There are 3 modes of public transport in Chisinau. Trolleybuses are electric-powered buses that run on regular roads with electric lines over them. Bus rides are a little more expensive but much more comfortable than trolleys, but both buses and trolleybuses have few routes. Often the only way to get to where you want to go directly is with a marshrutka – it’s Russian for ‘route’. They’re converted vans that run on numbered routes and that’s how we ususally get where we need to go.
I’ve never had a problem on a marshrutka. You get on, pay 3 lei (about a quarter), and when you get to where you’re going you ask the driver to stop. Easy. In fact the first week I was here the first time I was in Moldova (in 2001) I got lost on one of these. The driver was at the end of his shift and kindly took me all the way home after he’d dropped off his other passengers.
Yesterday’s ride was a different story. I took Bean and Little Man with me to a discipleship group meeting on the other side of town. Kids ride for free up to 7 years old on any public transport. But on my way home the driver – we’ll call him Driver Man Joe – yelled at me for something when I got on. What with his mumbled slang, I didn’t get it. So I asked him to please explain, which started him on another tirade, and then he refused to take my money for the fare. I sat quietly smooshing the kids together on my lap – I’d figured out that he didn’t like me taking up so much space with my 2 well-behaved quiet children.
As we drove on a little boy outside chased his ball across the road, causing the driver to have to slow down ever so slightly. Driver man Joe pulled over, leaned out the window and called the boy (maybe 8 years old) over to the window. Being the obedient child he was, he came, much to his disadvantage. The driver yelled at him for going into the road, then leaned out the window and snatched the boy’s ball out of his hand and quickly drove off. The boy flinched as Joe stole his ball – Joe was pretty darn mean-looking. As we drove off the other passengers asked Joe to give the ball back and then began to berate him for being so mean to children – stealing the boy’s ball, yelling at me about bringing kids on his bus – they defended me, which felt pretty good. In the end he let the passengers give the ball back, but it had to be thrown out a window because he wouldn’t slow down for it.
When we were almost home and the marshrutka was almost empty I apologized for offending and asked him to kindly take my fare for the ride. He started yelling again, and this time, listening more closely – I got it. He was mad that I had 2 free kids with only 1 paying adult. So I offered him a second fare, explaining that I didn’t know… his rule isn’t the standard… if only I’d known… yada yada yada.
He continued yelling, and then as he turned a corner going in a direction I didn’t need to go, I asked him to stop. Driver man Joe was mad that I asked him after he turned instead of before. If I wanted to get off I should have done it before he turned. So he kept driving. Two blocks later he let me and the kids out and we walked the 2 blocks back to the main road, and then the 1/2 mile or so back home.
Let me assure you, if you’re worried – drivers don’t typically do that. In fact, I’ve never met a driver like Driver Man Joe. And just in case, I won’t be taking any white marshrutkas numbered 108 again – just to avoid Driver Man Joe.
There’s a widespread idea among service providers and vendors here that the customer is a nuissance. That very attitude will challenge Moldova’s integration into the European sphere, the global economy, and the tourist industry. People come to visit, spend their money, invest in the local economy, and are treated as an annoyance to the very businesses who should be thankful for their patronage.
It isn’t like that everywhere, but it’s certainy widespread. And until vendors and service providers learn to cherish their customers as the reason they have a business, the country’s small businesses and individual vendors will continue to falter.