domingo, 12 de julio de 2009

Airport etiquette, Britain vs. Israel

Y esto para los que se quieran reir un rato, si saben de qué va. Y los españoles, que respondan si les suena y nos parecemos en algo

By Sayed Kashua

Tags: Israel News, Sayed Kashua

If I've ever known any moments of joy in my life, one was surely when the looming coastline became visible from the airplane window. The plane I returned on from London landed directly from west to east without having to do a U-turn over Modi'in like most of the flights I've been on in the past two years. I nearly let out a sigh of relief when the wheels touched down, but I decided to hold back until we came to a complete stop. A few people applauded and I refrained from joining them, well aware that such an act is a Third World kind of thing. It's a statistical fact that the odds of a plane crash increase in direct proportion to the number of people who applaud upon a plane's landing.

The immediate danger of the flight was behind me, but I postponed the moment of joy until the doors opened, when I could switch on my cell phone and call home to ask if everything was okay, and make sure nothing terrible had happened during those five hours when I was cut off from the world - five hours in which the very worst could well have occurred. Yes, I know those little musical flourishes signaling the activation of cell phones are usually heard even before the plane comes to a complete stop, but I had just come from London, from Europe, and I decided that I would not behave like the average Israeli, that I would wait until the doors opened before bringing my cell phone back to life. Okay, if it were an El Al flight, I might have considered it, but it was absolutely out of the question on a European airline. They already consider us savages as it is. Rumor has it that European airlines punish unsatisfactory flight attendants by assigning them to flights to and from Israel.

"Where is everybody?" I asked my wife as I walked down the gangway. Only when I was told that she and the children were at home, all within sight and touching distance of one another, and that she promised not to let them go anywhere until I got home, could I finally breathe a small sigh of relief.

I've never been a fan of flying, and it's always a torment for me to be far from home. The pleasurable part of my travels always comes after landing. Only when I know that my feet are once again standing on solid ground can I answer questions like how was the trip and did I have a good time. I also felt happy at the sight of Israelis quickening their step on the way to the lines for passport control. I smiled when one man scolded his wife for being slow: "Nu, what's the matter with you? You want to be the last one there?" You don't see that sort of thing in London, certainly not in Cambridge. "You run to the luggage carousel," he urged. "I'll go to the duty free."

In London, people stand in line. And the lines there have a beginning, middle and end - in that order. Clear as can be. In Israel, you have an amorphous grouping that's called a line, and you can rarely tell where it begins or ends. Also, in London, people don't point at someone who's standing in the middle of the line and say, "We're together." There is individualism, limited though it may be. Each person has his place in line. Say your relative or your acquaintance or your good buddy wants to stand next to you, for whatever reason; he'll leave his more advanced spot in line and go backward. The lines at passport control in London are separated by these flimsy little ropes and no one tries to cut in. In Israel, the lines are separated by barbed wire, and there are always infiltrators. But that's okay. Really, it's okay. It just means I'm home.

In London, you can't keep things in the duty-free storage area until you return. In Israel, you can do that, but in two separate places. "I already stood in line for an hour; turns out the whiskey is here and the cigarettes are there," the Israeli will say, flashing a boarding pass as he elbows his way to the front. But all that just makes me smile. It prompts a feeling of nostalgia, of superiority, of pride in the knowledge that I've adopted the ways of a civilized human being. So if people cut ahead of me in line, I don't sweat it. Not only that: I even let one stressed out-looking woman who was pushing into me into the cigarettes line go ahead of me. Not testily, but kindly, with a smile. As I gestured politely for her to go in front of me, she gave me a smile that said "what an idiot" and thanked me in English - sure that I must be from some foreign land.

Luggage carts blocked the way to the airport shuttle bus to the long-term parking lot. The vending machine next to the waiting area swallowed NIS 10 and stubbornly refused to cough up a bottle of water, or anything else, and decided to keep the change. Carts collided from all directions when the bus pulled up. Other carts were shoved aside to make way for the frantic travelers. Meanwhile, I, with my London-induced calm, boarded the last bus and then stood in the corner, avoiding eye contact as the British do when on public transportation, maintaining my circle of privacy and respecting that of others.

At the parking lot exit, I sat quietly in my car and waited as an old man ahead of me kept trying to insert the ticket that would open the exit gate. I must admit I was upset when the driver behind me started honking in annoyance, with one of those aggravating, sustained blasts of the horn that causes a ringing in the ears. I tried to recall if whether during my stay in England I'd heard even one little beep.

In England, the slower cars will always drive in the left lane; no driver there would ever dare break this rule. In Israel, however, the choice of lane is completely random. In England, no one passes on the right, or left for that matter. I tried to restrain myself, but had no choice but to pass a few times on the right during the ascent to Jerusalem. One driver flashed his lights behind me, blinding me when I was in the right lane. What could I do if the left lane was blocked by a slow driver? So I responded appropriately. I let him go by and then, when I was on his tail, I took my turn blinding him. I didn't ascribe my action to a desire for revenge. It was more for educational purposes: How else will he learn to stop blinding others?

On the way up to the Castel my phone rang. I hesitated for a moment, but then answered it without the hands-free device because it was my wife and I was afraid that something had happened. But she just wanted to find out when I was arriving so she'd know when to turn on the boiler. We had a short chat. Harmless, really. And I never took my eyes off the road.

Meanwhile, on Army Radio, some senior officer was being interviewed about his military career. "It was really fun, challenging - a real experience," said the fighter when asked about the various units he'd been in and the various posts he had. A delightful fellow. I agreed with the handwriting expert who analyzed the guest - "a heart of gold, pure and, at the same time, a courageous, determined and clear-eyed fighter."

At the first traffic light on the entry to Jerusalem, my wife called again to say the kids were tired and wanted to go to bed.

"No, keep them up," I replied. "I've brought lots of presents. I'll be home in two minutes."

The light changed to green and the driver ahead of me didn't budge. I could see that he was chuckling and had his cell phone pressed to his ear. So I blasted my horn, swerved around to his right, stopped beside him, opened the window and cursed his mother, "It's because of people like you that this country is such a mess, you lousy piece of garbage!"

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