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Published:August 6th, 2009 10:18 EST
Adventures in Cheese Snob Land: How to Screw Up in a French Airport 101

Adventures in Cheese Snob Land: How to Screw Up in a French Airport 101

By Christine Stoddard

My parents dropped me off at Dulles International Airport, issuing precaution after precaution, over three hours before take-off. I nodded and pretended that my knees were not knocking together, but the horror stories quickly morphed into reality when I began my journey from suburban Washington, D.C. to Geneva, Switzerland to Paris, France. Granted, none of my digits are missing, nobody blinded me, and I still have everything I packed, save for the confidence that airport officers will always hunt you down if you pass by the customs desk without even waving your passport at them from afar.

My journey began with a moderate amount of stress that gradually and inevitably escalated up until the point where I crashed and sank my yellow American teeth into a loaf of chocolate pound cake that cost 0.94 Euros. (No better stress reliever exists.) At first, my father told me that my duffel bag was too large for carry-on, so I freaked out about how to reduce my belongings. I didn`t want to go through the hassle of checking in any of my luggage because I knew that the airline would temporarily lose it. That`s a given, no matter how many times you write your name all over your suitcases in big, obnoxious letters with a big, obnoxious Sharpie. Thankfully the lady at the ticket claim said I should be fine. I crossed that concern off my list and heaved my two bags over to the security checkpoint.

Sometime during that and the time I rummaged through my purse for my passport, a plastic headband of mine broke. Magically. I gritted my teeth, stood in a long line only to have someone bark at me about not removing my belt or jacket. We`ll ignore the fact that I had to remove my hiking boots, which revealed a humiliating hole on big toe of my right sock. Oh, wait, I just mentioned it.

Of course, I can only complain about airport security so much. Everybody hates it, even the most optimistic, happy-go-lucky folks who find the sunny side to chemotherapy ("No shaving!").

In complete contrast to the whole security process, my first flight, from Dulles to Geneva, was remarkably relaxed. Thumbs up to United. I had a comfy chair, a warm blanket, a soft pillow, and...chicken curry? Airline food has certainly improved. My brownie was delicious, not by airline standards but by standards period. It was gooey, just the way brownies should be. The airplane attendants even did their job. They regularly came by to offer water and orange juice to keep us hydrated. I`m so accustomed to being deprived that to be served is a refreshing change. The only negative about the trip was that the audio on my mini-TV did not work. It`s fine, though; I had my laptop so I could write and a good novel to read whenever I needed a break from writing.

My flight from Geneva to Paris was not quite so delightful. The airline clerk snapped at me about my carry-on--"C`est trop grand!" The plane was also too small for my taste; the same size of the plane I would take when visiting my family as a Grinnell girl. I didn`t appreciate how it kept wavering. To its credit, the flight was short (under an hour) and they gave me hot chocolate.

The nightmare didn`t begin until my airplane buddy and I arrived in France. She and I didn`t even realize that we were on the same flights until we ran into each other at Dulles. It was a relief to know I wouldn`t have to navigate from Charles De Gaulle to the Kellermann alone. Of course, we got into more trouble than I ever imagined.

[Insert dramatic music here.]

As soon as we got off the plane, we asked an airport worker where the British Airways terminal was so we could meet up with another girl in our study abroad group. Strangely, the woman never even thought to ask whether we had claimed our luggage and gone through customs. Neither one of those places was in plain sight, so we figured we`d see them later on. It turned out that the woman directed us through a door that led us away from luggage claim and customs. We spent the next hour trying to get to the opposite side of a huge glass wall. Picture standing in line, speaking to several different people who all suggested different things. ("Go through THAT door!" "What are you doing here?" "Stand over there!") Oh, and I`ve learned to speak French to French people. Speak English and you insult them so they pretend not to understand. Eventually, my airport buddy was able to get her luggage, but we went on another adventure just searching for the third girl.

Eventually, we gave up and took a taxi. Now that is an essay all its own.