As many of you probably know by now, I’ve done my fair share of traveling throughout my time as an assistante in France. The numerous cities and countries that I’ve been to continue to leave nothing but good memories for me to reflect on wistfully afterwards- really, I wouldn’t change the world for having had this opportunity to do so.
…with all of the good things about traveling experienced, there are sure to be some which are, well, not as good. Admittedly, I’ve encountered a few “interesting” situations and while not all of them were necessarily bad, they were at least just downright bizarre. Looking back, I laugh at them, but I can still remember how crazy it was back then to have gone through all of that.
That said, I’ve decided to start a series of posts which I’ll affectionately call “Crazy Travel Stories,” in order to share some of the encounters, mishaps, and situations which I’d somehow gotten myself into while traveling around in Europe (and elsewhere). I hope to make them entertaining and educational for you, should you ever find yourself in a similar predicament (I hope not!). Enjoy nonetheless!
Crazy Travel Story #1: That One Time at the Airport…
After an amazing time in Prague in October during my first year as an assistante, I took the 20h30 flight back to Paris, arriving back in Charles de Gaulle airport around 22h00. Considering that it would be too late for me to take the shuttle or metro to the city center to catch the train back to my flat in Normandy, I had planned just to stay the night in the airport, as I had done when I was going to Prague after my visit in Belgium. That said, I found a quiet spot in the terminal, settled in, and did my best to get some rest.
Soon enough, I noticed a middle-aged Chinese couple wandering the airport, looking a bit worried. Seeing that I looked, well, Asian, they approached me hesitantly and asked (in Chinese) if I spoke Chinese. I replied, “yes,” and then they proceeded to tell me their story: they had missed their flight back to Hong Kong and needed to figure out how to get the next flight back. They spoke neither French nor English, so they have no idea whom to talk to- they were completely lost.
Well, shit. These folks really had it rough, and I couldn’t not help them out. So in effect, I became their “translator” and went about looking for airport staff who could possibly help us out. It didn’t help that things were closing for the night, either. Thankfully, we found the Information desk still open, so I went up to it, told the receptionist in French about the Chinese couple’s situation and asked how to go about resolving it, and then translated it over to the couple.
Things actually got a bit messy, because the Chinese couple couldn’t quite comprehend that they had to wait until the next morning to buy new airplane tickets for their flight back home (mind you, it was nearing midnight, and the ticket office would for sure be closed). My Chinese, let alone French, wasn’t up-to-par, either (really need to brush up on both of them, ugh), so there were some limitations when communicating; I even used a bit of English when asking the receptionist to clarify the directions for purchasing the tickets and where to do so. In the end, it became sort of a three-way language barrier in which neither the Chinese couple nor the receptionist could directly communicate with each other and I was floundering in all of these different languages just to help these folks get back home. Looking back, I find this absolutely comical, but oy vey, was it stressful then…
Any case, we couldn’t really do anything until the next morning, so we found some seats upstairs next to the ticket office, so we knew exactly where to go as soon as it opened. We even chatted a bit, getting to know each other more: I told them that I was an American teaching English in France and was currently on vacation, having just gotten back from visiting Prague and would be taking the early shuttle the following morning to head back to Normandy. As for the Chinese couple, they were from Guangzhou, a port city not too far from Hong Kong; the husband was apparently a well-known artist and had been in Paris for an art-gallery exhibition (he even showed me some of his work), while the wife came along to attend it. After the exhibition, they joined a Chinese tour group to visit Paris for about a week before exploring on their own afterwards for about another two to three weeks. They were scheduled to leave at 12 o’ clock noon that day I had met them, but the reason that they missed their flight was that they had erroneously believed that the flight was at 12 o’ clock, aka midnight! Whew, that was rough, but in any case, they were a nice couple and they made sure to look after me while getting sleep and everything (I was exhausted).
Just like with the last time that I stayed overnight at the airport, I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I know that the seats aren’t made for comfort, but really, they suck…eventually, I woke up around 5h00 and shortly after, the ticket office opened up. We rushed to the front of the desk where I once again told the receptionist the Chinese couple’s situation and asked if they could get tickets for the next flight. And once more, there was miscommunication: for some reason, the receptionist had to ask the couple what they were doing in Paris, having stayed for how long, and why they had missed their flight in the first place (uhhh…). And for some *strange* reason, we needed to track down their Chinese tour group to confirm that they had been on that tour in order to get the airplane tickets. There was also an issue with the computer database, and in the end, it turned out to be that there was another tourist on that Chinese tour group that had an *almost identical* name with the wife, which made things extra-complicated. Oh god…
While all of this was happening, I was translating everything to the couple, and eventually, the receptionist told them (well, me) that the next flight out was in the afternoon with a layover in Amsterdam. I told this to the Chinese couple and they kept asking me why the flight wasn’t at the same time as the one they had missed (namely, at 12 o’ clock noon, not 12 o’ clock midnight). I kept telling them that flight times change every day, but they just couldn’t seem to get their head around it. Maybe we were all delirious from lack of proper sleep the night before, but in any case, I was getting kind of irritated and, really, I just wanted to go home and rest.
Finally, things clicked: the Chinese couple bought their new tickets and things were settled. We exited the ticket office and before I left to catch the morning shuttle to the station, the couple thanked me for helping them. They even gave me their phone number and email address, saying that should I ever decide to visit Guangzhou, I could let them know. It was really nice of them, and afterwards we said goodbye at the terminal. I caught the 7h00 shuttle to the city center, took the metro over to the train station, and took the train back to Normandy.
Overall, that night at the airport has got to be one of the most eventful things that had happened to me during my first-year assistantship. While it wasn’t something that I had expected (let alone wanted), I was kind of glad that it happened: not only did it give me a story to tell back home, but also the whole situation challenged me in ways that I wouldn’t usually put myself into, namely, practicing my Chinese (and other languages as well). Although the situation had its frustrating parts, it worked out in the end. In fact, I ended up emailing the couple a month later to check in to see if they were all right; they actually responded, saying that they were doing well and thanking me again for that night (and also inviting me to visit Guangzhou, which I just might do, since it’s not too far from Hong Kong, a city on my travel bucket list). Really, being a Samaritan can have its rewarding moments sometimes!
…that’s about it for now! I have plenty of other interesting travel stories to tell, and I’ll see if I can post them from time to time. Thank you for reading and until then, à bientôt!