Saturday, September 26, 2009
The Paris Chronicles, Part II
We're not even off the ground yet and I already hate everybody.
Well, not EVERYbody. Everybody's not here yet, but give me time.
We're at DFW airport, with "we" meaning yours truly, Tiffany, Terry and Nina. We've checked in, so that part's good. But we haven't yet approached the dreaded security complex. We SHOULD be doing that, but no, we're off to the side standing near one of those little huts where they will exchange your currency. For a fee, of course.
Now, we'd already had the "money discussion" several times in the preceding weeks. Mom works for a travel agency, she knows what's what, and has already told everyone that the best thing to do about money is use your ATM card once you're IN Paris. You'll most likely get a better exchange rate, and it's more convenient.
But no, the other three are convinced that they need some Euros in their little hands right now. They don't want to wait. I guess they're assuming that the second they step through customs, the French will turn their noses up at the dirty American money and they will instantly perish of starvation and neglect right there at the airport.
I sigh. Well, it's true that I do need SOME Euros, because I've got to pay for the van we've arranged to take us to the hotel. Might not be time to hit an ATM before that. Okay, let's do this.
They make me go first, of course, and this becomes the theme of the entire trip. I'm the one that's been to Paris twice before. This makes me some type of all-knowing god in their eyes. I will grow to despise them for their worship within a few days.
Besides, it's been 13 years since my last visit. They didn't even HAVE Euros back then. They had francs. Francs were easy. A franc was like a quarter, four of them was a dollar. This Euro thing? Who knows.
Anyway, I step up to the little hut. The snooty girl inside, on her little stool, just looks at me. Doesn't even greet me or give any indication that she can be of any service whatsoever.
I take a breath. "Um, I'll just be honest here, I really am not sure how to go about this, so could you help me out a little bit? What do we need to do?"
This causes her to shift uncomfortably on the stick up her butt, and she takes a deep breath of her own. Then she launches into 74 different options and ways of doing things. I start to glaze over until I manage to catch the snippet "if you exchange at least 500 dollars there's no service fee". I'm all about saving money, so I perk up and exclaim "I want that one."
She pauses, giving me a look that infers it was completely rude of me to interrupt her before she got to say everything she learned in training class. "The 500 dollar option?"
"Yes. No fee, right?"
Another look, this one saying I'm both deaf and cheap. "No fee. Will this be in currency or on a credit card?"
What the hell? I didn't realize this was an option. "How does the credit card work?"
"Like a credit card."
"Can you use it anywhere?"
Another look, this one scanning my hairline for signs of brain damage. "You can use it anywhere they take Visa."
Oh. Hmmm. That sounds kind of limiting. In the quaint little sidewalk bistros where I've been imagining that I will spend most of my time, they probably don't want plastic. Especially rude American plastic. Besides, I want bills I can hold in my hand.
"I'll take the currency."
I slap a wad of cash on the little counter, she snatches it up, keys in something or other into the DEFCON-4 computer thing, and then hands me a much smaller stack of money and a receipt. "If you have Euros left over when you return, you can use this receipt to exchange back and there will be no charge at that time, either."
Wow. That was pretty fast. And it was almost like getting a little present at the end with that fancy receipt. Perhaps I misjudged the nice little attendant. I try smiling warmly at her to convey gratitude and companionship. She just glares at me, we're done and it's time for me to walk away.
I turn to Terry, Tiffany and Nina, who are now a few paces back, huddled together and clutching hands like abandoned orphans left on a stoop somewhere. They look completely confused, afraid to even move. I've got a lot of work ahead of me.
"So did you get that?" I ask.
I brace myself for the onslaught of questions that they are going to have because they weren't paying attention when they should have been. (Another theme of the trip.)
"Okay, here's the deal. You just decide how much money you want to exchange, and whether or not you want the Euros in currency or on a credit card. I did currency, and I exchanged 500 dollars because there's no service charge when you exchange that much or more."
"500 dollars!" squeals one of the orphans, as if I just announced I was giving up a kidney.
"I know, I know. You can do whatever you want. I just did that to save the fee."
"Do we have to do that?"
"You can do whatever you want."
"How come you didn't do the credit card?"
"I like cash. And I don't know if I can use the card everywhere."
"Can you use the card anywhere?"
"Wherever they take Visa."
"Do they take Visa everywhere?"
"I don't know. Probably not. It's up to you."
"What if they don't take Visa everywhere?'
"Then don't get the card. You just have to make a decision about which way makes you more comfortable."
"Can we put all our money on one card?"
"I don't see why not. They just want the money."
"What if we can't put it all on one card?"
"Look. Why don't you just get in line and ask this nice young lady all of your questions? Please. I'm going to go stand over here where there aren't any other human beings."
So the three of them descend on stick-butt girl while I scurry out of earshot. I do NOT want to hear the conversation. We're still speaking English here. They can handle it.
So I lean against the wall. This SHOULDN'T take very long, but it does. I don't know what they're doing, but I don't see any money being exchanged. Ten minutes pass.
My phone rings. It's my sister, Dawn. She and Mom, Roni and Darrin are already inside the gates. (They had a connecting flight from Tulsa and didn't want to go through Security again.) Where the hell are we?
"We're right outside Security. Trying to exchange money. I've got mine. They're apparently trying to get theirs freshly printed or something."
"But I thought we weren't going to exchange money until-"
"I know. But they wanted it now. I'm sure they're paying more doing it in the airport, but anyway."
"Then we need to exchange our money, too."
"I don't think so. I've got more than enough for now, don't worry about it. We'll be there as soon as we can."
As we hang up, I can hear Dawn babbling to Darrin that they need to find an exchange thing NOW. Great. My family is in the process of overloading the international currency exchange network. I'm sure this will affect the stock market in some way.
I glance over at the orphans. Nina's just standing there, looking at Terry like he's a dumbass. Status quo there. Terry is actually texting on his phone. (What the hell?) Tiffany is applying a fresh coat of lip gloss and looking unconcerned about anything. (Yet another theme for the trip.) Stick-butt girl is clattering away on the keyboard like she's made contact with the mother ship after a meteor storm.
Then Stick-butt suddenly grabs her office phone and speaks directly to the mother ship. I still can't hear, but it seems by her animated lip movements that a large amount of vital information is being shared. I don't care. I'm not going over there.
More time passes. Tiffany whips out her own cell phone and starts texting. Stick-butt stops typing and squeals. They have the same exact cell phone! OMG! So now all financial activity ceases while the Cell Sisters completely bond over the joys of handheld devices.
Fifteen minutes later, Terry is released from the hut's orbit and walks up. And what exactly was the deal? Well, he and Nina decided to pool their money, get one 500-dollar credit card, and the rest in currency. What took so long? Stick-butt couldn't get the card to work. Had to call Lithuania or something.
45 seconds later, Tiffany walks up. She chose the cash option. All done.
Now that we have enough Euro-power to purchase a small country, we head to the Security lines. Luckily, there's not much of a wait, so that part is good, but there's never anything fun about going through Security. Nothing like stripping down to a thong and then having some bitter jail warden come at you with a cattle-prod.
Finally, we're on the other side, and there's the rest of our little entourage. Lots of hugs and kisses and general excitement about our adventure. We have a quick bite to eat (and a few beers, natch), and next thing you know, we're boarding.
I'm clueless when it comes to different plane types. All I know is that this one is the kind where there are 3 seats per row in the middle section. Mom has arranged for all of us to have aisle seats in this section, and last time she checked, no one was booked into the middle seats. Yay!
Now we just have to hope that no late-comers will rush in and snatch those middle seats. We make a quick, silent agreement that if ANYONE tries to claim those middle seats, we will kill them and stuff their bodies in the overhead bins. It's a ten-hour flight, people. This is war.
Little did we know, as we hunkered down with our barely-concealed weapons of choice, that we didn't have anything to worry about with the late-comers. Because the demons that would torture us on the flight were already ON BOARD. Our fates were sealed.
As the flight attendants "prepared for departure" (translation: make sure the alcohol is locked up and sit down), and we gleefully fastened our seat belts, the little seeds of evil had already been planted and were sprouting tiny leaves of horror in the darkened cabin. God help us all...
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