Rush Hour Tourists

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After a month and a half at my new job, I really master the commuting thing. My daily trip between Antwerp and Brussels takes about an hour and a half each direction, in the company of several thousands of other people who press themselves on the same tram, train and subway car as I do. I now am capable of finding my way around practically blindfolded, which is just as well because you can’t expect a lot of mental activity at 7 a.m. from this commuter. Most importantly, I mastered the empty, mindlessly annoyed gaze of the average commuter and the purposefulness we share with a group of lemmings at the steep end of a cliff. Added to that is a will to bump into anyone in your way, shoving them aside without remorse, walking stick or no. Rush hour is no time for the weak and feeble.

Poor tourist, who unwittingly finds him- or herself in this maelstrom while trying to reach ‘Manneken Pis’, the ‘Grand Place’ or one of the many museums. Yesterday, I encountered a couple of them between the subway station and the Central station (which is also underground). Like a ship adrift, they were floating in the rapids of commuters trying to get home as fast as possible. They drifted to the left and to the right, sometimes swimming into the stream to try to read the signs pointing to the different exits. When I came nearer, they hoisted a big sail. A large map of Brussels, flapping in the wind but blocking the sight and path of the commuters, who growled and hissed in anger. Who dared to block them? She got bumped pretty hard, and his map was almost ripped out of his hands.

He understood that they had to get out of there, no matter where they went. He quickly folded the map, while the commuters were stomping the back of his heels to get him out of the way. He took her hand and dragged her aside. I don’t know if they made it, because the tide had already swept me past the next curve in the tunnel.

Just a few weeks ago, I too was a helpless tourist in a foreign city, not realising that people had to work while I was on vacation. People growled and snapped at me too, while I was following the directions of my Lonely Planet guide. One thing is for certain: commuters hate tourists. They just don’t need to see any happy persons free of stress while they are floating in it on their way back from work.

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