Sunday, 5 August 2007

Transportation as a token of the national character

All my readers (both of them) have complained that I've gone too deep into technical stuff; so I'll write a couple of posts that I've been thinking about some time. Namely, I'll do some comparative studies of transportation around the world; I plan to do it as seriously as I'd do a comparative study about "The Simpsons" and "Futurama"
I'll start with airports. Airports are the quintessential expression of the national character. For instance, American (and by this, I mean airports located within continental USA, explicitly excluding Puerto Rico, Hawai and the US Virgin Islands) are large; really large; really, really large. And that's not considering the parking lot, which usually has enough space to park the annual production of Ford, Chrysler and Toyota combined. They are so large that they might have a public transport system within the airport even though the city they serve might lack one. Of course, everybody knows that once logistical issues are solved that communist concept of public transportation will be replaced with individual gas guzzlers. Mind you, these airports are among the most comfortable and easy to use that I have ever seen (this would be an excellent place for a joke about Swedish women, but I'll let it pass). Seriously, this ease of use is typical American, and so is the tacky decor. In addition, in a really American Way, for a few years most employees have been speaking Spanish.
Across the ocean, you have airports that are just the opposite. Beautifully designed but impossible to use; you never know if you are in the right place or how to get there, and don't you dare to speak in English. Of course, I'm speaking about France.
A bit more to the East, you get in Germany (to the Southeast you are in Switzerland and Austria, which are quite similar regarding airports but are completely different in every other sense, so please, don't start an international conflict). German airports are, well, Germanic. The same concept that is used for chocolates is applied to airports: they are Quadratisch, Praktisch and Gut. They are squares that are practical and good, where you can just use logic to find your way. And of course, in a very German way, you can count that the timetables are exact, no matter whether the sun shines or the snow has to be cleaned from the planes' wings; I'll bet a good way to prepare mashed potatoes for dinner would be to put a sack of potatoes behind the wheels of the 7:00 PM flight and pick the remains at 7:01.
Latin American airports have the usual characteristics that you can rely on; or rather, not to rely on. They are unpunctual, the published information doesn't bear any resemblance with the facts and with a 10 U$S bribe you can get an Uzi, cocaine and, god forbids, a metal knife into the plane. But don't worry, people are friendly and a plane might be delayed for half an hour just to avoid losing a passenger.
Finally, I have to say I was quite surprised with Spanish airports. They are somewhat organized, they are large enough, and quite comfortable to use; I guess they show that Spain has really advanced since the eighties. However, one cliche is still true; if you arrive before 7 AM, you'd better wait. No employee arrives before 10.

Exceptions
I have found an amazing exception to my rule: London Heathrow is the most un-british airport I can think of. People are rude, it is a mess, no plane ever leaves on time, and worst of all, escalators' slow lanes are on the right, instead of being in the wrong side like cars!
EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg is a strange case. Even though the airport is technically in French territory, it is shared with Switzerland (there is a special fenced highway that goes directly to Basel), so there are customs WITHIN the airport, outside the arrivals and departures areas. Of course, you almost never use them, except when you leave through the wrong door and get into the wrong country. This airport stills respects my rule. The old building (built by the Swiss) is almost a square with one floor for departures, another for arrivals and then, a separate floor for restaurants and stuff. However, the new gates' building is a modern, futurist looking finger.
I guess my next post will be about subways, so stay tuned...
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2 comments:

Nut said...

Thanks, thanks, thanks. We, your fans (in which you can count more than two =P) Are happy with this change of subject, as a brazilian would say.
I was lost with all this tech. stuff you use to blog. Now with airports I feel more familiar.
Anyway I have to add a comment about Spanish airpots, staff arrives at 7 but they leave for mid-morning snack from 10 to 12 =)
don't ask me way, but this behaviour is the same in all the official buildings, so forget to get your papers before 12...

Un beso Luis

bathmate said...

I liked it.
Bathmate