Postcard From Florence

Did you know that we have HooplaHa correspondents all over the world?  Well we do!  And it's not always easy getting there . . . I mean, I just fly, but our human correspondents have to take planes. Read how our friend Candace makes the best of it!

Ask someone you know how they feel about flying.

“I hate it.”

“The last time I flew there were a million delays.”

“I’d rather just stay at home than wait in line through airport security.”

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a positive word on the subject, and frankly, I myself am guilty of complaining about the size of the complimentary bag of peanuts.

I recently graduated from college and am spending the summer in Europe with my boyfriend. Obviously, I had to do some flying to make it to the continent. Last week we began our trip in Florence, Italy, and it is here that we plan on spending the month of June. Before our arrival, though, we had to endure a seven hour flight, a three hour layover, followed by another two hour flight.

Had it been a disastrous twelve hours, I would say that it was definitely worth the agony. However, I’m happy to report that it wasn’t that bad. In fact, though this may sound shocking, the entire journey was a delightful experience.

The first leg of my trip had the most potential for misery. Departure was at 9:00 pm, making our layover in Germany at, what to us was, 3:00 am, though it was 9:00am there. My attempts to choose our seats online the day before had failed, so upon entering the airplane, my boyfriend and I found ourselves in facing aisle seats. I was mildly disappointed, as having a familiar shoulder to rest my head on would have made the flight much more comfortable. Nevertheless, we sat down and got situated, and a couple of minutes later, the man with the window seat next to me took his place. My boyfriend and I exchanged some casual words, and without a moments pause, my neighbor asked if we wanted to switch with him so we could sit in adjacent seats. We were elated and surprised. Although people have different seat preferences when flying, window seats are objectively more comfortable on overnight flights, and this man willingly gave his comfort up to make to random people happy. But what I was truly grateful for was not merely my boyfriend’s proximity and a familiar shoulder to sleep on, but the genuine act of kindness this complete stranger  offered, which set such a pleasant tone to what was inevitably going to be a miserable seven hours of sitting in a confined space.

And so it began.

I’ll admit it: it wasn’t the greatest seven hours of my life. I’ve definitely had more comfortable sleeping situations.  But about an hour before landing, the flight attendant came through the aisles, asking if anyone wanted coffee. When he got to my seat, I was so exhausted, I blurted out “Oh god yes!” without thinking. Everyone around me laughed.  Yet  it was evident that they weren’t laughing at my gracelessness. They were laughing because I had just externalized the sentiment that everyone on the plane felt at that moment, a blend of desperation and deprivation. Hearing their chortles, a smile immediately lit up my face. Seven sleepless hours spent in discomfort feels like nothing when you realize that you are surrounded by a hundred people in the same situation.

Soon after this encouraging episode, we landed in Dusseldorf, Germany. Our second flight was to be boarded in Terminal B, so we got our passports stamped and headed directly to the general location of our gate. It was a small terminal, with only one duty-free shop and two restaurants. After perusing the options, we settled on a place to eat lunch, at again, what was really four in the morning back home. Perhaps it was my general delirium from lack of sleep, or maybe it was the thrill of being in a foreign country, but I decided to order with the German names displayed on the menu, despite the restaurant’s having all the options translated into English. The woman behind the counter responded to my order with a question. In German. I had not anticipated this outcome as a possibility, and not knowing any German, I was unsure of what to do. The tone of her question had made it clear she was presenting me with two options, so I just repeated the last few words she had said, confidently. Somehow this magically worked, and a minute later I had two delicious sandwiches. I felt amazing for having had this smooth interaction with a stranger in a strange language.

A few minutes later, my boyfriend pointed out that we were the only patrons at the restaurant eating out of bags instead of on plates, and it became evident I had answered the mysterious German question incorrectly. But my confidence was un-phased: I still felt like a cool, urbane jetsetter with an international vocabulary.

Two hours later, we boarded the plane for our final flight, once again avoiding any delays. After two more hours of flying over beautiful mountains and lush green fields, I found myself in Florence.

It’s true that flying is not always this smooth and exciting. I was lucky. But knowing that it can go so well will lessen any dread I feel about flying in the future: it doesn’t have to be awful. In a period of merely twelve hours, I got to witness the kind sacrifice of a man I’d never met, feel deep camaraderie with a hundred strangers, and trick a lady into thinking I knew a foreign language.

So now if someone asks me how I personally feel about flying, I’ll reply that it can definitely be a fun adventure.

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