Friday, July 6, 2007

Frankfurt . . . sigh

The Kuffler & Bucher in the Frankfurt Airport – Kuffler & Bucher is the place where I paid $12 for a banana, a bottle of water, and cheese toast on white bread. It is 7AM here, my internal clock reads 1:43AM, and I’m tired. The cheese was gooey and the tomato in the middle was cold. A 50-year-old Indian man with a soft face made it for me.

My bill came to 7.50 Euros or $11.17. The cashier, a young Indian woman with long black hair rounded it up to $12; she didn’t feel obliged to make change in dollars. I found her authority to round up ironic.

Moments earlier, Frankfurt airport’s finest wouldn’t let me into the Red Carpet Lounge. I have a United Premier card, but I’m not a “Premier Executive.” If I was a Premier Executive, then I could have drank free coffee while lounging in a snug two-seater sofa, snacking on a free croissant, and reading a free Financial Times. The hospitality team informed me that I had 46,000 United miles prior to boarding my flight. You need 50,000 miles to enter the Red Carpet Lounge. I argued that I surpassed the 50,000 mile marker somewhere over France. The head hostess--a young South Asian woman--looked at me like I smelled of bad bratwurst and in a preachy tone explained that they would have a “very crowded lounge” if they let everyone in with such an exception.

Clearly, the bold and the beautiful of the Frankfurt airport would be very displeased if joined by the likes of me. Behind her, her flamboyantly gay French North African colleague who had discovered my 4000-mile shortfall on his computer shrugged his shoulders sympathetically, indicating that his hands were tied on this issue of maintaining the airport’s social order.

Extreme frustration; I’d already been turned away by the First Class and Business Class lounges. A dark haired German woman at the Business Class lounge had directed me to walk to the other end of this Mall of America sized airport and the Red Carpet Lounge. Along the way, I passed through security where a pale German in his late forties with a buzz cut and an earring patted me down exhaustively. At least he didn’t give me the usual Frankfurt squeeze – searching for a grenade, I’m sure.

So, it turns out a United Premier card gets you a table in the non-smoking section of the Kuffler & Bucher. Cigarette smoke fills this cavernous airport, except here, in the K&B non-smoking section, where a big sign with a picture of a crossed out cigarette reads “Nichtraucher” and “Non-Smoking-Area.” An Arab man and his wife just sat down two tables away from me and lit up.

Behind me sits a Lebanese or maybe Palestinian family; the children are running around and having fun, their shrieks adding to the background airport noise of cell phone conversations and announcements in German. There is a non-parent female adult with the family. She is telling the husband, in detail, about the alternative dispute resolution and mediation programs she is running in Jordan and their percentages of success. Yes, it is 7AM.

Two U.S. soldiers in camouflage walk in to the K&B. One is Asian and the other Latino. A cafeteria worker from somewhere in West Africa wipes down a table for them. A flock of six muhajiba young women stroll by, carrying red duty free bags and giggling. Here comes a well endowed, toothpick thin, bleach blond Russian, pushing a stroller. The two blonde backpackers, who had been listening to I-pods and reading at a table across from me, stand up. I wonder how I-pods have changed the dynamics of long backpacking trips.

A group of twenty older Germans wearing erect backpacks slung over both shoulders descend upon the K&B. Wait, after a quick pow-wow, they are moving on to the smoking section instead, the official one. A women’s youth sports team, wearing red warm up suits with white “Venezuela” decals stitched on the back just took the tables the Germans were going to occupy.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever been in a place so diverse. Should I be thankful that all of the airport’s lounges turned me away? I would never have gotten a chance to see this melting pot that must have the Third Reich’s leadership spinning in their graves.

No. I’m going with my instincts on this one. I hate the Frankfurt airport/ashtray. The bathrooms are disgusting, there is nowhere comfortable to sit, and people use German as if it is an international language akin to English, expressing surprise that you can’t understand them.

Ixnay on the sauerkraut. I vote for more non-stop flights to the Middle East.


Anonymous said...

You only had 46,000 miles. We have rules. They must be followed.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I visit anywhere where there's a lot of smoking, I am reminded of my childhood when everyone smoked anywhere. I was reminded of this in Europe, and am reminded of this in whenever I go to a bar in a state that still allows smoking in bars (I think PA and DC still allow that, yes?). Nonsmoking households used to keep nice ashtrays out for whenever the smoking contingent of the family came over. Cigarettes could be bought from vending machines in bowling alleys and sandwich shops (which helped make it possible for us teenagers to get our hands on a pack of cigarettes. That and the people working the counter at the convenience store just didn't care). Parents would send their kids in with gas money and an extra dollar to get them a pack of smokes at the self serve gas station. Whenever I get on a plane with ashtrays, I can't even imagine what hell it must have been to be on a cross country flight when people could smoke on plans. Now people are so sensitive to cigarette smoke, they notice immediately when there's a smoker nearby, whereas 25 years ago, that was just normal in a public setting. Why do people smoke so much in Europe anyway?

Anonymous said...

"...people use German as if it is an international language akin to English..."

Why do you expect people to speak English when you are in Germany? Yes, English is a global language. But I guess that from your observations you might have noticed that a lot of people who work at Frankfurt Airport did not enjoy higher education. so why would you expect them to be mulit-lingual.
I honestly think that you made your judgment out of being tired and cranky.