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Focus on Safety




The Bollywood film helped me accomplish what I normally have difficulty with: sleeping on an airplane. Was it the silly dialogue? The terrible acting? Way too much singing? Whatever it was, I slept like a baby as a result and woke to the sounds of flight attendants trundling breakfast trolleys down the plane's aisles.
Being more alert than usual, I noticed a substantive difference between Lufthansa and Delta Airlines (the airline I normally fly) attendants. The Lufthansa people were careful with their heavy, metal trolleys and gently moved sleeping people's arms out of the aisle. Delta airlines people use their trolleys like weapons and seem to have a game going among themselves: five points for bashing in someone's head, three points for a knee, one point for an arm. Children and the elderly count for double points.
I pulled back the cover of my breakfast and found Indian food before me. Indian food? For breakfast? Ugh, that's worse than German where you're given cold cuts and cabbage to eat. But it was uncompromisingly delicious and I cast covetous glances at what my neighbor, an Indian, had left uneaten. Sadly, he didn't get the hint and so I only had one breakfast. I would not repeat this mistake on the flight back to Europe.
As delightful as breakfast was, the getting to India had not been. Frankfurt International airport was recently and rightfully cited by the International Herald Tribune as one of the ten worst airports in the world. It's confusing. It's busy. The halls are thick with cigarette smoke.
When I arrived, I found that the boarding pass for the India portion of my flight was invalid and was directed to a long, non-moving line, full of the saddest people you've seen in a long time. Everyone had that droopy-eyed, basset hound look.
I only had an hour and a half before my connecting flight to India would depart. Worried, hungry and tired, I was nonetheless royally entertained by a group of six Americans directly behind me. Unlike Europeans, who took their misfortune at being in the "problem" line stoically (and one should add: wimpily) , these businessmen were full of 1776 era revolutionary spirit and launched into long and loud, expletive-laced dissertations on Frankfurt Main's general incompetence.
I loved everything about them. These were men who brought cursing to an art form. It's not that they were foul-mouthed in general, as anyone can curse, but few of us are able to so skillfully inject biting sarcasm, pithy observations, humor and tie off the package with some of the most blasphemous cursing I've heard in a long time. It was enough to make angels blush.
Even better, the six businessmen were stereotypically dressed, wearing baseball caps, blue jeans and tennis shoes. Everything about them screamed "Lunatic and potentially dangerous Americans!" I loved it.

"This didn't happen in Ƨ¥∑ Spain," snarled Atlanta Hawks baseball cap guy at full volume. "
Ω∆$-ing France wasn't this bad either," added green sweat suit guy at his side. "®¶¿&!, even Ÿš∞ Belgium wasn't like this!" fumed tall man with the curly moustache, perhaps being the first man in history to use expletives as punctuation marks.
The line moved ever so slowly and I dozed a little bit (in spite of the 'round the clock cursing) while standing up , being awakened by Los Angeles Raiders man saying. "Check this out, guys. I hope he kills him!"
I looked toward the counter, where six Chinese businessmen were having what one of the funniest writers around today (Terry Pratchett, "Monstrous Regiment) calls an "encumbrance". Unlike the quiet, sniveling "acceptance of my fate" European approach, or the creative cursing of the American contingent, the Chinese took a different tack in dealing with their problem: they threatened violence.
The two smaller men shouted and cursed (I don't need to speak Mandarin to know what they were saying). The two medium sized Chinese reached across the counter and grabbed various documents which they threw into the air. And the last two Chinese, each the size of bouncers, were wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth, and tried to climb over the counter and pummel the visibly nervous middle-aged airline employee into something resembling whatever it is that bratwurst is before it is turned into a sausage.
"This should get interesting," Atlanta Hawks cap man said. "I cannot help you," the ticket taker said bravely--or was that foolishly. "You do not have tickets!"
In my head, I envision Chinese as physically unimpressive, philosophical, humble, quiet, meek people. Wrong.
The two Chinese giants exploded into paroxysms of rage after hearing the clerk's words translated. Spittle flew into the air as they raged and screamed. The first big man lunged toward the ticket taker, who had now taken leave of his seat, all the better to flee somewhere--anywhere--if one of the giants made it over the metal partition. The two smaller Chinese, paired with their middle sized partners, threw themselves on the giant's shoulders and held him back.
If the ticket taker thought he was safe, he was wrong. Seeing he was left untouched, the other Chinese giant screamed a war cry and began scrambling his way over the slippery metal railing. Seeing this, the four let go of giant number one, and grabbed giant number two's legs, pulled him back from the railing where he fell heavily to the floor. They then sat on him.
"You do not have tickets, there is nothing I can do for you," wailed the ticket taker.
And just like that it was over. The two giants went from uncontrollable rage to complete calm in an eye blink. They gently brushed at the creases in their suits, straightening them. Without another word, the six men picked up their suitcases and disappeared into the crowd. They had lost.
"Well... I'll be damned," said Los Angeles Raiders man behind me, visibly amazed and managing to slip in a last curse.
It was my turn. I walked up to the still-flustered clerk and calmly told him my story. Finding his life not being threatened, the clerk quickly printed out new tickets for me and sent me rushing to the gate. To India.