Now you live in India!!!

It was with great anticipation that I returned to France last month to attend INSEAD’s graduation party – I had spent two months on exchange there earlier in the year and had a great time, so once invited I didn’t hesitate to jump on a plane to attend the Bond themed-party with the tagline: The Business School for the World is Not Enough! I took a flight directly from Croatia, where I had just spent 5 days with hundreds of new and old friends at INSEAD on their graduation trip. Arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris that morning immediately brought back painfully nostalgic memories of my last visit there, when the illegal taxi driver a friend arranged for us to the airport caused my most traumatic missed flight experience yet when his sorry-excuse-for-a-vehicle broke down at the airport after he had callously told me the wrong terminal for my flight instead of admitting his ignorance – https://bambostic.wordpress.com/2011/06/27/how-to-miss-a-flight-from-paris-with-love-part-i/

I digress (you can tell it still hurts, lol)….anyway, my reception at the airport instantly reminded me of what I would call the less than most pleasant aspects of my French experience. I was in line to go through immigration and near the front when a new, shorter line formed on the right, and it appeared to be for EU citizens. Thank goodness for this red passport that makes all this galavanting possible, I thought as I veered to my right, to the front of this new queue. But when I handed the immigration officer my passport, he took one look at it, muttered something in French and handed it back to me, motioning for me to return to the line whence I came. I tried to ask him why, but he ignored me, preferring to attend to some other people behind me, who had asked him a question in French. I really couldn’t make out what he had said to me so passport in hand, I stood between the two lines, puzzled at his dismissive tone as people who looked more European than myself streamed passed me on the new queue. Perhaps it’s for French citizens only, I thought, but I just couldn’t let it go so when two female immigration officers walked past me, I asked them whether the new line was for EU citizens. When they answered in the affirmative, I went back, handed him my passport and he was about to turn me away a second time when I pointed out that it was a British passport. He took another look at it, and chuckled something to the effect of “Oh why didn’t you say so in the first place?” before waving me through!

This kind of “Welcome to France” is not what I had in mind all those years ago, when I had dreamed of living in my city of birth, Paris, a place that many consider to be the most romantic in the world. Yes, my honeymoon with France was now well and truly over. Memories from earlier in the year came fluttering back. Memories of how I would walk into the phone store in Fontainebleau clearly needing assistance but being completely ignored by the shop assistants while they took personal phone calls at work. Memories of learning the hard way that you could never get even average customer service without saying Bonjour first, and without having a good enough command of French to state or make your case. But nothing said “Welcome to France” quite like my experience banking with BNP Paribas during my short stint at INSEAD. I didn’t really need to open a French bank account for a two month stint there, but when I received an email in December with a special, hassle-free offer for INSEAD students allowing us the convenience of opening an account just by sending an email with our relevant details before we arrived, I thought why not?

Email sent, a week later, reply received, and just like that I had a French bank account. After wiring nearly 3,000 Euros converted from my US account for spending money and rent in Fontainebleau, I was all set for my French adventure! All set, that is, until I received an email a week before I was due to arrive: “Monsieur Akani, I am sorry but I gave you the wrong account number. See your correct account details below. See you when you arrive next week!” I wondered what this meant about where my money might be, and my worst fears were confirmed when I arrived the following week and met with my contact, Astrid, who happened to be the only English speaker at BNP in Fontainebleau. At first she wrongly told me that my cash had been sent back to the US but when I insisted it had not, she got on the phone, and after a 5 minute conversation in French, she put the phone down and said, “Well, your money is somewhere here in France, we’re not sure where exactly. But don’t worry, we will find it and put it into your correct account by next week…” I sat back and smiled, not quite believing what I was hearing, but not worried either, because I had no doubt that this mix-up would be fixed quickly. I had enough cash on me to last the week so….

The following week she wasn’t in, so in the absence of any other English speaker all I could do was stumble through enough French to get given my new bank card, which I had no choice but to start using on overdraft, since there was still no money in the account. Despite being explicit in asking that the money not be sent back to the US where I could not access it, this is exactly what they did a week later, $150 less than what I had started with, thanks to FX and wire transfer fees. So I was stuck in France for two months with no money, not even to pay rent. Thank God for mothers, who else would have come to my rescue, directly transferring the rent to my landlord all the way from England! Now, despite receiving assurances that I would not be charged any interest for overdrawing, by the time I left France, spent a month in Brazil and then returned to the US, where I was finally in a position to settle the account, it was nearly 2,000 Euros in the red, including 400 Euros in interest and overdraft penalties! And so began a long running battle with BNP to clear the unfair interest charges, and then close the account, neither of which I have been able to do to date.

Repeated emails I sent from the US asking them to cancel the fees and escalating to both my schools proved ineffective, and whenever Astrid went on holiday, everything would simply grind to a halt – the language barrier prevented me from communicating with anyone else at the bank about a problem of this complexity. And that’s if anyone else was even aware of the mix-up, as evidenced by the automatically generated letters threatening legal action (in French) that were being sent to my home address in England.  I immediately dismissed Astrid’s suggestion of just paying the whole thing, after which I could be refunded the interest fees – given their track record so far, I knew by now that I would never again see any money I decided to hand them. So I decided to pay just the 1,600 Euros I truly owed and leave the rest. But the letters threatening court continued despite my continued requests for them to wipe clean the interest charges and close the account. Now that I had returned to the ‘scene of the crime’ for the INSEAD Graduation Party, I saw this as a final opportunity to get this account closed once and for all. If I thought that speaking to Astrid face-to-face might get all this resolved finally, I was grossly mistaken. Our conversation went something like this:

“I’m afraid we just can’t close the account from here. Because your account has been in the red for too long, it was transferred to our main office in Paris.”

“Yes, but can’t you tell them about the mix-up the bank made that caused all this in the first place?”

“I’m sorry but I do not have the power or authority to ask them to cancel the fees, or close the account.”

“So you mean that if I want the account closed, my only option now is to seek legal action?”

“Yes.”

“Look, the bank is still sending me letters threatening that they will sue me, when they should be sending me letters apologizing for putting me through this very unpleasant experience. Why should it be so difficult for the bank to correct its own mistake and stop harassing a customer that did nothing wrong?”

“Listen, do you plan to come back to France? If not, then you should just walk away forget about the account.”

“Well, maybe I will one day, I just don’t know when. Are you suggesting that I will have problems coming back to France because of this?”

“No you won’t actually. You will be fine coming back, you just won’t be able to bank at BNP because you will be blacklisted…”

“But what if I don’t want to be blacklisted? Isn’t there something you can do? You may think it doesn’t matter, but as a matter of principle I do not wish to be blacklisted at any bank, in any country, and definitely not when the problem was the bank’s fault!”

“I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do about it. There are many other banks you can use if you come back to France. In fact, I have a friend that works at Société Générale – I can give you her details if you ever need to set up an account again in France!”

“Hmm, okay. Fine. But they will keep sending me letters threatening legal action – what should I do about those?”

“Okay, well I change your address in the system if you want. Once they try sending the next letter and it doesn’t reach its destination, they will automatically close down the account in a few months, though you will still be blacklisted. In fact I can do that right now…”

Right before my eyes, she turned her monitor towards me, pulled up my account details and started deleting each line of my address. She left only the top line, just so that her system would allow her to save the changes, and when she got to the drop-down menu for country, she clicked on England, randomly scrolled down until she got to India, then pressed select.

“See now you live in India!”

Wow, I thought. So there you have it. This was the result I had come all the way back to France to achieve. Now I live in India. And considering all the stress I went through over opening a bank account that I did not even need for the two months I was in France, I might as well be living in India, or any other third world country – even there I would expect things to work better than this! Yes, my honeymoon with France is now well and truly over.

The following week, after I had returned to England, I received yet another letter on behalf of BNP, this time from a debt collection agency that they must have now retained, to collect the final 400 Euros from me. I guess I do not live in India after all!

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Captivating Croatia!!!

I had the distinct honor, along with other fellow INSEAD exchange students, of being invited for their graduation trip earlier this month in Split, Croatia. This was a great opportunity to have a nice holiday somewhere I might not have planned a trip myself, while at the same time hanging out with over 300 new buddies graduating from INSEAD, many of whom I had met at my short two-month stint there at the start of the year. While I had a great and relaxing time at our hotel there, I really don’t have much to report. I decided to have a lazy holiday, so I did not jump on any of the many day trips to nearby places like Dubrovnik and Hvar Island which is meant to be especially stunning. I was content to relax around the hotel pool and beach with the rest of the crew, gym a little and explore Split town center a little while we were there. The beautiful Split landscape and sea views were captivating enough for me!

I do want to say a little about the Split Nightlife which I found rather interesting and amusing. Nowhere and never in my life have I been out anywhere that the locals were more captivated or mesmerized by meeting a black guy, well not since visiting the Isle of Wight (no pun intended) on a school trip while I was doing my A-levels. Back then, Ossie and I were the only black students on the trip, and even though we were used to being a minority at our school (including us, only 5 of 800 guys were black) and in mainland England, we were shocked at how we got stared at on the Isle of Wight. At first, we thought it was because we were eating funny in McDonald’s. It wasn’t until I was ‘blocked’ by a pretty young lady on my way to McD’s restroom did I realize that they were simply fascinated about seeing black men on their little island, and pretty excited about it too. She actually told me that the only black person she knew was Ian Wright, the famous Arsenal footballer who played back in the mid-nineties, so basically she had only ever seen a black guy on TV. This close encounter of the flattering kind happened over ten years ago, so I would like to imagine that life on the Isle of Wight has since become more diversified since!

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I digress. On our second night in Split, we all went to a trendy club called Hemingway. Great venue with a spacious open-air section and the crème de la crème of tall and beautiful Croatian ladies – they certainly know how to look after themselves in this part of the world. After a short while, I bumped into the lone African American guy at the club, who got so excited at seeing another black guy in Croatia that we had a five minute conversation getting acquainted. Finally, once again, I was blocked at the toilets in Split, but this time I wasn’t nearly as flattered by the interest being shown in me. This time, I was stopped by a guy coming into the men’s room as I was leaving it, and after he said something to me in Croatian, the exchange went something like this…

“I’m sorry I don’t understand Croatian…”

“Sorry. What I said was do you find this place expensive?”

“Well, not so much. I’m from London and things are really expensive there.”

“They are, aren’t they?” He responds with a chuckle. I start to move towards the door to exit the bathroom but he continues, “Just wait one minute, let me buy you a drink.” Presumably, he wanted me to a wait while he eased himself…

“Oh don’t worry about it, but thanks.” I thought politely declining would do the trick but I was mistaken.

“No really, let me buy you a drink, I’ve always wanted to buy a drink for a black guy before.”

“Really, don’t worry about it, I need to get back to my friends.”

“Do you like Tupac Shakur?”

“Yeah, I think Tupac was great…” The moment the impatient words slipped from my mouth, I knew I had made a mistake…

 “You see, we both like Tupac! Now you have to let me buy you a drink! It’s like fate!”

“There’s really no need for it, I have to go now…,” I said as I exited the men’s room. But he was in hot pursuit, tugging at my elbow, by now pleading with me to give him a chance to buy me just one drink.

Luckily, I saw Mita heading to the Ladies so I quickly threw my arm over her shoulder and said “Hey! Are you going to the bathroom? I’ll walk with you!” just like I had been looking for her the whole night! We had a good laugh later on about how she saved me from being chatted up by a guy. Even though I cracked the joke afterwards, I honestly don’t think that he was trying to hit on me. I just think he was very drunk and had never really interacted with a black guy before, so this was the only way he knew how to express his – ahem – excitement, at the novelty of it all.

Just when I was smarting about not getting attention from the right parties, a beautiful Brunette came up to me with a guy friend of hers who she let do the talking initially; “I think my friend likes you,” he said, a claim which she ‘vehemently’ denied being true. His wingman role clearly worked like a charm because moments later I was at the bar with her getting us drinks! As Fanny and I were getting acquainted (yes, that’s her name), another friend of hers came up on my left to say hi. She looked equally as stunning, if not more so – turns out she’s a dancer and from her perfect figure I wasn’t surprised. You can imagine my elation when Fanny introduced her and simply said, “She likes you too!” with a naughty, knowing wink. I looked to my left, then back to my right, put my arms round both of them and thought Croatia is truly captivating!

Beware of Troubled Waters on Hoilday…

You can imagine my mother’s reaction when I told her a couple of months ago, that I was planning trips to both Mexico and Colombia this summer. In her mind and perhaps for many others, these are two of the most dangerous places one could decide to visit, just for the fun of it. It took some explaining to convince her that Cancun did not present the same dangers as many other parts of Mexico we read about in the news every day. And that I had a friend from Bogota I would be staying with while in Colombia, where things have improved greatly from the nineties when their drug lord related problems were more ever-clear and present dangers.

My sense of adventure certainly doesn’t exceed my sense of personal safety, so I certainly did my due diligence before booking my Cancun trip, to make sure that the rampant gang-related killings constantly being reported in Mexico do not affect that region. And they don’t, though it was only after my trip that I learned that a lot more tourists in Cancun die of drowning than any other reason. Apparently, most of the 18 Americans that died Cancun in the first half of 2010 drowned (http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/story/2011/03/-Cancun-Is-it-safe-for-visitors-/45305906/1) , and sadly the strong waves crashing unto the private beach of my hotel claimed the life of another US tourist staying there that weekend. Apparently, he went in to save a girl who was in trouble and didn’t make it out alive himself.  I didn’t witness this myself as I did not have a sea front room, but apparently half the hotel witnessed the sad event, including the non-existent response from emergency services. After unsuccessful CPR by another hotel guest, his body was left lying on the beach for hours, with his distraught family just standing over him, staring into the abyss of the tragedy that just befell them.

This was all too reminiscent of a friend who recently lost a loved one to the same fate in Brazil earlier this year. It’s simply too tragic and terrible to lose anyone in this way, so I would just caution everyone reading this to be especially careful while on holiday by the sea, especially in unpredictable weather. The sea is no respecter of persons and being a great swimmer simply will not be good enough if the tide is too strong. Especially in Cancun, please don’t expect your all-inclusive hotel to be responsible enough to tell you when the tide is too high (and don’t ignore them when they do just because you’re in Mexico and you think that rules similar to those you are used to at home can’t be enforced). And don’t expect them to respond appropriately if you or any of your party get into troubled waters. The lack of urgency from the hotel staff that half the guests at my hotel witnessed that weekend was ample proof that some of these hotels simply view such tragedies as collateral damage that come with the territory, otherwise they wouldn’t have acted like it was something that has happened before and will happen again, like  there’s not they can do to prevent it from happening occasionally…I was told after it happened that such occurrences in these hotels account for many of those drownings in Cancun that I mentioned already.

Friends, be safe and take good care while you’re on holiday. I pray that no such thing shall befall you and yours. Amen.

Mexican & US Border Patrol!!!

My first trip after finishing my MBA was a stark reminder of how tight US border control really is. In the past two years I entered the US on a student visa so I never really got fielded odd questions about where I got the money to travel (so long as my travel was for academic purposes, ie. returning to school – which it always was except once – then I rarely got hassled). Before then, I had a job, so when they asked me how much money I made to be able to finance all these travels, I would smile and politely reply “enough”. But now, it is that much trickier. Trickier because I am now in that odd space between school and work, not quite a student anymore but not quite earning a salary yet; I’m in that blue ocean that some business school friends have termed funemployment

Even in Mexico, I was treated with far more suspicion than anyone else getting on my flight out of Cancun to Miami. Both my pieces of hand luggage were searched item by item twice, and just before I got on the plane I was body searched and even told to sit down and take off my shoes. No one else that I could see at any point going through security was asked to take off their shoes. As I sat down, I could feel dozens of eyes boarding the plane boring into my back. It wasn’t the last time that day I was made to feel like I was guilty of something until proven innocent – these were some of the questions I was fielded by the immigration officer on touching down in Miami: Who did you go to see in Mexico? You were travelling alone? Where do you work? You’re a student? So where did you get the money to pay for this trip? Savings you say? Please follow the red dots on the floor…When you’re told to follow red dots when there are also green and yellow dots, you know that’s not a good thing! This US immigration officer, likely Mexican by origin, had an almost incredulous look on his face, like my former-student-travelling-alone-in-Mexico-with-no-steady-stream-of-income story could not possibly be true. If looks could kill, his would have been saying something like who gave you of all people the right to simply waltz in and out of my countries?

Leaving Miami to return to London was even more taxing. The moment I got to security, the first officer I handed my documents, took one look at them, turned around and shouted, We’ve got an SP here, I need some help with him! I was then fast-tracked through security, my hand luggage carried for me, and passed from one officer to the next three times in quick succession, each of whom matter-of-factly labeled me an SP for the next officer’s attention. After being sent through one of those new X-ray machines, I asked the next officer who was to search my bag item by item – while his colleague was patting me down – what an SP meant and he promptly replied Special Passenger. I tried to crack a joke to lighten the mood, like I knew I was special but didn’t know I was that special! but he didn’t even crack a smile. They said it was the airline that marked me as a special passenger, and that they do so randomly, but they certainly treated me with all the suspicion that you would treat a pant bomber about to unleash a can of whoop-ass on the whole airport, no pun intended. Again, guilty until proven innocent.

After receiving a proper patting down like never before (I’d remember if I had been patted down like that before, it was rather intrusive and felt quite embarrassing), I made to start packing my bag back up and the officer who was searching it coldly stopped me in my tracks; stay back there and do not touch anything, I’m not done yet. He seemed to move his hand close to his hip, like he was ready to pull his piece on me if I made any sudden movements. Thirty seconds later he then says, okay we’re all done here, would you like me to repack your bag for you or would you like to do it yourself? Okay then, you have a nice day sir…As he leaves me to pack everything back into my bag which he had completely emptied, I couldn’t help but think how his final well wishes seemed so hollow after the less than respectful time they’d just put me through. How could I possibly have a good day after being frisked like that? I felt anything but a special passenger as I packed my things, and as I left I thought that this is how it must feel to get dressed to take the walk of shame after being told you cannot spend the night – used and abused!

Viva la Mexico: Playa del Carmen & Cancun!

After graduating on a Friday, moving out on Saturday and seeing my folks who had come for the ceremony on Sunday, I was on a plane Monday morning to Cancun for my first ever trip Mexico. After landing, I took a bus an hour south and spent 5 days in Playa del Carmen and then returned to Cancun for 2 nights before returning to London. Now I have done solo trips many times before and had a great time, most recently to Dominican Republic and Brazil in the past year, but this was one trip that I did not really need to make – perhaps the desire to strike Cancun and Mexico off my list got the better of me. In hindsight, which they say is 20/20, I probably would have opted to stay in Chicago that extra week because I ended up leaving in such a hurry, and not even having time to properly say goodbye to many friends I have made over the past two years at Kellogg and in Chicago…

Playa del Carmen is a great coastal town with wonderful beaches, but I don’t think I took full advantage of everything is has to offer on this trip. As I usual do, I enrolled in a Spanish school there, though for just 2 hours a day, because I suspected that studying and learning would have been the furthest thing from my mind, and that proved to be the case. I also have no tales of crazy host mothers as this time I opted to stay at the school’s own 3-star hotel and just do my own thing really, not even bothering to socialize much with the other students at the school in my short time there. Only towards the end of my stay there, when I got a good weekend deal for an all inclusive hotel in Cancun that confirmed I would spend my final two nights there did I do a little sightseeing. Playa del Carmen has some of the most beautiful beaches I have seen and I found Avenida Quinta, the main tourist street parallel to and just a stone’s throw from the beach, quite interesting – I could have spent a lot more time exploring this beautiful town, hopefully I’ll be back soon with friends!

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Sunny weather turned to threats of monsoons by the time I reached Cancun, so I mostly stayed at my hotel while there, not that Cancun is small enough to walk around everywhere like Playa del Carmen. Given how much cheaper the rest of the Riviera Maya is, I understood very quickly why many travelers I met only consider Cancun as an airport or transit location to travel through the region. Probably the highlight of my trip was finally hitting the town my final night, to a club called Cocobongo, for a show which fellow guests at my hotel had described as a more contemporary version of Cirque du Soleil – I was not to be disappointed. If only I had remembered to charge my camera batteries that day, I would have more images and videos of the show, which had great acrobatic performances inspired by movies as iconic as Spiderman (fighting the Green Goblin), TRON and The Mask. There were also impersonators of the likes of MJ, Elvis & Jack Sparrow who all put on a highly entertaining show!

Leaving the Cocobongo at 3am, I had just enough time to get back to the hotel, get my luggage together and head to the airport for my 7am flight to Miami. And that’s where my troubles with border security all started…

How to Miss a Flight: From Paris With Love! – Part II

11.03am – You climb out of the vehicle and now only have 22 minutes to get to Terminal 1 to check in! This should not be a problem provided that you can get into another car right away…your cabbie is already on the phone, presumably to his company to find a colleague already at the airport who can take you there…

11.08am – You and Mary have both offloaded your luggage from the car, and she stays with you long enough to make sure you get another ride. A colleague of your taxi guy who looks Arab finally pulls up in front of his car.

11.09am – The new guy is only driving a Mini, so you have to put all your luggage in the back seat, and ride in up front, with the passenger seat pushed as far forward as possible to accommodate all your suitcases at the back. Not that you care about the lack of leg room, you just need to get to Terminal 1 within the next 16 minutes!

11.10am – As he speeds off towards Terminal 1, you try to ask him, saying the name of the airline in your most French accent possible, American Airlines? C’est Terminal 1? Non? His response, is shocking, to say the least. American Airlines? No American Airlines, No American Airlines, Algerian Airlines! F*** Americaaaa!!!

11.11am – As he flies past other cars and over a bridge towards Terminal 1, you notice in the corner of you eye some American Airline planes resting at a hanger to your left, but you’re still in shock, trying to process whose car you’ve stepped into and how on earth you got there!

11.12am – Your new driver whips out a cigarette, lights it while driving and takes a puff, windows still down. He turns to you, exhaling the puff of smoke in your direction. So, you’re American? now trying to make light conversation. You shake your head vehemently, denying any connection to the US whatsoever. Apart from this flight you’re trying to catch, of course.

11.13am – You don’t fail to see the humor of your predicament, and you make conversation with the man, if only to be on his good side for the rest of the ride to Terminal 1. He spends the whole time talking about how much he dislikes America. You try not to disagree with him too much. Or at all, in fact. You just need to get there…

11.15am – As you approach Terminal 1, you ask him just out of curiosity, where his Francophone colleague is from, probably just to know which African country’s citizen you can blame on putting you in this predicament, of being so close to missing your flight. Oh, cet homme? I do not know him! I am just a good Samaritan, I stop to help someone in need. For the love of Allah I tell you, it’s the will of Allah!

11.16am – You don’t argue with that, and you are also thanking God in the way you know how to when you arrive at Terminal 1 and still have nine minutes to check-in for your flight. You rush into the terminal building and look up at the plenty screens to figure out where you need to go immediately…

11.17am – You can’t find your flight anywhere, and you quickly ask an airport attendant near you where you can check in for your AA flight to Chicago. He thinks you should be at Terminal 2 and you have a lump in your throat at the implication of what he’s saying.

11.18am – After he radios a colleague, he confirms your worst fears that you didn’t know you had until thirty seconds ago. Monsieur, your flight actually leaves from Terminal 2B. That’s where you should be…

You’re stunned, in total shock. You have only 7 minutes to check in. How on earth  are you going to get back to Terminal 2B on time? Even if you could take a taxi back there right away, you probably would not make it on time. The attendant advises you to take the shuttle from terminal 1 back to 2, but you tell him that you don’t have enough time,  but he shrugs his shoulders and tells you that is the fastest way to get back there. You know that’s not true, but you also have no idea where you would even get a taxi from in this labyrinth of a building you’ve just stepped into. You try to call Mary in the vain hope that she can help you somehow since she’s already over there. But her phone is off already.

You make for the shuttle, perhaps resigned to the fact that you’re not going to make it back there on time. It takes you 15 minutes to get to Terminal 2D on the shuttle, and another 30 minutes to run from 2D, through 2C and eventually to 2B, dragging your 4 heavy pieces of luggage in tow. You arrive at check-in at 12 noon sweating fully, 25 minutes before takeoff, with no realistic chance to still catch the flight, but you still burst into tears when they confirm to you the obvious, that you’ve missed your flight. Missed African TG. How on earth did you get here? How did your perfectly executed plan go up in smoke? You go to the American Airlines service desk, and after paying $250 extra and 2 hours later, you’re on a flight to New York instead. You have a 3 hour layover there, and will now not get into Chicago until 10pm instead of 2pm, long after TG is over, but maybe you can still make the informal After–party, you console yourself.

You meet a lovely French girl sitting next to you on your flight to NY, Astrid is her name, but the pain of what has just happened to you is too much for even that to console you. Your layover in NY becomes six hours because of delays, after all it is a Friday evening, what more can you expect from domestic flights at the very end of the work week? You eventually arrive in Chicago at 1am, even after the After-party has ended, and all you can do is go to bed, get up early for part of the Black Management Association Conference which you had also registered to attend on your short trip, and then leave half-way through to head back to the airport to head to Brazil. Salvador. Maybe Carnaval can soothe the pain of what just happened to you, but it may take a few days yet!

So what’s the moral of this story? I have an idea (of several lessons to be learnt here) but I’d like to hear what y’all think? Thanks!

UPDATE: Now there was a third passenger in the car, Emilia, who had a later flight than both Mary and me, whom I took the artistic license of omitting from the story, simply because it was quite a long one already. I am currently holidaying in Croatia with INSEAD folk, and I bumped into her boyfriend on the trip. It turns out that after Mary and I left to catch our flights, the French police showed up to bust our taxi driver, who as I suspected, was actually an illegal cabbie. Who knows if he even had a valid driver’s license? What was certain was the he did not have a valid taxi license. Too bad for him that his car breaking down right at the airport attracted law enforcement’s attention to himself! Too bad for me that we ever had the mispleasure of making his acquaintance. The police even ended up holding Emilia to interrogate her for a while. Luckily her flight wasn’t for another couple of hours so the whole experience luckily did not impact her signficantly, like it did me!

How to Miss a Flight: From Paris with Love! – Part I

It had always been a dream of yours to spend a summer in Paris, the city of your birth, to fully experience the city some say is the most romantic in the world, to be able to say “Je suis né à Paris” in the beautiful Latin language. Well, you got your chance when you were accepted on a two month exchange program at INSEAD from your MBA program at Kellogg. So what that INSEAD was actually in Fontainebleau, a good 60km south of Paris, and so what that you went in January, not exactly the warmest time of the year. Not exactly a midlife’s summer dream (quarter life really), but you’d take it since you’d at least be missing the coldest winter recorded in Chicago for many a year.

Luckily for you, the program is short enough for you to make it back to Kellogg just in time for the Africa Business Club “TG” at the end of February. As the social chair of the club, you would have organized this much anticipated party, only happening for the second consecutive year as a prelude to the Africa Business Conference, had you spent the Winter Quarter at Kellogg. After spending a fantastic two months in Fonty, it was time make a surprise mid-Quarter stopover in Chicago for Africa TG. It would simply be a one-night layover on your way to Carnaval in Brazil, and it would totally shock all your friends at Kellogg, showing up for TG, all the way from Paris. From France. On your way to Salvador da Bahia. Brazil.

The stage was set for you to pull off one of the biggest surprises of the year. Only Imoudu, on exchange at LBS in London, and Hawa, who ably stepped in for you to organize the social, were in on it. Heck, you were even providing the African music. The day before the event, the others were simply told, by Imoudu, that a friend of his would be bringing the music up “from Chicago”, true, if you loosely included O’Hare International Airport in your definition of Chicago. The day before, you were in Fonty, spending the evening on the computers, printing out every single detail of your travel itineraries, even forsaking crashing one last exclusive INSEAD party. This well guarded plan was three months in the making, and now that it was time to execute, it had to be perfect – nothing could go wrong, or could it?

American Airlines Flight 7001 from CDG Paris to ORD Chicago – ETD 12.25pm Friday

9pm Friday – You get home after spending a couple of hours  on campus making sure that everything was set for your departure tomorrow. You’re almost all packed at home too, an improvement from your usual packing after midnight the morning of your flight!

9.02pm – You email Mary to check that the cab you are sharing with her is picking you guys up at 9am. She’s had trouble confirming the taxi all week. You would have booked it yourself, but the cab company you know has nothing available at that time.

9.20pm – Finally, she responds in the affirmative. Sort of. She confirms the taxi but you’re not sure from her email if she really sounded sure of herself. Or are you just thinking things because it has taken a while to confirm?

9.22pm – You reply to ask whether you guys should leave at 8.30am instead of 9am. You haven’t done the trip from Fonty to Charles de Gaulle before, but from what you’ve heard it takes about 90 minutes. Getting there two hours before takeoff should be fine, but you’re in France – you can’t be too careful!

9.35pm – Don’t worry at all. It really only takes an hour to get the airport, we’ll be fine. Her email is sitting in your inbox. To put your mind at ease she continues, but if you want me to I can change the pickup time to 8.30am?

9.40pm – You reply. Okay, that’s fine. I’ll be at yours at 8.45am, see you tomorrow! You trust her judgment, and besides, her flight leaves at 12.35pm, only ten minutes after yours, and it’s an international flight too. She’d be putting catching her own flight in jeopardy as well, and she wouldn’t do that.

10.30pm –You’ve more or less finished packing and you’re exhausted and still recovering from your February flu, so you decide to crash and put any “finishing touches” to your packing in the morning

7am – You wake up refreshed, and pack up the last few things you need to. After a shower, you’re ready to leave and it’s not even 8am yet! This is a huge improvement on your usual last minute antics. You’re ready to storm African TG in Chicago!

8am – To kill some time, you go downstairs to make some pancakes for yourself and Mary for the ride to the airport. Despite her disbelief that you could do anything of that sort in the kitchen, you’ve been “threatening” to make some for her for a while. She’ll think that’s sweet of you, but you’re also just clearing out your cupboard too! How you hate throwing out food…

8.40am – You drag your two large suitcases, massive rucksack and other heavy piece of hand luggage filled with books to Mary’s house just down the road. You’re there well ahead of schedule! You’ve never been this early for anything in your life…

9am – Mary’s almost done, as she jumps in and out of her bedroom, toothbrush in hand, getting ready. Her boxes are already out though, and you’re not in the slightest bit worried because the taxi will be here any moment now and then she’ll just have to brush her teeth at the airport!

9.05am – You calmly ask Mary to call the taxi to find out how far away he is. She gets through immediately and he says he’s 5 minutes away. It’s all good.

9.15am – Even Mary is ready now, teeth brushed and all, but there’s still no sign of the cabbie. Now you’re starting to get worried. She calls him again and this time he says he’s just round the corner. Apparently.

9.25am – Finally the taxi man arrives in an old, rusty, beat up, off–red station wagon. Pretty sure it used to be bright red, perhaps twenty years ago or before. He’s an untidy looking Francophone African, and the interior of his car looks as messy as the exterior. Certainly can’t be affiliated with any legit taxi company.

9.30am – After quickly loading the car, you’re finally on your way, shaking your mind’s head at where Mary found this guy who reinforced all negative stereotypes on the African’s concept of time, even in France!

9.35am – You’re trying to keep calm, but in your head you’re calculating how much time you’ll have when you get to the airport. Even if you arrive at 11am, you should still have 30 minutes before check-in closes. Mary isn’t saying much to you right now but she doesn’t seem panicked. Not yet anyway.

10am – You’re well on the highway now, but you’re thinking how you can tell him in French, can you drive a bit faster please? He thinks he’s driving Miss Daisy, in the slow lane, but truth be told his banged up car seems too fragile to go any faster and you’re silently praying that it can actually make it to the airport! The silent tension between you and Mary in the car is palpable right now…

10.30am – You recall Mary saying earlier that he was a “much cheaper” option, but it hasn’t escaped your notice his EUR 105 price is barely ten Euros cheaper than the price you were quoted by the very reputable firm which regularly runs transfers from Fonty to both Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports.

10.55am – You’re approaching the airport now and still have 30 minutes or so to check in. This is good. You pull out the first page of your printed itineraries to check what terminal your flight is leaving from, but it doesn’t say. That’s odd, you’re thinking…

10.56am – You’re thinking out loud now, asking Mary if she knows what terminal American Airlines goes from, the first time either of you have spoken to each other for the whole ride. She doesn’t know, but before you have time to get worried, your cabbie turns back to you. American Airlines? Certainement, c’est terminal 1, he says.

10.57am – Phew, that was close. You ask if he is sure and he is. It’s a good thing all the taxi drivers in France that do airport transfers know the terminals for each airline, else this could have gotten tricky.

11am – As you approach Terminal 2B, the terminal for Mary’s British Airways flight, you turn to her, I’ve just been praying the whole time that we weren’t going to break down on the way, so glad we made it! She laughs in agreement, as you heave a collective sigh of relief. She’d been thinking exactly the same thing.

11.01am – Suddenly, another car coming up a ramp to your right suddenly swerves in front of you, and your driver is pulling hard on the brakes! You jerk forward in your seats and are perhaps lucky you’re both wearing seat belts, else the force might have been strong enough to throw you into the front seats.

11.02am – The driver turns the keys to restart the car, and the engine jerks, attempts to roar, but it’s growl turns into a soft purr and then nothing. He tries again. Same result. Then one more time. Nothing. You and Mary look back at each other in disbelief. At least you’re only 20 meters away from Terminal 2B when the worst possible thing actually happened! Things could certainly have been worse…

But will you actually catch your flight in the end? Find out in the second and final part of How to Miss a Flight: From Paris with Love!