Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spain 3: Lack of solidarity

I am not a fan of strikes when they inconvenience me and I don’t understand when people who are inconvenienced by a strike just lift their shoulders, purse their lips and say, “La greve.”

I have been struck by strikes at least three times now coming to France.* The first time was in the late 80s, when a friend and I went to Paris and London over Christmas. We flew into London, then took the train and ferry to Paris. On our return to London, we discovered that the trains were on strike. The trains that were going to get us back to the coast and the ferry. There were no cars available to rent. Indeed, the Avis clerk was a little bit snotty to us, although in France’s defense, she was the only person in Paris who was rude to us and that might have been because she was a teenager and we were actually trying to get her to work. We finally found a bus to Calais, but it was a stressful day.

The next time I was struck was when I went to France for a cooking school vacation and the guys who deliver the cash to the ATMs were striking. I have gotten to the point where I travel with minimal cash and my debit card. It’s nice not to have to worry about carrying a couple hundred dollars they way you used to have to in the old days. Remember when we used travelers checks and there were horrible fees to change them, so we changed a bunch at once to minimize the transaction fee/franc ratio? And then you had to worry about having all that cash?

Well, if you can’t get cash because there is no cash in the ATM, then life becomes rather uncomfortable.

And now, we are struck again. SH and I had to change planes in Paris at CDG, which I have decided is the worst airport in the world and I have flown through the Cuzco Peru airport and through Atlanta.

After we made our way through the funnel of hall to passport control to baggage claim – the goal of the CDG designers, who also design the cattle runs into the abattoir, seems to be to see how many people can be put into smaller and smaller spaces before they scream and we heard no screaming, we had to go through security again. Real security, as if we had not already passed through security on our originating flight.

On our way to the premium security line, which SH has won with his many many miles of flying and nights and weekends away from home, we heard an announcement: Flights delayed because of security strike.

How odd, we thought. Why would a security strike delay a flight? It’s not the security folks who fly the planes.

NB In the best of times, CDG is the most inefficient airport I have ever used and that includes Caracas, where it took the entire three hours for me to get from checkin onto the plane – I was in line the entire time. One time, I stood in line for the CDG emigration passport check for a good while. There were four passport counters open. From there, we all funneled into one security line. There were four security machines, but only one was open. It was open with four people working and another seven standing there looking bored.

That was without a strike.

We passed the regular security line, which snaked back and forth for five folds. The line was three persons wide. Whew! we thought. Thank goodness we get to use the premium line!

We arrived at the premium line. The bored guy checked our tickets. Waved us in. The line was only 20 yards long, two persons wide. We were next to the business class checkin. I noticed a Dude checking in. He was wearing baggy jeans with a belt that was strictly decorative, as he had to hold the pants up with one hand. His head was shaved on the sides, but the remaining hair was long and pulled back into a bun that he had secured with bobby pins.

We were only halfway through the line – when the Dude passed us on the left.

The bored security guy was letting other passengers cut. “They have a flight in ten minutes,” he explained.

Our jaws dropped. If you don’t get into the security line until ten minutes before your flight, is that my problem?

Then the bored security guy let a flight crew in, which is fine, but the line still wasn’t moving.

We got close enough to see: although there were two x-ray machines, only one was open. The guy manning it was checking everything before it was put on the belt. The guy controlling the belt was looking at everything very slowly.

The bored security guy started letting more people cut.

SH and I and the other two Americans started to speak about how this was a little bit ridiculous – that we all had a flight to catch and perhaps the line-cutting should stop.

It did not stop.

We realized that the value of waiting one’s turn is perhaps not universal.

I should have remembered. I have had to fight little old ladies to the counter in Italy. They will cut you.

We kept moving forward, but the closer we got to the x-ray machine, the slower things got: there were more cutters and the people who had been waiting were letting them cut.

Our complaining grew louder as we glared at the cutters. One man rushed to the front of the line. SH said, “Hey! You need to wait your turn!”

The man politely explained that his flight left in ten minutes and it was a connection. “We, too, have a flight!” we said. “We, too, are connecting.”

“Whatever the strikers want, I vote to not give to them and to actually cut something back,” I said.

A revolution was brewing. It wasn’t just the Americans who were complaining, although the French revolution consisted of some Gallic shrugs.

That’s when they finally opened the second x-ray line. But by now, we were invested in the first line. We should have moved to Line 2 and cut on the cutters, but we thought it would be faster to stay in our line. What we failed to take into account were the people to our side who said to us, “We have been waiting longer than you so we are next.”

Of course it was safe to say that to us. They knew we actually valued line fairness. But I wanted to shout at them, “Where have you been for the past half hour when all the other people have been cutting? Why didn’t you say something then?” They were free riders, letting SH and me and the other Americans grumble and foment revolution.

It took us 45 minutes to get through 20 yards of security line.

Next time I see a picket line, I’m crossing it.


Beryl said...

I almost wonder if this is something passive aggressive that the French facilitate to infuriate the British, the world's champion respecters of the queue.

Class factotum said...

Beryl, I wouldn't be surprised!