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Seat Cheats

[ 2010-09-28 09:56]     字号 [] [] []  
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By Anthony Daniels

陈希瑞 选注

Sharp practice, if not outright dishonesty, is bound to grow in a society in which personal trust and honour are replaced by law.[1] Everyone then does what he can get away with, for a reliance on the law as the sole determinant of the permissible destroys all sense of shame.[2] It is small wonder that “Cheat, that ye be not cheated”[3] seems increasingly to be the rule by which we live.

Recently, I bought a ticket online from a low-cost airline. With each click of the mouse the cost rose, until it reached 25 times the advertised fare[4]. I was angered in a way that I should not have been if the final cost had been asked of me in the first place. I suppose that by now, having bought many such tickets, I should be used to the sharp practice, but I am not. It still irritates me.

I knew, of course, that I should be charged a credit card fee even if I used my debit card[5]. But this particular airline found a new wheeze to misrepresent its fare.[6] It charged an additional £6 for a seat.

Could I have avoided this charge if I had volunteered to stand rather than sit? Reader, I could not: I had to have a seat. In what sense, then, could the original fare have been advertised at £x rather than at £x+£6?[7] In none that I could fathom.[8]

Even this was not the end of it, however. The website now gave me what it called the “total cost” and asked me to press the “continue” button if I agreed to it. I did so, only to discover that the next page had added a further £6 for reasons that I was quite unable to discover.

Since the airline was the only one going to my destination, I swallowed my rage[9].

A lack of straightforwardness in dealing with customers is now commonplace,[10] and it seems worse in Britain than elsewhere. On the very same day, I booked a four-hour train journey on a route that I know is always very busy. I tried to book a seat online but found I could not do so, and so I called the telephone number indicated.

The assistant who answered my call told me I could not reserve a seat. “But,” she added brightly, “you may take any seat subject to availability.”[11]

It was reassuring that passengers on trains are permitted to sit in available seats.

“You mean that I might have to stand,” I said, “if the train is full, as it often is?”

“No, sir, you can sit in any seat, subject to availability.”

Try as I might I could not get her to admit that this meant that I might have to stand. She had evidently been trained not to deny the possibility, but rather not to admit it. She was like a common-or-garden[12] politician answering—which is to say, not answering—questions put to him by an interviewer.


1. 在个人诚信被法律法规取代的社会里,欺骗行为——只要不是彻彻底底的欺诈——必定会滋生蔓延。

2. 于是人人都做一些错误但能逃避处罚的事,因为只要一切都在法律所允许的范围内,就不会让人觉得羞愧。

3. Cheat, that ye be not cheated: 宁可骗人,也别被骗。

4. fare: 票价。

5. debit card: (银行发放的)借记卡。

6. wheeze: 伎俩,计谋;misrepresent: 不如实地表述。

7. 那么从什么角度,才能把广告中的原始票价理解成x英镑而不是x+6英镑?

8. 从哪个角度我都理解不了。

9. swallow one’s rage: 忍气吞声,压抑怒火。

10. straightforwardness: 坦率,直截了当;commonplace: 常见的。

11. brightly: 欢快地;subject to availability: 根据空余座位的情况。

12. common-or-garden: <英口>很普通的,一般的。