We Dominicans are pretty interesting creatures when it comes to air travel. If you have ever been in a flight to or from Santo Domingo you probably know what I mean. You see, we are the people that have yet to come to terms with the notion that you board the plane “by groups”, and that there is no point in elbowing your way to the front of the line if your group hasn’t been called yet. We also have no idea what “travelling light” stands for, we firmly believe that it is necessary to clap once the plane has landed (hey, you can’t blame us for trying to express our admiration and gratitude to the airplane crew), and, if a plane full of Dominicans were to make an emergency landing in the ocean (like the one they always show in the security video), I’m pretty sure we would all inflate our life jackets inside of the plane.
While I was studying abroad, I was flying back home around three times a year, so you could say that I got almost used to the folklore of those New York-Santo Domingo, or those Miami-Santo Domingo flights. Sure, they were always delayed, and took forever to board, and more than once, when someone was struggling to stick they carry-ons in the overhead compartment someone would yell “É que tiene que sacá lo plátano!” (You have to take the plantains out of the suitcase). I also realized that we Dominicans were probably the friendliest and most sociable people on Earth, never missing an opportunity to strike a conversation with the person sitting next to us on the plane. Of course, by “we Dominicans” I mean: “Most Dominicans other than me”, which probably officially makes me the only Dominican that: a) Can’t dance Merengue and b) Doesn’t really like small-talk with strangers sitting next to them. However, this last part is apparently not obvious to most people, and, as I would discover on that 7 hour Madrid-Santo Domingo flight I took in summer of 2012: It even makes people question my true nationality.
It was one of those “end of vacation” flights (You know, the ones you take when you go from a fun and exciting place back to your usual routine, and you think that you kind of have to wait until December for your next vacation. So you’re nostalgic, and a bit tired, and 80% of the time, you’re probably still hungover too). As I take my seat in the plane I start to realize that it’s probably going to be a long flight. I do the mental math of how I will potentially divide my time between the sleeping, the magazines I just bought, and the book I’m trying to finish. I aim for a very ambitious 3.5 hours of sleep, which I know probably will not happen because I have known myself for 19 years (back then).
Anyways, as my group was among the first ones to board, I get to enjoy the perks of watching the majority of the passengers get on the plane. It really is a treat. In fact, from my (still limited) traveling experience I have even formulated a new theory. I have yet to come up with a name for it, but it will probably be something along the lines of: “The Airline Magazine Postulate”. Basically, there are two types of people that get on a plane: B-types, and A-types. The B-types are those that, as soon as they sit down, start looking at the airline magazines. The A-types are those that don’t. You see, my theory predicts that if we ever went under a Zombie attack, the A-types would be the ones to get killed first. They are just not prepared. Because if they were, you would see that instead of opening up the airline magazine, they would keep reading their books, or any other magazine they bought in advance, or even just listen to their iPhones, or work in their tablets… I don’t know, they would have made an effort to bring something, ANYTHING that will keep them entertained for 7 hours (Of course, you always have “the blessed ones”, who are able to sleep on a plane for 7 hours straight and therefore don’t need any of these gadgets that we, mere mortals, depend on. But these guys are outliers).
The plane is pretty much filling up and I notice that the seat to my right is still empty. I am by the window seat, so there’s just that one seat next to me, then the hallway, and then the center row of the plane. I see that there are also a couple of children and babies within a 4-seat ratio, so chances are they will be loud at least once or twice on any given seven-hour interval. Finally, a confused-looking woman stands in front of the seat next to me. She’s dragging an over-sized carry-on, and one of those Felix-the-Cat handbags (you know, the ones where you know you could find pretty much anything, from a lipstick to an extra pair of heels). She repeatedly tries to fit her carry-on on the overhead compartment until the man standing behind her decides to give her a hand. Finally, she sits down, puts her oversized purse in her laps, and takes the Airline magazine from the seat in front of her. B-type alert.
Not even two minutes after she took her seat she started looking around. Now, anyone without the previous field experience would have just assumed that she was distressed. Oh no, but not me, I have seen that expression before, and it certainly does not stand up for “distress”, that’s actually her looking-for-someone-to-make-conversation with face. You know, looking around, trying to catch a glimpse of the demographics on board and looking for her target audience. She starts staring at the woman on the other side of the hall, looking as if she’s juust about to go test the waters:
“Tu ere dominicana?” (Are you Dominican?)
To which the woman across the hallway replies:
“SIIIII! How do you know?” (I mean, come on, it’s not like we’re flying to Santo Domingo today).
“Ay yo también! But I have been living so long in Madrid that I am practically an Española by now! In fact, I even brought a BO-CA-TA with me!” As she said this she took out a foot-long sandwich from her purse (see, told you you could find anything in there) and dove right in. Then she pointed it at her (apparently) newly found friend:
“Quiere?” (Want some?)
“No, gracias. Ay, I should have brought something, que la comida aquí e tan desabría”
They start bonding over the usual small-talk. Y’know… the usual: whether they are living in Madrid or were just visiting, the current location of every one of their children, the purpose of this particular flight, if they are traveling somewhere else in the DR or just staying in Santo Domingo etc etc etc. I try to fall asleep as we take off, only to wake up later to realize that only 20 minutes had passed.
I see that the two women are still talking and that the one sitting next to me (#1) is trying to dig up something from her purse, but can’t seem to find it. The woman across the hallway (#2) is staring in suspense, and now even I would like to see what is it that woman #1 is going to take out of her purse next…
“Ajá! Aquí está”
Woman #1 takes out a plastic bag that, to my surprise, has 6 different nail polishes. She offers them to Woman #2: “You see, I cannot go for seven hours without finding something to do, so I like to paint my nails. Here, I’ll paint yours” (Huh, so do this make her an A-type then? I have to revise my theory…). I wondered why I had never seen anyone painting her nails before in an airplane. I mean, it is a pretty legit way to pass the time, and since you won’t be moving around and using your hands much you run a lower risk of ruining it. Hmm…Perhaps it’s not so common because people sometimes try to be considerate towards those around them… you know… because nail polish smells… a lot. And… it’s a pressurized vessel, so… you can’t really open the windows…
But I let that pass, and I didn’t about the smell when she opened the bottle of nail polish, I just quietly observed while woman #2 extended her arm across the hallway in order for woman #1 to paint her nails. I even restrain myself from making any sarcastic comment whenever someone attempted to walk down to the bathroom and had to cross this new (wo)man-made barrier. This proved to be, in fact, a challenge, and I realized that the smell of nail polish and the loud conversations just next to me were not making my hangover that much better. But I decide that it’s probably best if I just ignore her. She’s not really bothering me, I’m probably just shocked because the whole nail-polish-on-an-airplane-thing is new to me. So I’ll just go on to read my book, and try to fall asleep again.
We go on most of the flight without making making conversation. She was already besties with woman #2, and really good buddies to the other woman sitting behind me, who was traveling with her two kids. Heck, she even played with one of the kids on one occasion. At one point the food arrived so as they were handing us our trays, and it almost looked as if she was going to say something to me, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
It was only near the end of the flight that we actually got a chance to talk. The crew had just handed over the immigration forms for us to fill, and as I was reaching for my bag I noticed that she was sort of… observing me. I knew immediately what was going on: she was waiting to see my passport. She had not made conversation to with me yet, and I was sitting right next to her, but now was her chance… finally. And then, as soon as I put my passport on the table, she asks me:
“Tu ere dominicana?!?!”
“Yes I am “. Then she turns quickly to woman #2: “Tu vé! Te lo dije, ella e dominicana!!!” (You see, I told you so, she’s Dominican).
She turns back to me and goes:
“It’s just that we have been debating on whether or not you were Dominican, but I told her that you could NOT possibly be Dominican. DON’T ASK ME WHY.”
And of course, since there is only one way to react to that question, I ask her:
And she quickly goes:
“Ay é que tu tiene esa cara de truño!” (It’s just that you have that truño face. It vaguely means something like: You look angry/pissed) “Why can’t you just cheer up?”
“Perdón doña, but to be honest, I’m reaaaally hungover, and I was just trying to sleep a bit, or read my book… I wasn’t trying to be rude…”
Of course, she did not want my excuses, and she had just got the golden ticket she had waited for 6 and a half hours:
“So what were you doing in Spain?”
“I was… on vacation…”
“Do you live in Santo Domingo?”
“No, actually, I live in Canada, but I have to make a stop in Santo Domingo”
“Is it cold there?”
“Well, definitely more than in Santo Domingo”
“What do you do in Canada?”
“AHHHH How nice! So THAT’S why you seemed to be so concentrated before! Well, keep up the good work, pero cambia esa cara”
I smile back and think: Of course, that’s why I had my truño face.