ATM Osservazioni

Title Translation: ATM Observations

The ATM, or Azienda Trasporti Milanesi, is Milan’s public transportation network (i.e what the MTA is to NEW York, or the MBTA is to Boston). Whilst living in this lovely city, I rode the metropolitana (subway) at least 5 days a week.

One of my favorite takeaways from living abroad is how much you can learn about a nation and its people just by using its public transportation. Below is a list of observations about ATM passengers that I compiled throughout my 4 months of living Milan. Make of it what you will.

  • Hardly anyone is holding a beverage. This is a stark contrast from the plethora of Starbucks cups you’ll find on an American subway any given morning.
  • The cleanliness of subway stations and bus/tram stops is astounding compared to that of American transport hubs.
  • A monthly pass that grants you access to all of the city’s subway, bus, and tram lines is only €35…let that sink in.
  • A significantly fewer number of people wear headphones compared to commuters in the U.S.
  • Perhaps my favorite observation: Women don’t wear sneakers or flats for their commute and carry their heels to change into at work. They just wear the damn heels! AMEN!!!
  • There seemed to be a lot more people traveling with suitcases (This observation could be thwarted because the subway line I regularly took made a stop at Milan’s largest train station).
  • Milan is a very multicultural city but I felt that the majority of passengers were Italian (or at least white), whereas American public transportation boasts a lot more diversity.
  • People on the ATM are generally more talkative than American commuters. It’s more than acceptable to have a loud telephone conversation for minutes on end without worrying about disturbing your fellow passengers. What’s more, ATM commuters talk to each other much more than American subway riders do. La metro is a place of social gathering just as much as a public square or coffee shop is. It’s almost expected that you will make small talk with a friend or acquaintance should you bump into them, in comparison to the U.S. where a quick “Hi” or wave will suffice.


A note about my personal experience riding the ATM:

I was first and foremost blown away by the cleanliness and efficiency of the Milanese transportation network. Nothing in the U.S. even comes close! I also found myself drawing serious style inspiration from female passengers young and old; let it be known that Milan has haute-est commuters.

My usual subway routine involves me blasting music in my headphones loud enough to block out the chit-chat and other background noise that I’d be forced to deal with on the MBTA. However, when in Milan I didn’t wear headphones once. The reason for this was two-fold: first, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to listen in on people’s conversations for the sake of improving my own Italian language skills. Second, I wanted to remain as alert as possible should there be an emergency and I had to act fast. God forbid an unsafe situation was to arise, the dominant language of the country I was in was NOT English, so I felt that I had to be doubly prepared to handle whatever life threw at me…which brings me to my next point.

Thankfully, I never encountered an unsafe or even uncomfortable situation on the ATM in the entire time that I was living in Milan. Nevertheless, public transit is one of the places where I usually feel most foreign. For example, if someone asks me a simple question like “Does this train stop at Central Station?“, or “Is this seat free?” it takes me twice as long to respond to them as I normally would since I have to quickly translate in my head. I also never really mastered how much in-transit eye contact is appropriate.

I can’t write a post about my experience being a regular commuter on Milan’s subway without addressing the constant (and mostly irrational) fear I had of being caught up in a terror attack mid-transit. I’m never really been bothered by the underlying threat of terror except when abroad while on trains, trams, and busses, and particularly on the subway. Perhaps it’s because of the perception of having “no escape” on an underground subway car.

But to be honest, despite the many unfortunate scenarios that could arise, there’s something really empowering about navigating a foreign transit system without anyone else’s help.


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