George Mason Law School

City of Lights dimmer than anticipated

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March 18, 2008

3:10 PM

I love airport security. Walking through a metal detector and being randomly felt up by a uniformed stranger makes me feel more important than Nicole Richie. Yet, on my trip to Paris, I waited in the security line for over two hours. Standing took all the fun out of the security process and reminded me of how inefficient the French really are.

p. “I don’t think I’m going to make my flight,” the balding, middle-aged man in line next to me said. I hate it when strangers talk to me in line because I never know what to say. Instead of sympathizing with him or confirming that he would be stuck in the airport forever, I pretended to be deaf.

p. A squat security woman patrolled the line to prevent any butting. “Arrete-uh,” she said to the man. He was pleading to be moved to the front of the line. People say that French is a beautiful language, but Parisians always add the sound “uh” to the end of phrases. It makes them sound like kindergartners. It also made the security woman more grating.

p. “Vous avez beaucoup de temps-uh,” she said, which, translates to “you have enough time.” A more accurate interpretation, however, would be “I am a giant moron-uh.” The woman clearly could have moved the man to the front of the line without any trouble. Yet she, like everyone in Paris, seemed bent on acting with less reason than a hamster.

p. Everything in Paris takes forever. At the supermarket, I stood in line for 10 minutes to buy one baguette and a bar of chocolate. The grocery store was not particularly crowded, and there were plenty of open checkout lanes. However, my checkout lady moved slower than a turtle as she scanned my bar of chocolate and collected my change. It made Wawa seem like a breeze. What’s worse, instead of bagging my goods, she handed me a plastic bag so that I could bag my baguette myself.

p. My trip was riddled with similar wastes of time. In a cafe along the Seine, a friend and I sat for 15 minutes before our waitress finally came.

p. “Sorry, I forgot you two were here,” she said. My friend, who has lived in Paris for the past year, was not bothered at all.

p. “I’m sure she was busy,” my friend explained. Evidently, in Paris it’s okay to do a terrible job and overcharge people for it.

p.The same thing happened at Le Louvre, where only one ticket booth was open while two other employees sat, apparently doing nothing. I approached one of the men and attempted to buy a ticket.

p. “We’re closed” the man said. He had a glossy tabloid-style magazine opened before him.

p. The inefficiency of the French would be less bothersome if Paris were cheaper. I could just imagine all of my money being funneled into one of France’s numerous social programs. The $15 I spent to see a movie at the cinema would probably go toward the exorbitant medical costs incurred by someone with a splinter. A plate of eggs and beans that cost me $20 would make it possible for some French university student to write poems about baguettes for his honors thesis; that $50 I spent on a haircut would be squandered to treat a cat with diabetes. I was subsidizing French inefficiency.

p. At the airport, I was also beginning to get nervous. In my mind, I imagined looking through the glass terminal windows as my plane took off without me. I didn’t want to be stuck in this nation of morons for one more minute, for fear that I, too, might start adding “-uh” to everything I said. The nervous man next to me hopped the line when the security woman wasn’t looking. I wished I hadn’t feigned deafness, because I wanted to congratulate him on making it out of Paris alive.

p. Paris would not have been such a monumental disappointment had my expectations been lower. “You’re going to love Paris,” my friends informed me when I explained my spring break plans. Even the stewardess on my plane told me to have a great time while she checked my boarding pass.

p. Perhaps the problem was not with France, but with me. Instead of expecting Paris to accommodate me, I could have better accommodated Paris by decelerating the pace of my life. I would love to have time to appreciate paintings and fine wines and Eiffel Towers. But how efficient is that?

p. James Damon is a Confusion Corner columnist. He’d happily pay $20 for a baguette, if he can skip the line-uh.

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