get co-mingled over time…Which can then alter how they steer or influence future decisions you may make.

Have you ever made a mistake when buying a train or bus ticket when traveling overseas, where you thought you had bought the right and best value ticket and later discover you got it wrong? And, worse still, then get hammered by some joyless official who insisted you should now pay way extra than a normal fare to atone for your mistake? And did it leave you hopping mad?

Case in point – I bought a return train ticket at a kiosk at Brussels airport last year which failed to mention on screen or on the ticket that the return part would only be good for a return that day! So when I tried to use the ticket 3 days later, I and many others were intercepted by a wall of inspectors and directed to a nearby ticket booth to pay a fine many times the price I had already paid for my return (which wasn’t discounted and was only bought for convenience). We were all so miffed!

Not surprisingly – since salutary experiences like these tend to stick in your head as stories worth remembering – I’ve been far more careful when traveling abroad so as not to get caught out again…

…But, these memories were upgraded when I bumped into a similar story with a different result when I took a train to the airport in Paris last weekend. Here’s what happened:

A plethora of ticket inspectors appeared on my train to Charles de Gaulle airport and the one who checked my ticket asked me why I hadn’t clicked it properly. And when I said I thought I had he huffed, wrote something on the back of my ticket, and gave it back to me. So that was fine, but I didn’t love his attitude!

Then he asked a Swedish woman across from me: “Where’s your ticket?” And after a quick glance at it, he announced in a loud voice “This won’t do madame, you have the wrong ticket! You will have to pay €35!”

“No way” she protested, “I bought this ticket at a kiosk and it specifically said it’s good for all Metro and trains in and around everywhere in greater Paris.  That must include the airport and if not, it should say so!”

“A common mistake madame.  No, you’re wrong. You need to pay €35!”

“This isn’t my mistake”, she tried again. “I paid the correct fare. This isn’t fair!”

But her protests were useless. And after a few minutes of back and forth and under pressure, she paid the €35 – which was three times the normal price. And she looked at me and I could see she was shaking and very upset.

Then it was the turn of the man sitting opposite me, who had bought exactly the same kind of ticket as the Swedish woman. But he wasn’t going to be persuaded so easily.

“This is typical of French public services,” he said. “You try to intimidate your customers, even when we are in the right.  This woman was correct and I am too. I paid the right fare and won’t pay you a cent more.”

Battles lines were drawn and a heated conversation ensued for the next 15 minutes – where the first Monsieur le Inspector was and joined by a more senior Madame le Inspector who said: “Okay I’ll listen to you sir”…

…Which she did for 20 seconds before launching into an interminable and condescending lecture about why Monsieur le Customer was so mistaken.

Meanwhile, a third guy – a Monsieur le Inspector of les Inspectors – appeared from nowhere to watch proceedings. And when he saw Monsieur le Customer wasn’t budging from his position about why customers weren’t responsible for a vendor’s lack of clarity or incompetence when selling tickets via kiosks, he jumps in to hold court for 5 more minutes!

But still the man wouldn’t give in and he spoke eloquently and calmly about his many citizen rights and how he would not be trampled upon.

At this point, the other Monsieurs les Inspectors on the train came looking for their pals – clearly frustrated and wondering what on earth was keeping everyone so long. And eventually one said: “Come on, we have to go! This isn’t worth our trouble!

And with that and after much shoulder shrugging, huffing and hands being thrown up in the air, the inspectors turned to leave empty-handed and Monsieur le Customer received warm applause from his fellow passengers around him.

And he just looked at me and smilingly said, with his hand in the air:

“Viva La resistance! Now that’s how the little guy fights back in France!”

The Swedish woman looked on with pride and said: “Now that’s something I’ll never forget. That was amazing to watch!”

So now I have a new lesson – and perhaps you do too – that choosing to resist unfair customer experiences can pay.

But I do have a few final questions for you: What would you have done in a similar situation? What would your story have been?