That’s what she said, this fellow F/A of mine. I’m serious.
I’m going to call this lady Helen. She is well into her 60’s I’d guess. German. She’s the kind of colleague whose name I remember because she’s terribly nice as a person, but terribly annoying as a workmate. She is simply so….(cliché) “German”. Everything must be done her way, which is “according to policy”, even if it is trivial and nonsensical for the situation. (And as any F/A can tell you, what is by-the-book is not always what works or makes sense when it comes to service.) She’s also sometimes rather, um, dense. (In case the policy obsession didn’t tell you.)
We were on our homebound flight from Europe last week. She was standing at the boarding door, directing pax to their cabin. She motioned me over emphatically. “Sarah, I need to speak to you privately.” Ok, that’s dramatic, but sure. (She was neither quiet nor subtle.) “An Arab man just went into the bathroom…,” she looks around cautiously, “and then peeked his head out, asking me for…a toothbrush.”
She nodded with wide, serious eyes as if this were some red-hand evidence. I said, “I don’t understand.”
“Sarah…Arabs don’t brush their teeth! This is wrong. Oh…this is all wrong. I have a pit in my stomach. It’s very suspicious.”
I am certainly all for being vigilant. But seriously? I scanned her face to see if she was joking, but Helen doesn’t joke. And she was seriously disconcerted. But there were so many things wrong with what she’d just said that I didn’t even know where to begin! I couldn’t make up something so ludicrous! So offensive! So dumb!
“Well, I’m not really concerned. I mean, if he asked you for a toothbrush, that means he was hoping for one from you. Which means it would be a perfectly normal toothbrush. No missiles inside, no ninja stars.” She didn’t smile.
“But Arabs do not brush their teeth. It’s not right. Somethings fishy. This man is completely suspicious. Now he’s staring at me. I told you!”
“Helen, you do realize that you just claimed that people with a certain color of skin around the world do not brush their teeth? I mean…maybe he’s Hispanic. Maybe he’s American of Arab descent. Maybe he is from an Arab country but is a foreign diplomat. Even if what you say were true – which it’s not – there are still so many reasons why it might not apply to him.”
Helen left me there while she went into the airport to double check his name. Ok fine. I will admit that while she was gone, the dude looked at me hard, like he were a dog and I was dangling a treat in front of him. It was uncomfortable, but I watched him only peripherally, suspecting it was because Helen was so obvious. Sure enough, after about 3 minutes of not looking at him, he completely relaxed. (And he turned out to be a noticeably nice guy on top of it. I wished I could apologize for what he obviously knew was going on.)
Helen came back, said he checked out to her satisfaction and I posited that it was her suspicion that caused the staring. And – sweet Helen – she was all, “Oh my goodness. I bet you’re right. Such a thing never occurred to me. Sarah, I’m so glad I talked to you.”
See? She’s really a sincere person. She’s just a little…howdoyousayit? I’m glad she’s being vigilant, but I’m also glad that I’m not depending on her judgement to keep us safe! Or whomever taught her that about Arabs. We’d all be doomed.