Sunday, 19 April 2009

Bateman Blog 001: American Sky Sharks Vs French Sky Sharks

Ferris - As a pre-cursor to the landing of their second album 'Back To The Future' we've invited one of STA's finest wordsmiths Bateman of The Young Playthings to contribute some of his life episodes to the blog. The brief is open-ended and editorial control out the window, - we hope you find his insights contentious, illuminating, scintillating and titillating!

I got a cheap deal to New York over the long Easter weekend, which involved flying the American carrier Northwest Airlines to NYC via Detroit and Air France back to London, via Paris. Northwest and Air France are part of the same air alliance which is why I could get a return trip on two different airlines; however, one is distinctly American and the other the French airline and, unlike global capitalism, which, in theory, knows no prejudices because profit is the global language of love, I wear mine noticeably on my sleeves – and they read thus: I’m a self-confessed English Yankophile and this means I doubly hate the French. I love super-sized junk food meals and, to paraphrase Henry Ford, tend to think modern philosophy is bunk. That said, I’m educated and open-minded enough to give respect where respect is due and, likewise, to criticise those that I love. These are my notes.

My outbound flight is very early morning. The plane’s a piece of shit and we’re delayed two hours on the runway by a faulty computer. Finally – shakily – in the air I’m served orange juice and a tiny bag of mini pretzels which I eat because on a plane you eat whatever you’re given (no one likes pretzels – the only people that eat pretzels are tourists in Central Park and those travelling peasant class on American air carriers). This is followed by a vile, processed breakfast and watery coffee. Americans drink tons of coffee and work very long, hard hours – coffee is not to be enjoyed; rather, it’s fuel for the day. An ex-(American) girlfriend of mine’s father once complained that, on domestic American flights, all the stewardesses were old and useless. I’ve noticed in recent years that this trend has been extended to include all stewardesses on all American air carriers. All of this barely edible shit is served by ancient crones who could never have been apple pie American girls with perfect white teeth – I’m thinking, are they fucking French birds who’ve improbably mastered the American accent?! As is the case on most aeroplanes with personal TVs in the back of the seat in front of you, the safety demonstration has been outsourced to an onscreen jingle. I’m treated to an incredible piece of politically-correct barf, where a black stewardess with a demented grin woodenly tells a white male passenger and his south-east Asian wife, both with equally demented grins, that in the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure they will need to pull the airmasks tight over their own faces before applying it to the face of their Indian child.

Intentionally, I’m flying with a decent hangover so that I won’t be tempted to drink on the flight and, as such, won’t spend a small fortune before I even get to the Big Apple. A few years ago, practically every American air carrier went practically bankrupt and each one had to seriously cut back on the ‘luxuries’ they provide to passengers ‘free of charge’. And so the irony is that flying American these days is like flying communist in the 80s before the Wall came down – an utterly miserable experience. I’m therefore shocked to discover that Northwest, unlike all the other American carriers, don’t charge for alcohol onboard; but I’m tired and hungover so I stick with the made-from-pure-concentrate orange juice. I’d also intended to get some shuteye on the flight but then I discover the movie channel and decide to stay awake the entire flight watching Yes Man, Frost/Nixon and Rock n Rolla. Ah, Hollywood – the differentiating factor between ruthless corporate efficiencies and communist asceticism.

Everyone onboard the flight is connecting to another flight in Detroit – to Florida, California, New York – anywhere but Detroit. No one goes to Detroit, except of course the blue-collar dude sitting next to me, who blue-eyes my blackberry suspiciously and tells me to turn it off as we’re taxiing out to the runway and who then decides to engage me in a little elbow-room war over the shared armrest between our cramped seats. I refuse to give in and he finally relents, leaning into me and murmuring, ‘hey bud, can you keep yr elbow on yr side of the fence – it was in my ribs a moment ago’. Which was absolute bullshit and so I turn to him and tell him it was never in his ribs as I’d have felt it in my elbow if it was digging into his ribs. I’m not sure if I’ve won the battle for armrest supremacy but thankfully for the rest of the flight we avoid each other, as far as two people who are confined to practically sitting on top of each other can.

Because of the delay in taking-off I’ve missed my connecting flight to NYC. Luckily, Americans are sensitive to inconveniencing people and, thankfully, they’re not afraid to massively pollute their skies in order to avoid doing so. Flights between major American cities are a constant throughout the day and, in Detroit, I’m whisked straight through to another flight where I’m delighted to find I’ve been upgraded to first class. This is also where I make two discoveries: the pretty American stewardesses work in domestic first class now! And free alcohol on international Northwest flights (a serious coup over their fellow American competitors) is now brought to you, in part, by a merger between Northwest and Delta which makes them the largest American air operator and for whom, the pilot announces, he is proudly flying. 15 minutes after this announcement I’m in the back of a taxi on the Triboro Bridge, still struck by the beauty of Manhattan from a distance after all these years, eating a slice of Sbarro pizza, which is the worst slice of pizza I’ll eat during my stay in NYC but still a fuckload better than any pizza I’ve ever eaten in the UK.

Pat once told me that on Air France they refuse to speak English to you which Damien, my French-speaking Swiss-Fijian-Irish-Jewish New Zealander friend subsequently told me was nonsense. As is usually the case, the truth lies somewhere between the two. Let me tell you, they speak English begrudgingly. However, compared to the threadbare sardine can I flew on to the US the Air France 747 is pure opulence. Even the peasants enjoyed the rich euphoria of the bountiful grape harvest in medieval France (or something) and, accordingly, I’m served champagne in my cramped quarters at the back of the vessel with the other European animals. It accompanies a decent meal of cherry tomatoes, spinach and a Portobello mushroom cooked in a light balsamic sauce, fruit and as many mini baguettes as I please.

The French stewardesses are serious Monets. From a distance they’re young and stunning, running the gamut from white Roman Catholic to cafĂ©-au-lait-skinned Algerians. Unlike the wizened Americans they’re not mean and foul-tempered, just haughty and ever-so-slightly glamorous. That is, until they get up close and, well, actually, they’re pretty normal looking and don’t take too kindly to you calling ‘sham-pan-yeh’ ‘the bubbly stuff’. The film selection is nowhere near as good as on the Northwest flight and, though the majority of films are American films, all the titles are in French. I can see that the guy in front of me is watching Role Models, the hilarious-looking Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd recently released frat pack comedy and I’m excited to watch it myself. However, it takes me ten minutes of hunting through all the available films in all the different genres that are listed to find it, because it’s billed as ‘Les Grand Freres’. WTF?! The Big Brothers?!

After the film, everyone’s sleeping and it would seem the smart thing to do, to try and get a couple of hours sleep myself before my four hour wait in Paris before my connecting flight to London. Before I do though I want a drink of water to keep me hydrated so I ask the passing stewardess for a glass, who replies ‘there’s a free bar at the back of the plane’. Okay, uh, pause – WTF x 10?!?! It briefly passes through my mind ‘look Frenchie, I may be speaking English and I may only have paid £350 on Expedia for the privilege of flying with le grand Air France; and I know you may only work ten hours a week for an extraordinarily generous pay package, but surely, right now, you’re on duty and so surely you may deign to get me that tiny glass of water that I’ve requested?’ However, I just blink at her and she says ‘but this time I’ll get you one’ which, to be fair, she does very quickly. At this stage I’m too tired to pick a fight with the fat Italian pig next to me, so I ease my rib cage away from her elbow, tuck my own underneath hers and fall asleep.

Paris airport is very nice. Its elegant design makes it light, airy and yet somehow cosy. It’s filled with high-end fashion boutiques and you can play Playstation 2 for free (unfortunately I don’t game). I station myself in a comfy chair in a cafe and enjoy a breakfast of quiche and coffee. The quiche tastes a lot like the Sbarro pizza slice I enjoyed on my arrival in New York, but has probably a third of the calories. The coffee, as one expects from the French, is delicious. As noted above, the French work very little and so have plenty of free time to fill doing interesting things. Like the Americans, they consume a heck of a lot of the stuff, but in smaller portions with a lot more flavour. For them it’s not fuel, it’s a way of life. Fuelled by this delicious coffee I write all the above crap and finally board my flight back to London. Ah, civilisation.

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