A hot day

A large group of loud German tourists competed with an equally large and chaotic Italian extended family to see who could make the most noise as the tram wound its way through the narrow alleys, almost scraping against the brightly painted walls of the ancient buildings and crushing any passing pedestrians who had been unable to find refuge in any available alcove or doorway. The tourists pushed and shoved their way towards the exit and the entrance, seeking a better view and knocking the driver’s cap off in the confusion. A young Portuguese couple looked on with disinterest, their eyes scanning the mass of passengers for the inevitable pickpocket and holding their possessions closer to themselves just in case. Oblivious to the dangers, despite the signs warning them to beware of pickpockets, the tourists struggled to extricate their maps, guidebooks and cameras, just to have them at the ready for the view that may (or may not) present itself around the next corner. The tram driver had had enough. He was used to the crowds and the pushing; he was accustomed to the heat and to the noise; he could even tolerate the loud and obnoxiously excited foreigners who insisted on speaking either broken English to him or, even worse, broken Spanish. Why he thought to himself, would they think that he can speak English, and why would they think that he would want to speak Spanish? Why, when he speaks the language of Camões and never ventures further afield than Coimbra, would he need to speak a foreign tongue? Can tram drivers in Germany speak Portuguese? Can bus drivers in Britain? Anyway, how hard would it be for them to learn how to say ‘Passa o Sé?’ instead of ‘Does this tram go past the Cathedral?’: the Portuguese is much more economical. Is it really beyond their ability to learn to ask ‘Já estamos?’ when they want to know if they have reached their destination, enabling him to respond ‘Já’ or ‘Sim’, instead of the much more convoluted ‘Yes, we have arrived’?

The heat was oppressive, even with all of the tram windows fully opened. The breeze that would normally provide much-needed relief through the glassless openings was prevented from doing so by the mass of shiny, red and blond Teutonic humanity that had forced its large and happy faces through the void to watch the city pass by within millimetres of their sunburnt heads. The driver shouted above the noise of the crowd, ‘Para com isto!’ The Italian tourists understood the call; the Portuguese passengers simply stared in amazement; the Germans continued with their raucous holiday behaviour, unaware that the driver’s outburst had been directed largely towards them: it was they who, after all, had knocked his regulation Carris cap to the ground and who had made no effort to restore it to its proper place or to its proper owner. The speaker of Romance languages fell silent as the driver stopped the tram, stood up and looked directly into the eyes of the person he presumed to be the leader of the German group. ‘Olha, senhor, estou farto disto. Já basta! Vão! Todos! Vão agora! Sai! Saim todos!’ The German looked at the driver, bemused and uncomprehending. Some of the Portuguese and Italian passengers started sniggering, with some even applauding. ‘Was? What?’ asked the leader of the German group. The driver, assertively, replied, ‘Olha, senhor. Não falo nem quero falar inglês. Estamos em Portugal. Fala português.’ The German’s expression was blank: he clearly had no idea what was being said to him. Just then, a young Portuguese woman pushed her way to the front and spoke softly to the clearly angry driver and then, turning to the group of German holidaymakers, explained in English ‘I’m sorry, but the driver says that he is not going anywhere until you all get off’. The Germans looked at one another and started complaining in their own language before asking the young woman to tell them why they were being asked to leave. The woman simply repeated what the driver had told her, that the matter was not up for discussion. She pointed to the rear of the tram, where a large queue of traffic was beginning to build up in the narrow street. ‘It really would be better for you to get off now. You are not far from the final stop, and the driver is adamant that he will not move, and it is only a matter of time before a police officer comes to investigate the traffic jam.’

Clearly defeated, the Germans simply shrugged their shoulders and made their way off the tram. Once they had all gone, the remaining passengers – now with space to move and peace to think – started applauding the driver who bowed, retrieved his cap, sat down and set the tram in motion as he muttered, in perfect English, ‘And not a word from you Italians either, or you’ll be off too!’

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