The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

November 19, 2008

Don't ask the tram driver

If you're ever lost in Vienna and feel the need to ask someone for the way, here's who not to ask: tramway drivers. Or bus drivers, for that matter. For people who are driving around the city all the time, they are remarkably incompetent when it comes to any location that is not synonymous with the name of some station on their line.

A few weeks ago, I was at Praterstern station, waiting for somebody near the tram stop. A couple of youths approached the tram driver and I could hear them asking for Landstrasse station. Now Landstrasse is one stop away from Praterstern on the suburban rail line; it's a matter of 2 minutes to get there.

However, I could hear the tram driver tell the youths to take underground line U2 and change at Schottenring to line U4. That's two stops on line U2 and two more stops on line U4 and can't be done in under 15 minutes. Right at this point, the person I was waiting for showed up and I couldn't even intervene anymore; the youths trailed off towards the escalators and disappeared underground.

This morning I overheard an old lady asking a tram driver for "Esslinger Gasse" and mentioned some kind of tower that's supposed to be there. I could hear the tram driver send her in the opposite direction, somewhere near Schwarzenbergplatz. The problem is, there is no "Esslinger Gasse" in Vienna. There is, however, an "Esslinggasse", which is located just three stops away on this very tramway line. Esslinggasse is also right next to the Ringturm, or Ring Tower, so it's fairly safe to assume that instead of telling the lady to just get off at the third stop, the driver sent her on an odyssey to the other side of the city.

These are just two examples,but things like that happen frequently. The odd thing is, whenever I have a chance to intervene and tell the people where they really have to go, they don't believe me, they always believe the tram driver.

I wonder what happened to that old lady today. I didn't understand what exactly the tram driver told her; I just hope he didn't send her to the underground line that crosses the Danube and then to one of the buses that go to Esslinger Hauptstrasse. While Esslinggasse is right in the city centre and just about five minutes away, going to Esslinger Hauptstrasse is a one-hour trip to one of Vienna's most remote suburbs.

Now you can of course blame the woman for not getting her address right. Or maybe she wanted to go to Esslinger Hauptstrasse after all. I think they have a church with a clock tower there. But I really think that tram drivers are extremely untrustworthy when it comes to giving directions.

Posted by Horst on November 19, 2008 12:17 PM to creatures great & small | Tell-a-friend
Jann said on November 19, 2008 10:28 PM:

When I was in Vienna for one month this past June and July, my experiences with asking directions were as below, and I want to say at the outset that I am offering this in an entirely anecdotal way, nothing scientific about it, and no conclusions should be drawn, but I thought it was interesting:

When I asked a man for directions, I tended to get incorrect instructions, delivered in an offhand way, sometimes sending me off in the wrong direction. The two times I asked male police officers for instructions, I got correct instructions, easy to follow, delivered in a polite way. When I asked a woman for instructions, I tended to get precise and detailed instructions, delivered in a friendly way, and on two occasions, the women insisted on accompanying me partway, in order to better point out the route I was to follow, even though I told them it wasn't necessary. There was one notable exception regarding the men: I had an appointment in the 4th district and I planned to walk from the Südtiroler Platz; when I exited the station, I found myself confused about my orientation to the streets. A Viennese gentleman, seeing me standing in the pouring rain, holding my umbrella and studying my map, asked if he could help, and very kindly told me exactly where I was, what direction I was facing, and how to get to my destination. His instructions were correct, and I was very grateful. ( None of the persons from whom I asked directions was a tram driver.)

So, when I read this article, three ideas came to mind:

I wondered if both these tram drivers were men; I felt relieved that I am not the only one sent off on a wild goose chase after asking directions; and I feel quite certain that if I got instructions from one person, and then a second person told me that those instructions were incorrect and offered different directions, that I would believe the second person, my reasoning being that anyone with enough interest in the situation to intervene would surely know the correct way.;-)

Bettina said on November 19, 2008 11:43 PM:

I like this story! But even more I like that I found your blog again. So nice that you are still here. And still feel honoured that searching my name is leading to your blog archive. Stay tuned, I want to be famous!

arved said on November 21, 2008 01:40 AM:

I sometimes enjoy sending people in the wrong direction on purpose. Especially those that steal my time just because they are too lazy to use a map.

Jann said on November 21, 2008 03:04 PM:

People frequently ask me for directions, here and on several occasions, in Vienna. I consider time spent helping people find their destinations to be well spent. It has never occurred to me to think that I was being inconvenienced, but rather offered an opportunity to be of service. I would not necessarily know if someone had consulted a map, unless they showed it to me. And, of course, some maps are confusing, or just simply wrong.

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