Excess Baggage

A Short Story
he French detest two things. One: to converse in English and the other calling one food item as French Fries. Well I did not know that for sure until I landed in the French Capital for the first time in my life on a fateful Sunday in December, just a few days ahead of Christmas. The now famous Charles de Gaulle airport was still in the making at that time and my flight landed at Orly International as dawn broke over the city with skies looking a bit dull. But the weather had done nothing to dampen the yuletide spirit that was evidently visible in anticipation of X-MAS. The drive into the city of Paris was just a few miles away and my cab deposited me at the hotel where I had my bookings already made through my travel agent at New Delhi. I had to declare at the facilitation counter of the hotel that I would speak only in English as I was not familiar with the French language and a smiling face ensured me that there would be no problem with that. They were perhaps trained to accept that fact from the international travelers to the city.

My work required me to travel extensively within the city limits and I was advised by friends at the office to take the tube for a faster and smooth ride. There was luckily access to one such station right near my hotel and I intended to use it for a start. I had no experience travelling by an underground network of transportation and I solemnly thought about how I could locate my bearings once inside the tunnel. I took a city map guide from the hotel that contained information on the tube. What I did not realize was that all information regarding the tube was available in French and I could not get the head and tail of it. So when I entered the station I found all directions displayed in the French language. I had difficulty asking for directions from the fellow tube users who simply refused to accept that they could understand what I was talking about. That was the time when I sadly thought I should have taken a crash course for learning the language from Alliance Françoise at New Delhi before embarking for my French adventure. Well I was happy when I located a face in the crowd that very much looked like an Indian and with a smiling face I put my request to him. What I got in return was an astonished look that made me feel uncomfortable. He soon made it clear to me, in broken English, that he was a Sri Lankan and only understood French and Sinhalese. I wished I had seen a Sardar Ji instead.

I exited the tube station and looked out for a bus that could take me to my destination and found that my problem still stayed. All busses had route information displayed in French, just like what we have in Chennai where bus routes are displayed in Tamil. I was getting late, so boldly, I hailed a cab and asked the driver to take me to the place where I had my first call of the day. The guy simply refused to accept that he followed what I was saying and so I put the map before his eyes and asked him to take me there. He smiled and I thought my problem was over before I realized he drove away without taking me on. I stayed stunned for a while thinking my next course of action and what I would do for the entire week of my stay in the city and how I could work at all. Getting no response from my mind I retraced my steps and got back into the hotel.

The guy at the facilitation counter understood my dilemma and offered to help me with a cab that he called for and instructed the driver to take me to my place of appointment. I finally arrived there with just a few minutes to spare. The next few days I spent so much money on taxi cabs that my office would be overburdened to reimburse all my expenses for local travel. And as far as my own sight-seeing of the city was concerned I foot the distance everywhere I wanted to go rather than try my luck with either the subway or the taxi. The only care I took was to have the river Seine all along in my line of sight and the city map ready in my hand. Most of the places of tourist interest are located along the banks of the river, not counting the numerous cathedrals for which the city is famed to be the one with most in the whole of Europe. Sadly I missed seeing places that were far off like Montmartre that sits atop a hill. It is a monument to St. Denis, patron saint of France, who was beheaded at the spot. He picked up his head and his torso walked six miles reciting the sermon all along when he ultimately fell. I made up the lost moments years later when I returned to Paris with my wife. Luckily by then many more people spoke English though I was ready with a spattering of French that I have picked up over the years.

I must say I had difficulty eating out most of the time as I could not correctly pronounce the title of dishes that had French names. Not that I kept myself hungry but it generally took me to outlets that had easy ways of ordering dishes with no need for the elaborate table settings that I found terrifying. And I distinctly remember the first time I entered a Mac Donald’s for a quick bite I asked for French Fries and the sales guy at the counter refused ever hearing of such a dish until I read out from the menu and it said it is called Fritz in France, who hate calling it French fries. I would read it the other way round and say that the French should be proud of some dish that connects to them directly. Just like Mysore Dosa, Punjabi Lassi, Hyderabadi Biryani, Bengali Rassagula, Kashmiri Wazwaan, Gujrati Bhajjia, and the like.

And when it was time to leave the city after a week’s stay I arrived at Orly International well in time for my flight back to Delhi. I checked in my baggage and was issued a boarding card for my Air France flight. I was still waiting for my Immigration and Customs when an announcement was made for me to report at the desk for a message. I hurried along wondering what it could be all about and what I gathered was that I had excess baggage. Now that is ridiculous. I had no extra weight added to my meager luggage allowance of 20 kgs and I did no shopping that would have added weight to it. The only purchase I made was at the Duty Free for some French wine and Swiss chocolates that was still in my hand in the duty free bag. Where did the excess weight come from? With a lot of debate going on with the man over the counter and finally sorted out by a gentleman close by I learnt that my bag had lost its tag and I was called in to have access to my baggage to identify it rather than I having excess baggage. So much for the English Language, I could not blame the French for their misgivings about speaking English.
Shri B.L. Dhar was born and brought up at Srinagar. After completing his Master’s Degree in Mathematics he ventured out of the state and found a job in the Civil Aviation Department joining as a Gazetted Officer. His area of activity was at Delhi and Mumbai International airports. He was selected to undergo training at the school of aviation; Luxembourg under the UNDP program and later posted at the Corporate Headquarters in New Delhi. He had in the meantime joined the newly formed PSU, Airports Authority of India, from where he retired as a General Manager in 2000. He has written innumerable articles about aviation that was published in the house magazine. He is now settled in Delhi and keeps his interest alive in writing..
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very nice short story.
Added By Anil Kaul
Short & sweet. As good as it always is.
Added By PN Raina
COOL. Keep it going Uncle. Regards. Gaurav
Added By Gaurav Gaurav