Fare dodger, stowaway or free rider?

Article published on March 17, 2011
Article published on March 17, 2011
Does the Arab uprising mean more 'stowaways' for Europe? Why does a stowaway in French mean the same thing as a fare dodger? Why is fare dodging in Italy called 'pulling a Portuguese'? Expression of the week

If you jump the bus or metro, you’re a fare dodger or black rider (schwarzfahrer) in German, where the black rider becomes a blind passenger (blinder Passagier). Someone who never intends to pay for a service is a scroccone in Italian or a cap traveller (viajeros de gorra) in Spanish. The Germans perceive their blindess in spotting ticket machines or desks before boarding trains or planes. In Italian, the idiom is more politically incorrect: not paying a fare is pulling a Portuguese (fa il portoghese), whereas in Polish you are literally a passenger man (pasażer na gapę, pronounced 'passajher na gapeu'). 

In French a secret passenger (passagers clandestin) is also a stowaway or polizon in Spanish, someone who hides away and travels illegally on a ship. The 2011 Arab spring saw revolution sweeping the Middle East and North Africa, toppling regimes and leaving 200, 000 displaced Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans to potentially stow away to European shores. President Nicolas Sarkozy described the potential catastrophe as a Lampedusa times ten, whilst a politician from his UMP party, Chantal Brunel, proposed ‘putting them back in their boats’. According to The Guardian, which polled Germany, Spain, France, the UK and Poland, two-thirds of Europeans consider themselves tolerant and open, although only one third are open for more non-European immigration.

The concept translates to the broader English term free rider, which is also a cyclist sport. In economics, a free rider is a member of society who doesn’t pay for common goods and services, which could extend to jumping queues or being the person who constantly gets drinks bought for them. The UK became notorious for the activity in 2009 with its MP scandal. In Europe, around sixty mostly French and Eastern European parliamentarians have been caught out claiming expenses and promptly not working for it. Most recently they were ratted out by British independent MEP Nikki Sinclaire

The free rider theory, also called battitore libero in Italian, was developed in the field of applied mathematics in the fifties. It maintains that most individuals will always take advantage of a collective effort without directly contributing to it, like those MEPs who have been clocking in at the European parliament in the morning before flying home for the weekend with a free spirit and a bulging pocket (they can claim 304 euros or £264 a day). In Spain, El Mundo interviewed a parliament spokesperson who confirmed that this practice ‘perfectly respected the rules’. The story ends in trendy Germany with its footboard riders (Trittbrettfahrers), who cling on to buses (and recycling vans in the movies) to get from A to B with no pain and all the gain. Maybe it’s time to introduce a footboard for all those stowaways who are successful asylum candidates, and can bring the European parliament’s own internal stowaways down from their pedestals.

Illustration : Pateras : (cc)orianomada/flickr ; main ©Henning Studte