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General Articles

Faith in Human Kindness Restored! Italian Women Stand Up


My recent newsletter focused on 'Building Foundations', helping others less fortunate but I make the point that 'to make a difference' doesn't have to be on a grand public stage or scale but it is the little things that matter, the little things that can have a greater impact and an immediate result.

I travel a great deal these days and yesterday on a French train bound for Ventimiglia there was a particularly high presence of police and on-going ticket checks by the controllers. It was obvious to see who were the fare dodgers, by the immediate twitching of feet and suddenly said person would do an quick exit stage left - as they say in the theatre.

There was a very different story taking place for one young Slovakian girl in her early 20s. She was holding her credit card when she was pounced upon by two controllers and a set of heavy weight gendarmes. Within moments the girl was accused of fare dodging and asked to pay an immediate fine of thirty-five euros, her papers were asked for. She spoke little French and rather good English. She explained that at the self-service ticket booth her credit card was rejected and not wanting to miss the train connection, she went aboard and waited to pay as soon as a guard appeared. It was becoming rather obvious and too quickly that being outnumbered meant that she was also very disadvantaged.

Following a plethora of aggressive attacks, an Italian woman stood up and in near perfect English started to defend the young woman and accused the authorities of mishandling the situation and for being way over the top.

"You are too hard on the girl." she said "This is ridiculous, you can see that she is wanting to rectify the situation but for whatever reason her credit card is not working in the French machines."

Without further ado, the Italian woman turned to talk to all of us around who had watched the last ten minutes and asked if we were all willing to put our hands in our pockets and pay the controller the thirty-five euros, so this young girl could stop trembling and carry on her travelling (she had already missed her stop because of the situation), without fear of further retribution.

The other women in the carriage were also Italian, there was myself (half Italian) and an Irish woman and without hesitation, we all gave willingly. This was an act that was humane, decent and a true coming together of sisterhood led by one Italian woman.

The young Slovakian girl got off the train at Menton accompanied by the police, who were very uncomfortable with this unexpected surge of solidarity and by women who were not prepared to see this 'over-the-top' attack continue. I managed to have a brief word with the young girl before the doors shut. She quivered and was overwhelmed by the generosity she had witnessed and reassured me that she had money but could not access it as the card for whatever reason did not work in the French cash dispensers. Her last words were 'I will not forget this'.

What would you have done in this situation? Have you ever been in this situation? Would you help... or would you just look away and say 'not my problem...?'

I know what I would have done...

PS - "It was a pleasure to meet you Olivia."

Sunday, 9 September 2012    Section: General Articles    Author: Anna Fill
Article tags: Women Italian Helping
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