It’s remarkable how being ‘out of water’ makes you much more sensitive to people’s attitudes and behavio
urs, regardless of where you are in the world. When I’m in the UK, for example, I’m intensely aware of the sullen questioning of waiters or waitresses who are not so wholly dependent on tips to ensure that they can eat at the end of the week. I’m currently in the south of France, and even though there’s a ban on smoking in public places as there is in Britain or New York, it’s noticeable how much more committed people still are to their ‘death sticks’.
Thankfully, the world is an endlessly diverse place, and we should be eternally grateful for that.
But sometimes – just sometimes – I wish that there were universally held social mores that people adhered to regardless or country of origin, class, race, sexuality or religion.
Travelling back to New York from London this week, The Special One and I had a glass of wine in Terminal 4 (OK, I had a glass of wine, and she had a glass of English lemonade, which she appears to be endlessly enamo
ured with) before making our weary way to the gate to be prodded and poked into our seats like the rest of the onboard cattle. Even though the flight was relatively empty, most of the seats around the gate were full of sombre passengers preparing themselves for the eight hours of sitting in three-and-a-half inches of legroom eating rapidly chilled-then-furnace blasted food.
Having already flown down to London from Manchester, and laden down with heavy bags, neither of us were particularly in the mood for sitting on the floor or – worse still – standing. Fortunately there were two spare seats next to a pleasant-enough looking couple, with nothing more than an Arran
jumpersweater and a bag or two occupying the seats. A man was sat adjacent to the vacant seats, studiously working on his laptop.
Seeing the chance to take the weight off my legs, I approached the man and asked to sit down, and he cordially removed the sweater from one of the chairs. When I apologetically made it clear that there were two of us and that we needed both seats, things started to go downhill rapidly.
The man, who appeared to be German but seemed to talk with a New York accent, simply refused to move his things, firmly stating “I’m not putting my stuff on the floor”, smirking casually as he said it. He even repeated it after my ears refused to believe what they had heard.
At that point, the British and New York sides to my personality were immediately put into intense conflict. The British part of me instantly apologised for the inconvenience of the man being asked to lift up his inanimate and non-precious possessions to place them on the carpeted floor. But within milliseconds, my inner indignated New Yorker reasserted control and insisted that he clear the chair so that The Special One and I could sit down.
Again he refused. This time with more vigo
By this point I was irate (though utterly calm), and the presence of 150 or so other travellers wasn’t going to prevent me from making myself heard. Clearly nothing I could say was going to make him give up the spare seat, but that didn’t mean that I was going to let him get away with such behavio
ur without a mild-but-obvious rebuke.
In the ensuing diatribe, it is possible that I made it clear – to him, and to the watching audience – that he was an obnoxious man with little or no moral fib
reer. And asked him how he managed to be so self-involved that a couple of bags were more important than a couple of living breathing human beings.
Again he smirked, held his ground, and we walked off to two more seats that had been vacated a few yards away. As I turned to give him my deadliest death stare (a stare that has been known to cause the onset of rigor mortis in perfectly healthy adults), he laughed to his humiliated partner.
This was too much for even my inner eccentric English gentleman, and I heard myself call him out for his manners again, telling him to stop laughing as his attitude was simply pathetic. Still no response though, and the man buried himself in both his laptop and his over-arching sense of self-congratulation as The Special One and I sat down and vented privately.
What goes around comes around though. Our bags were pretty much the last ones to arrive off the luggage carousel as the JFK terminal shut down for the night. And the last sight we saw, as we wandered off to get a taxi back to Brooklyn, was Mr Obnoxious and his wife consulting with British Airways staff on what to do about their suitcases which tragically appeared to have gone missing in transit.
And that, my friends, is karma.