After a long weekend at the Flyingnorthblog Brussels Bureau, it was time to head back to the Flyingnorthblog International Headquarters in New York. Fortunately the Brussels Bureau is situated near the Brussels Midi train station, with quick access to the Brussels Airport via train. For €5.30 and a 20 minute ride, you will be at the airport, should you ever find yourself working for flyingnorthblog in Brussels.
Upon exiting the train, I headed towards the check-in for my international flight. I had checked in online, but this particular flight did not have the mobile device option nor did I have a printer, so I simply needed to reprint my boarding pass. I had already picked my seat with the help of seatguru.com. If you haven’t heard of it, the site lists every airline and every plane type, then color codes the seat maps based on what is the most desirable seat – or not. A brilliant and helpful idea.
The self-service kiosks were unusually behind a security podium with an airline representative on guard like a Checkpoint Charlie for ticket reprints. I approached the airline rep and gave her my passport. The rep, Charlotte, was a very well put together Belgian woman who wore her airline uniform with pinpoint precision and who looked to be in her early fifties. She confidently exuded the dignity and style of a by-gone era in airline travel, when passengers wore suits while travelling and women wore their stylish finery [unlike today when people wear dirty stretch pants and mis-matched track suits with old sneakers]. When my mind came back to the present from my Pan American and TWA 1950’s flashback, I explained that I simply had to reprint my ticket. What ensued was a twenty minute conversation.
Before I recount the conversation, let me say that despite the Economist’s recent dull article on holding two or more passports, I find it quite helpful. I currently hold both a United States and a European Union [Italy] passport, and I always enter the EU with the EU passport. This weekend, it cut down my queue time by 95% as the queue for EU citizens was empty while the queue for non-citizens stretched at least one hundred deep. I think a Jet Airways plane from India had just landed, ergo the long queue, and the faint smell of curry. For the traveler who aspires to efficiency, it is a wonderful thing. Also, an EU passport allows one to travel more easily to certain parts of the globe [i.e. Cuba].
Back to Charlotte. Because I was leaving Belgium and my airline ticket was purchased in the U.S. and was connected to my U.S. citizenship, I gave her my U.S. passport as identification. While my EU passport is relatively clean and empty, my U.S. passport is almost completely full of passport stamps. And they are all real – not the ridiculous tourist stamps one can get when entering the Galapagos [a turtle] or Machu Picchu [a stamp of Machu Picchu].
“Bonjour.” Charlotte said in her best Belgian French accent. It reminded me of my high school French teacher, Ms, Lust. Yes, that was her name.
“Bonjour Charlotte. Hello.”
“Vous preferez que je parle en anglais?” [Do you prefer I speak in English?]
“Bien sur, c’est un peu facile pour moi.” [Of course, it’s a bit easier for me].
“Perfect. I am Charlotte and I am going to ask you a few questions this morning.” She smiled at me with a knowing wink, although I’m not sure what she knew or thought she knew. I was wearing red American Apparel briefs [proudly made in the U.S.A.] but how could she know that?
“I am ready to answer, Charlotte.”
“To where are you travelling today?”
“I am going to New York and simply need to reprint my boarding pass at the ticket kiosk.”
Just then Charlotte pulled up my flight information from the computer based on my U.S. passport.
“Ah – it looks like you were only in Belgium for the weekend. It is a long way to travel for just the weekend, no?”
“Actually, not for me Charlotte. I have friends who live in Brussels but are Australian, one of whom I originally met in Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad, and they had a baby in July. And the first time I met her I mistook his wife for a quite large Latina woman in the Miami airport. I was on my way to Ecuador to join them for their honeymoon, of course I didn’t know that at the time, and after hugging her husband in the men’s room because it was the first place I had seen him in a year, thought she was the first woman I saw when I exited the men’s room. The first woman I saw was quite a robust Latina, and it wasn’t her [yes this is all true]. I came to see them and the baby so I could begin to teach the newborn the proper way to speak English [in other words without all the added “u”s and without a David Attenborough accent].” Charlotte looked at me a bit puzzled, but then continued, as she thumbed through the packed pages of my passport.
“Ah, I see you have been many places – and oh, you have been to Syria, n’est-ce pas [isn’t it so]?”
“C’est vrai [its true] Charlotte, I was there in 2008.”
“This is a very dangerous place, why were you there?”
“You know, Charlotte, Syria is actually an amazing place, full of cultural and historical significance. Unfortunately for me, I traveled there during George W. Bush’s second term, and was promptly interrogated for thirty minutes upon my re-entry into U.S. territory. I sat there while a person who didn’t even know where Syria was on a map asked me if I had ever owned a firearm or been in a paramilitary group. I didn’t think the Cub Scouts counted, but in the interest of full disclosure, I did mention it.”
There was a momentary pause in the conversation, and then…
“Are you married?” I thought this was a strange segue from Syria to marital status – was Charlotte hitting on me?” Then I thought…a third passport from Belgium might help me to live out my James Bond fantasies, at least the family-friendly ones.
“No Charlotte, I am not. I am married to the world – it is my partner. And when I have problems travelling my partner is in effect giving me trouble, like any partner does.”
Charlotte laughed. “You are quite the funny man, you know?”
“Charlotte, one needs to be when one travels – there are too many potential variables that can ruin a day if one doesn’t keep things light.”
“Yes, I suppose that is true.” Just then, Charlotte ran through the airline script asking the questions about electronic items and did anyone give me anything to carry, etc. “You are free to continue.”
“Thanks Charlotte, this has been a fun conversation.”
“Yes. Look for me the next time you are in the Brussels airport.” She smiled at me with the joy of a little French girl who was watching her first mime.
“You know I will Charlotte – you know I will.”
As I left Charlotte behind, we waved to each other. The ticket kiosk behaved, and my ticket reprinted without incident. I then headed to the gates for passport control and security screening. I wondered what adventure awaited me next.