In an effort to prevent this space from degenerating into a space for writerly one-upmanship (thanks anonymous!) I am forced to write about my own life here for you, my loyal, yet not entirely responsive audience.
I recently earned another commission for another travel article. This one took me to a small-ish town not far from Nice, in southern France - the Côte d'Azur. I'll spare you an account of the trip (for that you'll have to watch this space) but I will take the time, just briefly, to praise the friendliness of the French.
I flew on an airline that I won't identify here, other than to say that they seem to be taking their business model from big box home renovations stores. They pay attention to all the details, from the shopping-cart-orange colour of their aircraft to the polyester stock-boy smocks their flight attendents are forced to wear and on to the passenger-as-livestock treatment as we boarded (by lot number, through aisles in which passengers jostled with each other in a manner that reminded me of nothing if not cattle entering an industrial slaughterhouse).
On my flight back I had the pleasure of sitting by the window. Shortly I was joined by a couple of French vacuum cleaner salesmen or penny-stock promoters or drudges in some similar profession that doesn't remunerate its members well enough to allow them to purchase non-shiny suits or decent deodorant. The one next to me kept up a non-stop patter of what could only have been unanswerable Buddhist koans, judging by the relative silence of his companion. However, he evidently felt it was rude to leave me out of the conversation and so, in an effort to make me feel included, tried to cross the language barrier by leaning over in such a way so as to take up half my seat. I appreciated the thought - after all, we're all travelling and probably in need of a good cuddle.
So, in a similarily friendly spirit, I jabbed him in the back with my elbow. He sensed, evidently that I was just one of those stand-offish North Americans and persisted in his efforts to overcome my resistance to his hospitality. So great was his ardour that I had to repeat the point three times in an increasingly emphatic manner before he shifted enough that I wasn't forced to sit as if I were attempting to impersonate a bonsai tree.
Due to the fact that the airport I flew from is jointly run by French and Swiss authorities, I had to go through customs at both ends of the trip - despite the fact that both my departure and arrival points are in France. My Canadian passport threw them for a loop as well - they pulled me aside and asked me if I had anything to declare. I pointed out I'd never left France, to which they replied that I'd gone into an international area after clearing customs before, and could have purchased things in a duty free shop. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the point of duty free was that it was free of duty, i.e. customs charges? And if not, weren't the other people on the flight also a risk to smuggle French-purchased items into France?