Not Sweating the Small Stuff

Most likely, some of my ancestors on my mother’s side came over on the potato-famine boats. Weeks of seasickness, storms, cramped spaces, and eating biscuits with bugs.

Nevertheless, just to “be that guy” I will whine about my flight – my three flights. These are not big problems, but the human psyche has a way of elevating these things, and of sweating the small stuff… My trick to calm myself down is to project my imagination to my life a month or two from now, when I will have forgotten the mundane details.

The check-in counter printed the wrong passport number on my boarding pass. Security was going to let me board the domestic flight to Beijing but told me I would have a “big problem” going through Beijing’s immigration and getting on the LAX flight.

So I went back to the check-in counter and alternated between being polite and insistent. The loud American.  I kept saying that it was their mistake, not mine, etc… Eventually it worked. But it put me in the frame of mind to notice the small stuff.

Like what’s the deal with these “departure cards” that so many countries make you fill out with paper? If you don’t have them they point to the back of the room – like you are supposed to leave your place in a 15-minute line to fetch one of these cards. I just snatched one from the next stall and remained up front, filling it out illegibly.

These departure cards contain no information that is not already processed by the immigration department’s computer. In this case, China knows full well who arrives and leaves, and when, with their name, birthdate, gender, etc… all digitally stored in a secure, highly confident system. The information is accurate.

But China and many other countries ask for these departure cards, most of which are filled out a half-mindedly from what I can tell. Does anyone ever read these cards?  Of course not. That would be a waste of time. They pile up in a warehouse. I think Europe started this ritual.

Then I try to settle into the flight by watching a movie. Every minute or two – for a long time – the movie would pause to make an “announcement” by Air China. First in Chinese and then in English. I don’t meant to pick on Air China: the Japanese airlines are even worse in this regard. The first announcement contains relevant and sufficient information. It should be enough. The first 45 minutes of the flight are subject to non-stop interruptions.

Subsequent announcements tend to repeat the same information, even delving into arcane things like the airplane’s flying altitude (when that info is up on the screen) and that a meal will now be served (why not just serve the meal?). Some announcements even the weather in the destination city.

And then, picking up of my annoyance, my screen starts to get glitchy, synergized with my own now-glitchy electrical field. The stewardess offers to change my seat. I get my stuff ready and the screen comes back on again, mocking me.

It’s really small stuff, when you think about it. Small stuff compared with the potato famine boats.

Then, after such a long journey I’m taking a much-needed hot shower. The room’s phone rings. I rush out to answer it (maybe it’s my children) leaving my room wet, and ruining my nice shower.

“Hello, this is reception, we are just calling to see if everything was OK in your room? Just let us know if there is anything you need!”

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