petite anglaise

June 3, 2005


Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:25 am

I arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport feeling washed out, as though, unbeknown to me, a vampire has been feasting on my blood for the duration of our flight.

The usual, interminable queue greets us at passport control. I fail to see the point of designing a doughnut-shaped terminal building, with several passport control points, if at any given time there is only one member of staff on duty, creating a huge bottleneck. Thankfully Tadpole is unusually calm and is not yet begging to be released from the pushchair and its restraining ‘strapons’.

Our British passports are handed back once the officer has given the pushchair a brief, cursory glance, and I heave a sigh of relief, as I have forgotten to bring a copy of her birth certificate. Again. As Tadpole and I don’t share the same surname, and her passport photo dates back to when she was three weeks old (propped up against my white T-shirt because she was unable to support her own head at that point), the officers could be forgiven for wondering if I am trying to smuggle a random infant into the country. They don’t seem to mind though, as she’s a British citizen today. I suspect the situation would be somewhat different if she was travelling as tétard and not Tadpole. I’ve heard ominous mutterings about the need for an official document signed by Tadpole’s father authorising us to leave le territoire français.

Next ordeal: baggage reclaim. We wait. And wait. And wait some more. I get fidgety and text a friend, then lock the keypad so Tadpole can pretend to make some important business calls:

“Allô? Allô, ca va? Grandad? Postman Pat, black cat, early in the morning, when the day ee dawning, Pat feels he’s a really happy man. Bye!”

I find it impossible to remain calm at baggage reclaim. After only five minutes have elapsed, I am already shaking and having flashbacks to that time when the 60 litre backpack containing all my Christmas presents (plus every pair of shoes I owned) got lost at Amsterdam airport, only to turn up, looking suitably battered and sheepish, approximately one week later. I have not so fond memories of spending several hours painstakingly picking tiny shards of a broken vase out of all my clothing. The last couple of mishaps were far less serious, but sent stress levels soaring all the same. My bag arrived several hours later than I in Madrid, on our recent long weekend away, and Tadpole’s pushchair arrived two whole days late when we went ‘home’ to York for Easter.

Clearly airports and I do not get along.

The little green light starts flashing to signal the imminent arrival of baggage, and I helpfully drag a fat-little-English-Disneyland-Paris-bound-chav* off the conveyor belt, just in the nick of time.

Bags file past. Large ones, small ones, pink Disney ones, suitcases on wheels, holdalls, pushchairs and car seats. No sign of my enormous bag on wheels (which weighed in at an expensive 23 kilos as we are repatriating Tadpole’s early birthday presents). Paranoia sets in. I chew on my lip manically as I scour the crowds for signs of someone wheeling away my suitcase (it happened to a friend recently), and wishing that it had some more distinctive markings on it so that I could identify it reliably from a distance.

“Come on, ” I mutter under my breath, impatiently.

“Come on mummy’s bag, where it is mummy’s bag?” chants Tadpole, gleefully.

And then I spot it, slowly juddering around the conveyor belt in the distance. We are standing well back because I am always worried someone will swing round with an unwieldy suitcase and send Tadpole flying.

“There it is! Look!” I say to Tadpole a little too loudly, overcome as I am with relief. A few heads turn in our direction, but I think nothing of it, at first.

But as the bag approaches, every single person looks my way, one by one, some smirking knowingly, others stifling a giggle. Or laughing out loud. Pointing at my bag.

I am confused. I know it’s a big bag, but that fact alone can’t possibly be the cause of so much amusement. Can it?

The bag is rounding the last curve of the conveyor belt when I suddenly realise what all the fuss is about and start blushing furiously.

There is a cylindrical bulge in the front pocket of my bag. It is vibrating, rather violently, thanks to a set of fresh batteries, purchased only yesterday.

I rue the day my dentist recommended using an electric toothbrush.

[*that phrase was especially for you, Parkin Pig]


  1. Laughing Out Loudly !

    Comment by nathan — June 3, 2005 @ 11:40 am

  2. an electric toothbrush

    Ah, so that’s what you call them on the other side of the Pennines… ;-)

    Comment by Iain — June 3, 2005 @ 11:41 am

  3. My bags rarely arrive either with me or intact. I must have offended a “chucker” in a previous life. The last thing I ‘lost’ was a polystyrene kid’s booster seat. It was so light, it couldn’t get through the plastic strips at the entrance to the conveyor. I pointed this out at the lost baggage desk, and half an hour later it was returned with the revelation that I was right. But there’s a time and a place for smug. On a similar note, what do you call a rucksack that Air France’s finest have ripped the straps off?

    A sack. Much harder to carry in combination with 2 suitcases. Merci, les gars.

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — June 3, 2005 @ 11:49 am

  4. The first part sounds all too familiar – waiting for luggage and passport control. Of course the end doesn’t :P

    Also, yes it is true you need an official paper signed by Mr Frog for Tadpole to leave the country if she is travelling under her French citizenship. The French authorities have an unhealthy fear of one member of a divorced couple kidnapping the child.

    Comment by Daniel — June 3, 2005 @ 1:01 pm

  5. Daniel – That fear is unfortunately quite justified. There have been quite a number of high profile cases of international child custody fights over the past few years. A very ugly side effect of globalization…

    Comment by ontario frog — June 3, 2005 @ 1:47 pm

  6. I just looked utterly ridiculous laughing like a 6 year old in front of a bunch of VP’s just coming in my office while I was reading your piece…

    Comment by stephan — June 3, 2005 @ 2:00 pm

  7. me too!
    out loud!
    what joy on this horrible day!!
    thanks petite

    Comment by mary — June 3, 2005 @ 2:09 pm

  8. Ha ha! Classic. As a student I was once wedged into an overstuffed coach for a several-hour journey, with no way of actually reaching my bag which was totally jammed onto the overhead rack. As my alarm clock went off. Repeatedly. Fellow pax NOT amused.

    Comment by claypot — June 3, 2005 @ 2:33 pm

  9. Thanks for the special mention, says a don’t-get-me-telling-my-traveller’s-tales-about-losing-bags-all-over-the-place-and-the-time-I-had-to-explain-there-wasn’t-a-dead-body-in-my-suitcase-and-the-red-stuff-dripping-from-it-when-heaved-off-the-carrousel-at-Orly-wasn’t-blood-but-Italian-red-wine-from-an-imprudently-stashed-and-now-smashed-bottle-and-how-I-could-go-on-and-on-highly-pleased-pig.

    You sure it was a Toothbrush?

    Comment by Parkin Pig — June 3, 2005 @ 3:03 pm

  10. I would have thought getting a child back from a mother/father who has fled to somewhere else in France would be just as hard as getting them back from England, given the slowness of French courts :P

    Obviously I understand the need for such laws when a parent is travelling outside the EU, but inside…

    (By the way, what other countries have the same laws? Britain doesn’t, so either it’s slow on the uptake or it thinks it’s not worth the effort)

    Comment by Daniel — June 3, 2005 @ 3:23 pm

  11. I had the pleasure of passport control in CDG last week. The rest of my time in France was highlighted by very efficient people in many different cases, so why my the airport insist upon giving a first impression of complete ineptitude? The long line in an unairconditioned glass hallway with the sun blazing in after a transatlantic flight made me want to turn around and head back stateside. I’m not a French-hater, like many of my compatriots, but I do think the US has one up on the French when it comes to customs.

    Comment by Leslie — June 3, 2005 @ 4:13 pm

  12. Oh Leslie my heart bleeds. So you had to wait in a queue? Why gee wizz better head back “stateside” as fast as your little legs will carry you (btw stateside?? which state? which side?)

    Comment by Mavis — June 3, 2005 @ 5:14 pm

  13. Leslie, come on. It is the same in the US if you’re not an US citizen. Last time in Miami (in Feb.) 2 hours in a very big line…

    So please, give the french a break :-)

    Comment by nathan — June 3, 2005 @ 5:22 pm

  14. Leslie, I have to agree with Nathan, If your a non-US person going to the US, you have to get your photo + finger prints taken on arrival. Not very welcomming I have to add.

    Comment by Andy — June 3, 2005 @ 5:31 pm

  15. Another Yorkie? Did you grow up there? I’m from Fulford, me.

    And why repatriating birthday pressies?

    Comment by Clare — June 3, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  16. The secret of going to the US is to have – or if time is limited, borrow – a young child. Having been almost reduced to tears by the length of the queue at Miami airport, I was delighted to find myself whisked efficiently through to a desk immediately on the grounds that my 13-month old might be about to explode. Or something. Could have made a fortune renting her out.

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — June 3, 2005 @ 5:46 pm

  17. Leslie,
    Arriving in the US can be horrible even if you are a citizen. I have visited 40+ countries so far, but my current home airport in NYC, JFK Terminal 8, is sheer horror every time I cross the Atlantic. I always feel I am landing in some third world country. Actually, many 3rd world countries have more luxurious and better organized airports…

    Comment by Anna — June 3, 2005 @ 6:09 pm

  18. Daniel, Ontario Frog- sometimes fleeing is justified.
    If a very kindly police superindendant (quite a rarity among French Policemen!) had not stamped M-i-L’s papers for her 2 children when she fled France without her quite frankly crazy husband’s permission, I dread to think what would have happened to her, let alone them. The children were French Nationals, though neither parents were (she is British) and were subject to this law. Father was deported from France soon after….

    Comment by Joy — June 3, 2005 @ 6:29 pm

  19. Joy is right,

    I am an Ontario dweller as well, and it took me 1 1/2 years of legal efforts and several court orders (and unbelievable legal costs) to get the passports for my two children and I to be able to go on holiday. This, even though I have sole custody and their father has been convicted of felony assault for trying to strangle me. I still cannot travel to the US or French countries (i.e. French Caribbean) without a letter from him providing permission. And my children are 10 and 11 years old now and would presumably protest if I was kidnapping them against their will.

    Petite – I haven’t commented on what you’re going through, but you have been in my thoughts. My youngest was 19 months, my oldest 3 yrs when I became a single Mom, and both kids have grown up to be outgoing, active, terrific kids who know they have a Mom and extended family that loves them, even if they don’t have a Dad they can depend on. Tadpole has the advantage of having two parents, who even if they aren’t together, want the best for her. Kids are happier when their parents take care of themselves, and sometimes that means ending a relationship.

    If you ever want to email, please do.

    Comment by Sonya — June 3, 2005 @ 7:17 pm

  20. Clare – Nether Poppleton. Very classy, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

    Tadpole had the first of several birthday celebrations last weekend, hence the bag full of presents (and a change of pants for me)

    Comment by petite — June 3, 2005 @ 7:41 pm

  21. Nether Poppleton

    That’s one of those fantastic English place names that sounds so made up that you know it has to be real ;-)

    Comment by Iain — June 3, 2005 @ 9:11 pm

  22. All right, I know the the Shrub has made it very difficult for non-Americans to get in. My best friend and my boyfriend are both resident aliens (which is a horrible term btw) and I shudder to think of the treatment they recieve when they come back to the place they call home. He’s not what the Founding Fathers had in mind at all. And the only problem I had in France was my wait. I had a very wonderful time otherwise. I was merely trying to commiserate with Petite who said ‘The usual, interminable queue greets us at passport control.’ Mavis, stateside is a generic term for our side of the Atlantic. I happen to live on the Eastern seaboard, if you want something more specific. We’re the only country I know of made up specifically of geographic units called states, although if there is another one out there, than I will happily turn the phrase into United Stateside.

    Comment by Leslie — June 3, 2005 @ 9:49 pm

  23. how about everyone calms down and gets back to the real point which was supposed to be speculating about whether or not I own a vibrator?

    On second thoughts, carry on.

    Comment by petite — June 3, 2005 @ 10:13 pm

  24. try going anywhere in the west with a passport full of Arabic stamps – i guarantee you will fall victim to many many “random” checks…

    Comment by Ellie — June 3, 2005 @ 10:49 pm

  25. I have to say that having a British passport in Europe is like heaven after having been held in the Department of Justice section of Newark (aka seventh circle) airport for not having had a bit of paper signed. I get a big kick out of seeing Americans in really long queues in Europe.

    However, I’m quite particular about fairness and queueing (oh how British!) and find the French method of queueing (get to the front with no regard for health and safety) very difficult (although, from the individual’s point of view – it’s worth trying your luck) to come to terms with, even though I’ve encountered it since I was a kid. I imagine that first time it is a bit of a shock to a jet-lagged system.

    Comment by EasyJetsetter — June 3, 2005 @ 11:20 pm

  26. Petite, nobody can imagine you with a dildo…

    Did you took off the toothbrush of your bag and turn it off in front of the assembly ? Or did you turn it off secretly, red as peony, letting the people think it was a vibrator ?

    Comment by nathan — June 3, 2005 @ 11:25 pm

  27. A vibrator? Or a *device* as I believe they are known in some circles…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — June 3, 2005 @ 11:26 pm

  28. I left the *device* in the bag and scarpered. As fast as one can dragging a heavy suitcase with one hand, and pushing a buggy with the other.

    Comment by petite — June 4, 2005 @ 12:02 am

  29. LOL. Gosh, I hope you grabbed the bag and ran out of there as fast as you could. And that is why suitcases are sometimes preferred.

    Comment by Harrods Girl — June 4, 2005 @ 3:11 am

  30. Ooh – Nether Poppleton – we’re going to be visiting my godmother in Upper Poppleton in December. I bet you probably focus on spending time with family when in York, but would you have any suggestions for fun activities for the kids (aged 2 and 5) while we’re there? We’re thinking railway museum for starters. (Living in the US, trains are a definite novelty and they both love watching the Thomas videos!)

    I’m betting electric toothbrush. First time we traveled internationally with the Divine Miss M. we had a toy bar for the buggy that we put in the overhead compartment in the plane. We knew every time the air pressure changed because the (electronic) toys on it started making beeping noises. WE knew what it was but it made some of the other passengers nervous.

    Comment by Susan — June 4, 2005 @ 3:57 am

  31. Change over day today for the Gite, lots of laundry! so thanks for the vibratory chuckle.

    Worst airport I have ever been to outside of Africa was Dulles (is that how you spell it?) and the worst plane was Eastern Airlines taking me on to Virginia.

    Loved the people tho.


    Comment by Keith — June 4, 2005 @ 9:50 am

  32. Go to the cathedral and the Jorvik centre when in York

    Comment by Satsuma — June 4, 2005 @ 12:22 pm

  33. Nether Poppleton, ’tis a great place name innit? I’m so used to it, I didn’t notice until it was pointed out just now – but it is indeed great.

    Funny thing is, although the name itself seems so familiar, I can’t actually remember where it is. One of those satellite villages, I know – but north? South? East? West? Not that it really matters.

    Which school did you go to (if you don’t mind me asking)?

    Comment by Clare — June 4, 2005 @ 3:19 pm

  34. Clare – Millmount Grammar, Millthorpe (when they went comprehensive), York Sixth Form College…

    Comment by petite — June 4, 2005 @ 7:52 pm

  35. Bahahahaaaa! Pure comedy!

    Comment by Flare — June 4, 2005 @ 10:43 pm

  36. Oooh, Mill Mount (funny, I always thought it was two words, and even though you’re obviously in a better position to know than me, I still can’t bring myself to type it otherwise).

    My mate Sally Miner went there…

    Comment by Clare — June 5, 2005 @ 11:01 am

  37. ewwww, do i hate CDG …. every time i flew to senegal my bag got left behind there.

    to reply to daniel, i need a letter from my kid’s dad authorizing them to leave the country – and my daughters are almost 16 and my son is almost 12, so it looks pretty stupid. but each time they leave the country they leave as UMs as i don’t join them when they visit their grandparents in devon.

    Comment by zed — June 5, 2005 @ 1:51 pm

  38. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! too funny! Can’t wait to get into those long queues … ’cause that means I’ll be in France!!!! Hooray!

    PS Leslie … Australia has states and territories: New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria (can you tell we were colonised by the English?), Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory. Pretty sure some of the bigger Asian countries have states too … though they may identify them as territories or by some other word … back to the geography books I guess!

    Comment by Miss Lisa — June 6, 2005 @ 1:13 am

  39. Thanks Miss Lisa,

    I was about to point out the states & territories in Oz. I guess we could be Down-under-state-side?

    Thansk petite for another dose of giggles.

    Comment by nise74 — June 6, 2005 @ 3:09 am

  40. New to “petite anglais” and have overdosed “catching up”. “Baggage” made me cry. I wish I had been there waiting for my baggage, to see your face as your Rabbit danced the night away. Very amusing.

    Comment by Andrew at St Germain en Laye — June 6, 2005 @ 12:47 pm

  41. I would hate people to think me a pedant but I just have to mention to dear Leslie that the United States of America isn’t even the only United States IN America – don’t ever forget the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (Mexico for short…!)

    Comment by Mavis — June 6, 2005 @ 1:16 pm

  42. Come on people. Give Leslie a *break*! She just meant she felt like going back where she came from, and I know how she feels, having spent time at one or two airports. And I’d heard the phrase “stateside” before, finding it curiously unshocking on each occasion. It’s no more offensive than using “Blighty” for Britain or “God’s own County” to describe Yorkshire…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — June 6, 2005 @ 2:27 pm

  43. Yeah, but we still don’t know if it was REALLY a toothbrush :)
    Out of curiosity, there were many testimonies of mothers needing a signature from the father when they want to leave the country with the kids but does it also work the other way round?

    Comment by Zebulette — June 6, 2005 @ 2:40 pm

  44. ….sorry…sorry didn’t mean to single Leslie out for attack (I’ll happily attack anyone!) it was only a misguided attempt at humour. Oh and as an aside surely no-one other than retired colonels and the odd yank still speak of Blighty….??

    Comment by Mavis — June 6, 2005 @ 3:20 pm

  45. Hey, Jim in Rennes!
    Lucy-Jane in Rennes…
    Are you the Jim who knows Susan in Rennes?

    Comment by Lucy-Jane — June 6, 2005 @ 3:26 pm

  46. Just to join in the local Northerner thing – I’m a Lancashire lass, so there! (But very fond of York – beautiful city). Jeez I miss English placenames…


    Comment by Lucy-Jane — June 6, 2005 @ 3:32 pm

  47. Oh and Leslie let me say sorry to you directly and extend the cyber-hand of friendship out to you!

    ps why do all northerners wear flat caps??

    Comment by Mavis — June 6, 2005 @ 3:40 pm

  48. lucy jane – oi! hands off! He’s all mine and I *don’t* do sharing.

    ahem, sorry, got a bit carried away there.

    Comment by petite — June 6, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

  49. Erm…

    Comment by Jim in Rennes — June 6, 2005 @ 5:08 pm

  50. ‘ecky thump, what’s that Mavis goin on abaht – us wearing flat caps?
    Any road up, aren’t you going to tell us about the school reunion?

    Comment by Parkin Pig — June 6, 2005 @ 5:17 pm

  51. Parkin pig, you have not being paying attention. The *university* reunion is in JULY.

    Comment by petite — June 6, 2005 @ 5:35 pm

  52. Mavis, I appreciate it. I’m half Yankee (US northerner)myself, but I don’t really count myself as Northern because I was raised in the South, so I’m not sure about their dress habits. I’m happy to answer any other questions about Americans to the best of my ability. I was an American Studies major in college and am enamored of my own country, so I feel like I’m a pretty good rep. It might actually be interesting to see what my answers would be compared to all the other American Petite readers.

    Comment by Leslie — June 6, 2005 @ 9:16 pm

  53. Roissy – Charles de Gaulle

    A post on a blog which I have just discovered – la petit anglaise – discusses the writer’s fun and games at Roissy- Charles de Gaulle Airport recently. This reminded me of a post I made at the Motley Fool when some unfortunate complained about that a…

    Trackback by L'Ombre de l'Olivier — June 6, 2005 @ 10:59 pm

  54. Oops, my parvaanglaology is not as good as I thought.

    Comment by Parkin Pig — June 7, 2005 @ 1:49 pm

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