Last week, I was in Eastern Europe. I’m still mentally unpacking all of the beauty I saw and all of the beautiful people I met there.
But getting there…was not so pretty.
When I saw our flight itinerary and realized we were going to be flying through Paris both coming and going, I groaned with missed opportunity. How could one land in Paris and never see anything but the inside of the airport? It just wasn’t right.
However, the airport staff, and the airport itself, assured me that we missed nothing.
Our flight to Paris began in Atlanta at 4:45pm eastern, 3:45pm central. It ended at 6:00am Paris time, which was 11:00pm central, meaning that it was *not quite* my normal bedtime yet. Our seven hours of lost time was exactly our seven hours of should-have-been sleep. Which was quite disorienting.
We were herded in line with a bunch of people to go through French Security, which I wasn’t expecting, as we were just going from one flight to another. We had literally just walked off a secure airplane but apparently that’s enough time to get naughty enough to need to be subjected to a full body cavity search.
I did not get a full body cavity search. But I might have preferred it.
My friend Kelly was in front of me, so I followed her lead as she followed the lead of those in front of her (security instructions are difficult to read in French.) I put my locked carry-on on the belt, then I put my camera bag on the belt, then I took off my watch and put it in a tray. Kelly walked through the scanny machine. As I glanced over to see if it was my turn, the blond haired whatever-the-French-version-of-TSA lady landed her icy stare on me.
She was on the other side of the conveyor belt and she pointed to my camera bag and started speaking rapid fire French. Or maybe rapid missile French. Whatever it was it definitely didn’t sound friendly.
I did the wide-eyed dumb American stare and head shake and murmured something annoying like “What was that?”
She switched to thick English. And pointed to my camera bag.
“Any laptop? Tablet?!”
She looked at me with hatred and suspicion and downright disbelief.
“NO TABLET EVEN??”
She shoved it through with a huff.
I walked toward the X-ray machine.
As I got to it, the luggage scanner machine started beeping and Kelly’s carry-on came backwards on the belt. Another angry French woman started yelling.
“Whose bag is this? There’s a Laptop in it!! Must be taken out!!”
“Oh, it’s my friend Kelly’s. She’s already over there. KELLY! Come back!!”
As Kelly came back and fished her key out, I realized I should probably do the same. Because there wasn’t a laptop or tablet in my camera backpack, but there was a laptop in my locked carry-on.
So we both unlocked our cases and began pulling our laptops out.
Kelly put hers in the bin and all was fine.
When Angry French Officette Number One saw me working at my bag, she descended upon me with the fury of the Frenchmen who shoved Marie Antoinette under the guillotine.
“YOU said no! You said you didn’t have a laptop!”
“You were asking about that bag and I wasn’t thinking about this bag. I’m sorry.”
My mistake was the last word.
She was now chopping off all the gentry’s heads.
“SORRY. You SORRY, huh? SORRY!! No. Take bag! Go stand over there!”
I was confused and hesitated.
“OVER THERE!! You think about what you have done!!”
She shoved my stuff at me and pointed me toward a bench in between the two lines.
I walked three steps backward and waited for my turn to be burned at stake, pondering poor Joan of Arc, who led the French Army to an impossible victory and they still burned that poor teenager on a woodpile. She prob had a laptop in her carry-on, too.
Kelly came and stood by me, a loyal fellow enemy of the state to the end. She whispered to me, “Ignore her. She’s just an angry person. It’s not your fault.
After a few people went by and a few glares in my direction, she shoved a few bins, made room for my stuff, and angrily waved me back.
I put my bags back on the belt, NOT saying I was sorry, NOT making eye contact, as she berated me repeatedly in her loud angry rant.
“You remember now? How about now?? YOU REMEMBER NOW YOU HAVE A LAPTOP??”
And I nearly sprinted through the X-Ray machine before she could lock me up in Bastille.
We wound our way through the insanely circuitous airport and found out we had to ride a shuttle to our next gate. We waited for the shuttle for five minutes, and then had a ridiculous nearly-hour-long shuttle ride, as our gate was the previous gate and we had to do the full circle of the monstrosity to get back to it.
During this ride, we were all laughing and enjoying the ridiculous situations I seem to find myself in. Perhaps a bit loudly, we were discussing and laughing about Angry French Officette Number One. There were a few quiet, sullen looking people on the other side of the bus. None of them seemed to be paying us any attention, but I did observe that we were being much more interactive and loud than anyone else.
As an older French lady hobbled between us to get off the bus, she spat one word at us with venom.
I don’t know what the word was (alas, my Googling didn’t help either) but I gathered the meaning by the hateful undertone in which it was delivered.
And I found myself humbled. Not by Angry French Officette Number One, but by the quiet old lady.
And swore from then on to be subdued, mature, European Rachel.
(Which lasted approximately 1 day.)
(Good thing Eastern Europeans seemed to love me for who I was.)
On the way back through Paris, it all went wrong again.
We had just come from the Croatia airport, where my friend Nikki left a water bottle in her bag. The security man politely and kindly said, “Excuse me, but you seem to have left a water bottle in your bag. Could you please remove it?”
I rolled my eyes at how easy her life was.
But the second we stepped literal foot into Paris, we got screamed at. For stepping off the line on which we were supposed to walk from the plane to the terminal.
When we arrived at hell-also-known-as-French-Security again, with much fear and trembling of running into my friend because she certainly would remember me nine days later (I dreamed of the second round of “YOU STILL SORRY?? YOU REMEMBER NOW?? HOW ABOUT NOW!?”) But mercifully we didn’t see her, and mercifully (for me) it was Nikki that got screamed at this time.
They had the conveyor belt running too fast and the guy in front of me took too long to get his things off. Everyone’s bins started jackknifing and watches and iPads were about to start flying.
But somehow, even though Nikki was behind me, this was all her fault.
Angry French Officette Number Three started screaming “Your valise!! YOUR VALEEEESE!! YOU!!! Take your valise off NOW!!”
At that moment, or maybe it was after it took us an hour and forty five minutes (and 10,000 steps and two shuttle rides and two sets of incorrect directions by unhelpful French Airline Employees) to find our gate, or after we had a three hour layover in which we were going to get lunch but by the time we found our gate they were already boarding so we didn’t even get a bottle of water, or maybe it was when two out of three of us got pulled from the boarding line and it looked like we weren’t going to get to fly but they just wanted to do another security interrogation on us…whenever it was, Nikki and I made a blood oath that we would never visit Paris, never fly through Paris, nay, never meet a Parisian again, if we could help it.
Sure, they may have cool buildings. But they’re not worth the Angry French. Pictures of the Eiffel Tower will do just fine for us.