Tag Archives: SNCF

In which I realize once again the power of tears

The ominous “I’m afraid I can’t check you in” leaves you with a few options of how to react.

If you are a naturally charming, seductively beautiful or dashingly handsome individual with steel nerves and a smile that never leaves your face, you can try reasoning with the lovely check-in counter representative, because now really, you have to make that flight because your whole family is counting on you to be Santa Claus at Christmas dinner, and surely Miss X, such a charming person as yourself wouldn’t want to be responsible for crushing the dreams of such cute kids (show a flattering photo of your nephews/nieces).

Or you can, the eternal smile plastered to your face, explain that you missed the flight through her airline’s fault, and it really makes more sense for her to tell the plane to wait because otherwise you and she will have a little chat about the IATA convention and what passengers on connecting flights with the EU are entitled to as compensation… Her manager can be invited too.

If you’re a girl, matters are much simpler.

Just cry.

Tears are an amazingly effective method of softening your enemy, especially if he is a man. The latest scientific research has shown that women’s tears have been proven to significantly lower testosterone and aggressive feelings in men, but really, do we need scientific studies to prove something we’ve all known since infancy?

And lest I be accused of promoting emotional manipulation, let me just say I have, in the wake of a particularly dramatic and tear-filled relationship, made the resolution never to cry in front of a man, and have so far held fast to that (there are, after all, many more interesting things to do in the company of men…. I mean, of course, things like discussing literature and philosophy).

But this resolution is not applicable to men who are merely cogs in an evil machine that will do everything from allowing me to reach my destination in peace.

And anyway, that particular evening, no resolution whatsoever was capable of stopping the pent-up frustration from spilling out.

“You don’t understand, sir!” I wailed. “It’s not my fault that the SNCF is messed up and people are stupid! I’ve been trying to get here for the past 4.5 hours! I did everything I could to get here on time!” – as if that would have impressed him.

It is also possible that I mentioned my homesickness, my grandfather waiting for me with his nameday party, and the hole in the ozone layer, but I do not remember that for a fact.

The Cog in the Evil Machine looked at the sobbing mess me quite kindly (for a Cog, that is) and told me the flight was no longer in his computer system, but I could go see an airline ticket agent who might possibly be able to help me.

I tried to compose myself as I walked towards the agent’s desk, because it’s all very well to inspire pity, but a) I should be able to stop it, b) I didn’t have any damn tissues on me.

The agent was helping a very lost-looking Korean traveler before me, so I practiced deep yoga breaths and when I reached the desk, I was fairly normal-looking.

The nice middle-aged Indian man looked up with compassion, compassion in those dark eyes, so much compassion, he reminded me of my grandfather, who…

That set it off again.

“Ma’am, please, how can I help you?” he quietly asked.

“Varsovie! Varsovie!” was the only word I was capable of formulating, never mind having an actual sentence with subject and predicate.

“Ah, so you have missed your flight to Warsaw!” he very brightly deduced.

And then he took my ID, and set about his magic, and he really did try to figure something out for at least half an hour. I can imagine my sobs in the background were perhaps not the nicest soundtrack to his evening work, but he never let on that I was the slightest disturbance or hinted I should not get so worked up about it all.

Still, I had missed the flight ‘of my own fault’, and although I didn’t think the broken train, icy roads, and obnoxious BB in the shuttle could be directly imputed to me, even in my high-strung state I had to admit it was hardly the airline’s responsibility.

The Airline Agent did what he could for me – rebooked me for the next day’s flight (a full 24 hours later), telling me it was a tentative booking and if I decided I wanted to take the flight and pay the 200 euro fee, I would need to call in the next day with my credit card number and confirm.

So there I was in Geneva, with my small carry-on, my stock of tissues depleted, no Swiss francs and no credit left on my French phone. Once I was able to think clearly, I bought tissues, food and an international calling card, and exchanged my euros for francs. My last valiant attempt was to try to take a train back to Lyon to at least spend the night at home, but no, the last train to cross the border had just left…

Geneva, in case you were wondering, is not particularly well-known for its cheap and plentiful accommodation. Thankfully, I remembered exactly where to find the hostel I had stayed once at when on an early transatlantic flight out of Geneva, and once I had taken the train back to the city center, I trudged there, in the cold rain, dragging my suitcase.

Only to be greeted with a “We’re full, sorry” sign and a front-desk clerk who looked at me with mild surprise, “Well, young lady, we do suggest that you make a reservation beforehand, especially during a long weekend.”

He did not look like tears would impress him in the slightest.

On a chance, I walked down a few dark side streets, turned a few corners according to the Geneva map he had given me, and found the other youth hostel of Geneva. The receptionist not only told me I could have the last available bed in a 6-person dorm, but, when he heard my tale of woes, told me he would even waive the fee for renting a towel.

And so it was that I settled down to a night in a Geneva hostel, crept downstairs to email my family and friends to tell them I’d be slightly late in getting to Warsaw (or not get there at all), and fought with a keyboard whose letters were all in the wrong places, only to reach the depressing conclusion that “even the stupid Swiss kezboard¬† with its stupid kezs hates me.”