When you fly in to Charles de Gaulle airport, there’s a mad rush to get off the plane. Then you’re herded to a holding pen-like area, where you wait to go through passport control. It’s complete chaos: everyone surging forward, en masse, trying to get around everyone else, regardless of who got there first. That is, except for the Americans, who wait patiently for their turn, but quickly learn that if they don’t assert themselves, they’re going to spend their entire vacation in that stifling, airless space.
If you leave 4.5-inches of space in front or behind you in France, you may as well not even be there as people take that to mean you’re not waiting. I know that because they act very surprised when I tap them on the shoulder and point out that yes, I are indeed standing in that line with my luggage, just like they are, to check in to my flight. I’m not just hanging out at the airport with a suitcase because I had nothing better to do.
So you have to constantly be on your toes and you can’t let your guard down for a second. If you do, you’ll never get anywhere. It’s pretty exhausting.
When you arrive at Dulles Airport, in spite of its prison-like atmosphere, there’s a person guiding folks towards the correct lanes, which are clearly marked. Although the line can be ginormous, and everyone’s complaining about the wait, it’s pretty calm, since no one’s trying to skirt around you to slide ahead. You just stand there, red-eyed, inching forward. I don’t know why Americans are complaining about waiting in line: you just stand there and mind your own business until it’s your turn.
If you want to be a knucklehead, you can catch up on your cell phone calls, speaking as though amplification technology hasn’t reached your Blackberry, broadcasting to all within earshot personal details of your doctor-diagnosed discharge, or conduct your boring business meeting for all of us to be privy to, whether we want to be or not. (I’m in the “not” camp.) Making things worse, are those stupid headset thingys sticking out of peoples ears. They remind me of the corduroy elephant bell-bottoms I wore in the 70s. I’m embarrassed for those people when I think about their future. If you do wear one of those, please take it off. You look silly.
I love waiting in line in America. You just stand there and coast, catching up on personal thoughts, checking everyone out. You don’t have to worry about anything. You just stand there. Like this morning, when I was checking people out, wondering how anyone in their right mind could wear shorts, flip-flops, and tank tops on a frigid-cold airplane.
When I was leaving Paris last week, going through Mr. Sarkozy’s new passport control on the way out (“Dude, we’re leaving! What are you going to do, deport departing passengers?”) there’s some semblance of a line.
One French chap was kinda pretending he was looking for someone, hovering and milling about, putting on a good show of it all. The Canadian couple in front of me was on to his game and going ballistic as he scoped out the area in front of them, until he moved forward, finally sliding in front of some less-suspecting folks and blending into the mass. He shaved about 20 minutes off his wait. Pourquoi pas?
I’ve had expert instruction on how to butt in line in Paris, and I can do it with the best of them. But I’ve had to curb my instincts to cut in line here in the states, since I don’t want to get punched out. If I see an opening on either side of the people in front of me, I have to restrain myself from slipping ahead. I assume they don’t live by the same rules that I now do, so I let them be. Then again, we’re flying domestically. But if we were en route to France, I’d certainly try to hop in front of them.
And why not? After all, they have to learn sometime. And the sooner, the better. Except I’m getting a bit spoiled by the new line system at Southwest: it’s so organized! You check in online, print a boarding pass with your number on it, and—get this—they actually board according to the number printed on your ticket.
When I was waiting by the numbered post, the people in front of me looked down at the number on my ticket, A 17, and they were A 20 and 21…and they actually said to me, “Oh, you should be in front of us. Go ahead.”