Everyone has a travel horror story. A missed connection here, a stolen passport there; things that can derail an otherwise perfectly well-organized itinerary are lurking around every corner. And because travel hiccups are bound to happen to the best of us sooner or later, the true test of a traveler is not how he or she avoids such mishaps, but how he or she reacts to them. One of the easiest ways to react to a bad travel situation is to blame the entire city, state, or country for the problem. It's the, "I got pickpocketed in Rome, therefore Italy is a terrible place to visit," rationalization. It might not be the best way to deal with a crisis, but as an incident today with Air France showed me, it's certainly one of the easiest.
Boarding the plane from Toulon back to Paris should have been a simple proposition. On the way down to Toulon, the gate agent didn't so much as look at our identification before giving a "bon voyage!" and sending us on our way. But the woman who greeted (and I use that term lightly) us this morning must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed. I won't get into all the gritty details, but suffice it to say, we were not allowed to board the plane, we were forced to pay an additional fare, and despite the fact that they could have held the aircraft until the five minute it took to exit security, pay the fare, and return to the gate had passed, the plane was sent on without us. Now, if you've spent any time in France, you can easily picture the woman we were dealing with here: physically unable to smile, gives the infamous Gallic shrug, makes a "Pffft" sound with her mouth, and haughtily declares any solution other than the ridiculous one she is hell-bent on make as "impossible." How do you say "customer service" in French?
So, here's where it gets tricky. My reaction to this undeniably frustrating travel experience amounted to a condemnation of the entire country of France. It was the "I got screwed over by Air France, France is a terrible place to visit," rationalization. In fact, when the gate agent's colleague who witnessed the entire scene asked me, "Other than this incident, do you like being in France?" I curtly replied, "Today is not the day to ask me that, Monsieur. I'm afraid you won't like the answer." And it's true, he wouldn't have. I couldn't stop going on about how this incident demonstrated how everything here is a disaster. I even condemned Air France in its entirety ("Worst airline ever!"), all because of the actions of one lousy person. After arriving in Paris and calming myself down, I realized how amazing it is that one bad experience can seemingly taint a day, week or even years of good ones. As travelers, we should fight this urge to base our opinions so rashly on a single bit of information. Yes, bumps along the travel road will happen, and yes, they can leave you with a very bad taste in your mouth, but you will (hopefully) find better times ahead. And surely your bad experience cannot necessarily be indicative of the experience you and everyone else will always have in any given city, state or country, can it? No, it cannot. The man in the airport bar who so kindly served me a delectable, buttery croissant and a rich chocolat chaud in my hour of need helped prove this point.