Friday, February 26, 2010

Off to a screeching start

My first trip to Germany is starting off about as smoothly as a gravel-filled Liverwurst.

Sitting on the Thalys high speed train from Paris to Cologne, I feel lucky to have a seat and only be delayed a few hours.

Due to a recent accident requiring extensive clean-up, services between Paris and Brussels (our waypoint to Cologne) are seriously reduced. This means open seating on the trains.

Luckily, we're savvy travelers who arrive early, read web alerts, and look at the signs in every language. So even though a Paris Métro problem forced us to take the slowest taxi ever to the train station, we were still comfortably seated without queuing or crowding on the platform.

Not so for some unlucky folks who have given up their seats to other passengers who showed a ticket, claiming it's theirs, not having read the signs that it's all open seating to Brussels now, regardless of reservations.

What turned out to be a hassle for many (who are duking it out for standing space in the aisles or bar car) turned into the happiest moment for me...

For two years now, Ive been subject to French authority on everything. From l'administratiom to la Sécu to the cashier at the grocery store, THEY are always right, and YOU are wrong.

So when a fellow passenger showed up 30 secconds before the train took off, pointed at Alannah's seat with ticket in hand, feigning passive-aggressive non-chalantness with her white iPod earbuds still in her ears (this is a skill mastered by all Parisian women), I was for once the authority, saying flatly, "Non."

She waved the ticket at me and said she had a reserved ticket, I was able to muster all my vocabulary and all my French functionary you're-wasting-my-time indignation to say, "I'm sorry Madame, but it's all open seating on all trains between Paris and Brussels until March 1st. We, too, have reserved seats, but die to the tmeporary policy of open seating, it is first-come first-served.

"I understand, Madame. I, too, reserved tiickets months in advance. However, it is - as stated on the signs and signaled by staff - open seating until March 1st."

I in no way feel like a better person for telling this lady off, as she stomped off in indignation, looking on the verge of tears. But in the name of balance in life, DAMN it felt better to give, for once, than to receive.