Sunday, August 24, 2008

Geneva? You can't get there from here!

Well I'm back from France and all I can say is, I miss France a lot. I did complain about people there in a previous blog, but have to admit that much of what I encountered was probably due to my own discomfort in a new place. As time passed, people became much more friendly and - unless there was a special campaign in France to be nice to Sunil Mukhi (which even in my megalomanic moments I very much doubt) - this must be because I became more used to the place, and more normal in my interactions with people. I wonder if this is how things work when people in a new place feel they are being treated in a racist manner (something I did not complain of, by the way). One is awkward in a new place and then the responses are equally awkward and one feels people are trying consciously not to be nice.

Having in some way backed off from my comments about the French, I must reiterate that Geneva airport remains a strange place (as I mentioned in another blog posting). I arrived there for my departure early last Saturday morning. The thing is, having rented a car from the French side, I had to return it on the French side. I thought I would stroll over to the Swiss side inside the airport, the reverse of what I had done on arrival. But no, this is not reversible. To catch a plane from the French side of Geneva airport, you have to check in on the French side (this can be done for all flights). Then with boarding pass in hand you go through a door to the departure area on the Swiss side.

Thing is, that door was locked! And a bunch of disconsolate passengers were sitting around at 6 AM waiting for the "door to Switzerland" to open. Here started the fun. I had waited just ten minutes but some passengers were about to miss their flights and started to create a fuss. Within a few minutes it was total pandemonium. French authorities, from check-in staff to security, were milling about and yelling at each other. Turned out the Swiss had omitted to hand over a key to their country (whose departure lounge we could see through a glass door) to the French! Just the sort of thing they would do! But more surprisingly, they themselves had failed to show up early in the morning and open their door.

The French security guard angrily informed us passengers (as though it were our fault) that he could not, and would not, open that door. Passengers shouted (in half a dozen languages) "I'm going to miss my flight!". The check-in staff revealed that Swiss security were not answering their phone. I still had some time before I would miss my own flight, and was frankly enjoying what appeared to be a complete "third-world situation". I wondered which passenger would be the first to try smashing down the glass door.

Then out of nowhere a blue-uniformed gent appeared, unlocked the door, and waved us in. But the story doesn't end here. A European-looking woman asked me in English "is this the way to Geneva"? I pointed out that we were, at least in a technical sense, in Geneva. She said "yes, and I live there, but as a volunteer for an organisation that helps blind people, I came over to the French side to help some passengers and for an hour I've been waiting to go back!". Later I saw her pleading with Swiss security to let her out of the airport so she could go home. But they were unrelenting. I don't know if she ever made it, as the guard appeared to be telling her "Geneva? You can't get there from here".

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