Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | June 13, 2010

Groped by a Frenchman in the Middle of the Night

Don’t fret for my well-being. The title suggests a much more titillating story than what actually occurred. Still, my trip to France got off to an interesting start rather quickly.

Due to an unusual confluence of events (which I won’t bore you with here), I ended going to France for several days on my own. Unfortunately, because I was traveling on a group booking, I did not have much control over my itinerary from Chicago to Paris. I had to fly Air France and I had to fly coach. No upgradable ticket, no using miles, no helpful travel agent tricks to make my flight more palatable. I didn’t even get to select my own seats. For someone who has bookmarked on her toolbar, that was especially painful. I would log on to the Air France website and look longingly at seats. 20D was open, but I couldn’t have it. Most of row 29 was open, but its not a great row – right in front of the galley, so its loud and the seats don’t recline all the way. 32B wouldn’t be bad. Or 34D. But, alas, I could have none of them. “Assigned at airport,” my record stubbornly said. I had visions of being stuck in 45E, which would certainly make for a long 8-hours.  Generally speaking, I feel that one’s seat number should be smaller than one’s bra size. A good guideline, don’t you think? Perhaps I could use that argument with Air France if they tried to stick me in the last row of the plane.

When I finally arrived at the airport and got my boarding pass, I was pleasantly surprised. 35B: not great, but it could be worse. Other than the three or four school groups sitting around me, I figured it would be a palatable flight. Then the guy in 34B showed up. Although he was a slightly older gentleman, he was dressed like a five-year-old: sneakers, baggy pants, untucked shirt, baseball hat. I assumed he was American (because we, as a nation, generally dress like a bunch of five-year-olds). Then I heard him speak; he was quite clearly French. How does a man from France, a country genetically programmed to dress well, manage to dress himself like a toddler? He was with what I assume was his wife, and she seemed reasonably well presented. I should have known then that something was off.

Mr. 34B sat down and proceeded to put his seat all the way back so his head was essentially in my lap. And we hadn’t even pushed back from the gate yet. It was going to be a long flight.

Fortunately, the Flight Attendant came by and asked him and his equally charming wife to put their seats back up for takeoff. The flight proceeded along fine for a while, until dinner service was over and Monsieur 34B decided to put his head in my lap again. Our seats were so close together that my knees were always in contact with the back of his seat. That is when I realized that he was moving constantly. Fidgeting, tapping, banging, shifting in his seat one direction, then flopping to the other direction. Good lord, I’ve got a 60-year-old, fullly grown man with ADHD sitting practically in my lap. But at least now I understood – the constant movement, the bad fashion sense, the need to talk to the flight attendant EVERY time she passed by. Please oh please, I thought silently, don’t let him drink too much. Needless to say, he didn’t fall asleep all night long. He spoke to his wife loudly, obviously forgetting that he was wearing headphones. He repeatedly stood up and sat back down again. He kept dropping things. In the middle of the flight, when the cabin was pitch black, he dropped his pillow and reached down to grope for it. What he found was my foot. Twice.

What does one do when a strange man grabs one’s foot in the middle of the night? I’m not sure what the protocol is, but I believe I simply shrieked “Hey!” He seemed only slightly fazed.  I fell back asleep only to be awakened what seemed like moments later for the second groping. Was the second one an accident?  If it were a normal Frenchman, I would say no, but for Monsieur 34B, anything was possible. Fortunately, he found his pillow and did not grope under the seat again for the rest of the flight. I also pulled my feet in a little tighter, just as a precaution.

We had another close encounter when he somehow managed to drop his video controller behind his seat, so that it dangled by the cord off the back of his armrest. He yanked the cord to pull it up, and of course it got stuck. In true childlike 5-year-old fashion, he yanked and tugged and banged. I finally grabbed the remote and handed it to him through the gap in the seats. He settled down to watch is video, again reclining his seat so his head could just about rest in my lap.  We were bonding, clearly.

Before I knew it, breakfast service was over and we were arriving in Paris. When we landed, however, Monsieur 34B didn’t even ask for my number. The bonding, the groping, the head-in-the-lap, obviously it meant nothing to him. I was a little hurt. Of course, he is probably still wandering CDG airport trying to find baggage claim, so it’s just as well.


  1. I’m still laughing. I can picture you….pure torture!

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