Phew! I had no idea that me being a woman can be so intimidating to men that a flight can be delayed. Seriously. If I wasn’t there, and if I was not the cause of a commotion, I would not have believed it myself. And all I did was to occupy a randomly allocated seat on a plane.
Anyone who know me, will know that I am curious about all sorts of religions, philosophies and faith systems, because I believe having an open mind is important, and there is always a gem in the beliefs of others that I can benefit from.
I am still struggling to see the gem in this experience.
I was on a late-night flight from Krakow to London. The flight was delayed by over half an hour, and it obviously had been a long day for the flight crew. To add to the stress, the flight was overbooked.
There was a group of about ten Hassidic Jewish men in the departure hall. They kept to themselves, away from the other passengers. Nothing wrong with that – I guess if you believe, act and dress against the mainstream, you can have bad experiences, and deliberate isolation is a weapon against unwanted attention.
When it was boarding time, the group was first through the gate. No big deal, since everyone had a paid seat, and the seats were pre-allocated by the airline – unless you wanted to pay extra for picking your own seat. All I wanted was to have a seat, and to get home. I got a window seat, and although I normally prefer an aisle seat, I decided to do nothing about it, because I intended to sleep anyway.
So, we got on the plane – a crowd of tired people, eager to get home.
I found my seat and got settled. After a short time, most of the passengers were seated, but three of the Hassidic Jews were still standing in the aisle – in fact, not standing, but mulling around as much as you can do this in a cramped airplane. The very patient steward probably asked these three men seven times to please have a seat, while he was closing overhead lockers, and dealing with other pre-flight stuff. But they kept mulling around and talking to each other and the rest of the groups, clearly agitated.
Eventually the steward told them that they had to sit down, because the plane doors were closed, and the flight was ready to depart. Suddenly they all understood English, and one of them (a well-fed one with a plastic bag containing cigarettes and tin foil-wrapped food) pointed at me and I heard the word “woman”.
It turned out that the reason for them not taking their seats, was that none of them wanted to sit in a middle seat where there was even the remotest possibility of them even touching me, a mere woman.
And this on an overbooked plane where there are no spare seats, at 10.30 pm. Seriously, brother …
What was I to do? Give up my seat so that we could just get home? For a split second I thought of doing that, but then I thought no, God created me and each one of them and each one of their mothers, and God did not make a mistake. They clearly wanted the world to turn their way, and not in a pleasant or considerate manner either. Behind the prayer shawls and other garb were ordinary mortals who have obviously learnt to use their appearance (with long hair locks over the temples) and their dress code to manipulate the world, even if it is at the expense of other people.
I sat there and looked each one of them in the eyes in the friendliest possible way, and smiled.
The end result was that two other passengers offered to change seats, so that Tom, Dick and Harry could for heavens sake just sit down and we could get going.
Does this make me intolerant or disrespectful? Let’s see.
We got to London – by now it was close to midnight.
The plane was still taxiing, when the three musketeers and the rest of their crowd unfastened their seatbelts and gathered their stuff. I had never seen anything like that. The plane only came to a standstill about three minutes after the first of them got up. They were already crowding the aisle. I think the stewards were equally surprised by this.
The well-fed one was standing in the aisle next to the couple who did them (and everyone else) the favour of changing seats. The man in the aisle seat made an effort to get up – as passengers normally do when the plane comes to a standstill.
And guess what Mr Well-Fed did? He actually pointed a finger at this man and told him to stay seated. Like you would address a naughty pet. The man was as astonished as I was and remained seated.
So the crowd of Hassidic Jews marched off the plane, and everyone made way for them, because the alternative would have been a confrontation and God knows what the outcome of that would be in politically correct England.
But that was not the end of it.
I got my luggage and waited in the queue for the shuttle bus to the car park. There they were again – at the front of the queue. So? Of course, they can be at the front of the queue – first come, first served. Don’t be petty.
And the bus came. And Tom, Dick and Harry and their entire crowd got onto the bus and grabbed all available seats. Forget the couple with a small and restless baby. Never mind the elderly couple and the pregnant woman. They had their seats.
Do my observations indicate religious bias? Or did I happen to observe a group of exceptionally rude men who otherwise would probably have been punched on the nose, but who got away with this behaviour purely because they are big bullies in black garb with prayer shawls? You tell me.
I was just too happy to get home. And I still don’t subscribe to any religion, but rather believe in the philosophy of “live and let live”.
How would you have acted?
I often wonder about religion, faith and tolerance.
This time my questions were triggered by an item about a postcard advert for a non-emergency phone number for the police. The postcard featured
I have recently returned from a trip to South Africa, where I was born and spent my first forty-three years in this life.
A week before I went there, serious xenophobic attacks broke out and sadly, many people met a violent end.
I was asked by friends in the UK whether I thought it was wise to go there, and my answer was