Tarring with the same Brush

I’ve just spent a week in foreign parts and I’m more convinced than ever that differing nationalities bear traits that identify them.

Observation of such characteristics is one of the strategies I’ve adopted to assuage some of the more tedious aspects of long-haul travel. On the plane I’m happy enough, these days to adopt the upright, confined posture required to utilise the seat, to pay attention to the cabin crew, to watch the movies, to get up and do my exercises, to mutely wait in line for the unsavoury joys of the lavatory, to eat and drink everything that is offered and hope to sleep.

Off the plane however there is the long, zig-zagging queue in the pens for immigration control, the stinging bark of the customs officers [no-we didn’t know we needed to complete the back of the form] and the customary thrill of waiting to discover if your luggage arrived too.

At the rear of the queue an unseemly stampede erupted as one or two of the tapes marking the lanes became unhitched, prompting severe and hasty action on the part of the officials. The couple immediately behind us [whose nationality shall remain nameless but has a reputation for somewhat self-preserving acts on holiday] spotted a gap and ducked under a tape to skip to the front, upon which stern officials corrected the error and they were returned to their place.

After we’d all shuffled along for what seemed hours [although in reality probably only about 30 minutes], a family with very young children were relieved of the stresses of jollying along two tiny tots after an eight hour flight and were ‘fast-tracked’ through to the front.

At the hotel we entered a jolly mix of races from both sides of the Atlantic [and beyond]. There are loud, garrulous types whose principal ambition is to be best buddy with every member of staff, to feel special and take selfies with all of these new best friends. Their conversations with companions are held publicly in order for others to share. A man at the bar told someone the other side of us enquiring after his holiday he had no complaints and smiled nervously when I said complaints were more interesting.

Meanwhile a gentleman with a keen interest in filming everything panned around the bar, the customers, his tiny son, the entertainment, the beach and the diners with abandon, using his mobile phone as if welded to it.

Then there are we British; reserved. We are polite. We say please and thank you-and sorry. I imagine we are held by most other nationalities to be cold and unfriendly. Our sense of humour can be difficult to spot, acerbic, sarcastic and cynical as it is.

And then one night my conclusions were overturned when we met a charming young couple of New Yorkers who initiated conversation. They were interested, interesting and wonderful company. Mea culpa. One should never generalise…

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Flights of Fancy [not]

To fly anywhere these days requires surrendering yourself to a surreal experience in which you are engulfed in a dystopian world and required to submit to various practices which never occur in your normal, day-to-day life.

First you must access the airport. If you drive there you must take your vehicle to one of countless, vast car parks marked with ‘bays’. Your vehicle is spookily ‘recognised’ and allowed in. You wait in a remote shelter for a shuttle bus, which exists solely for the purpose of car park to airport, airport to car park.

If you arrive by public transport you may stay in an airport hotel. They are strange, anonymous tower blocks accommodating all nationalities, everyone staying for just one night, the hospitality focused on food, drink and sleep-with TV and WIFI thrown in and, of course a shuttle bus to the terminal. In your room, which has a view over the access road, the car park or a petrol station you may be prey to gabbling in foreign tongues as they impregnate the thin walls separating you from next door. There are rumblings as suitcases are trundled along the carpeted corridors and feverish key card insertions. Your dreams are punctuated by strange roars and muffled voices.

Next morning you rise up, shower in your en-suite [serviceable], down a quick cup of tea and trundle your own case to the lift, where you descend to the lobby. Others pulling cases may join you. It is early. Almost everyone is silent, save for the bus driver, who greets with an almost indecent jollity. There is a diverse assortment of luggage, from gargantuan, shiny designer to old, battered, market-for-peanuts [ours]. The bus rattles around the hotels collecting travellers then on to the terminal to spew you all out.

You claw your case from the rack and traipse with it and everyone else, following the yellow arrows to ‘departures’. You locate your ‘check-in’ from the screen [what did they do before screens?]. You join a long, meandering queue penned in with webbing, in which you shuffle and shuffle, shifting your wheelie case a few inches at a time towards the check-in desk.

At last you gain the desk and an unsmiling, efficient check-in clerk who scrutinises your paperwork in a brusque way and affixes labels to your case, now lolling on the scales before you bid it goodbye-praying that you may meet again at your destination.

Lightened of your burden, you join the next queue for another shuffle to be relieved of your belt, your shoes and your dignity as you are scanned and deemed non-threatening enough to fly. You are then released into the cavernous shopping outlet that is the departures lounge and set about filling the hours until the flight leaves in the most painless fashion achievable. For some this means an early start in the ‘English pub’. For others a swoop into the retail outlets.

You are called to the ‘gate’. You travel endless corridors on a moving belt. Your documents get another perusal. You wait for your seat number to be called. You walk down a ramp, along another corridor, through a hatchway into the metal tube that is your conveyance. You are greeted by the handmaidens and handmen who are to minister to you. You locate the seat and shoehorn yourself into it, fasten the belt, plug in to the entertainment, eat everything they give you, sleep a bit, get stiff, hot, yawn a lot.

You arrive. Has it been worth it? Actually yes-we are in Barbados!