Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Luggage Limits

luggage-airport seriesImage by j.cliss via Flickr

I'm going to make a comparison I never thought I'd make: the millions of Turkish people who travel between Germany and Turkey each year and myself, preparing to travel to Toronto this summer. And the particular focus of my comparison centers on luggage.

For the trip to Toronto, I not only need to bring clothes for all types of weather, but I'm packing all the paraphernalia that comes with babies -- diapers, changes of clothes, toys to occupy during the flight, food mill for making fruit and vegetable purees, bottles ... In my defense, there is a lot I'm not bringing; I've made arrangements to borrow a stroller, car seat, crib, high chair, and toys in Toronto. But still, I was dismayed to learn that Air France's baggage allowance is pretty meagre: 1 bag per person; and that my son's allowed baggage weight is half of mine.

You see, there are also all the Turkish delights I want to bring to Toronto. Several litres of pomegranate syrup, for one thing; and of course freshly ground Turkish coffee and baklava; plus a few trinkets to give as gifts -- some copper ware, a small woven rug.

And returning to Turkey, I'm going to want to bring back all kinds of things, mostly foodstuffs. Cilantro, yellow tomato and sweet potato seeds (I'm determined to grow some veggies this year), celery salt and all-spice, quinoa, spelt, kamut and teff, and maple syrup. Oh, and hard honey. And so much more; I just know that as soon as I start roaming the isles at Loblaws, that I'll buy a suitcase's worth!

I suppose the bane of expat life is that you're forever straddling two worlds, always painfully aware of the one or two things that you can't have in one place or the other, unable to take the best of each culture and create your own utopia.

Turks travelling to Germany bring a season's worth of homemade salça and cheese, or else a favourite cookie; those travelling in the opposite direction bring uniquely German candies or herbal remedies, or else a brilliantly engineered piece of household equipment that one just can't find in Turkey.

Which brings me back to luggage. A few years ago, I was outraged at the audacity of three separate women in two different airports who asked me to check in some of their luggage under my name. I was travelling between Adana and Dusseldorf, Berlin and Adana, and I had painstakingly reduced my luggage to just one small carry-on bag. I was an instant target. Caught off guard, and unable to just say no, my stomach twisted into knots and my weak knees threatened to buckle under me as I waited in line at the check-in desk. Each woman had given me perfectly sound explanations for her need to travel with excess baggage; one was pregnant and had brought with her everything she'd need after the birth. But I hate breaking rules, and I knew airline luggage policies were strict for good reason. What if one of the bags contained a bomb?!! Or, more realistically, citrus or meat or some other banned food item?

In each case I told the woman at the check-in counter that the people behind me were welcome to piggyback on my unused luggage allowance; grabbed my boarding pass and ran through customs. I didn't see any of those people again.

Now I look back at those incidents with an ironic smile; how much I've changed, how much I've grown to be quite similar to those travelers who offended me so much a few years ago. Of course I will never, not in even the most desperate of circumstances, ask anyone to check in my luggage for them. But I wouldn't take offense to their request.

Too bad I'm no longer a target, though.
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