I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but the Eurostar waiting room at Paris Gare du Nord is quite widdly.
There is a long, narrow corridor leading from the customs desk, with shops on one side and a window down onto the platforms on the other; there is a slight hiatus where the toilets are; and then there is a single room with seats, not much larger than an average-sized school classroom. The chances of managing to obtain a seat there are few; most people just stand around listlessly with their luggage.
One journey, however, I proved lucky. A train had just departed; the waiting room had emptied; and I managed to bag a seat in the middle of a row. A young Frenchman took the seat next to me, placing his luggage on the floor beside him. Quickly, all the seats around us were filled.
A companionable silence existed. I was reading a book; he was looking at a text on his phone. After ten minutes, he stood up, glancing around, before asking me:
“Would you mind keeping my seat?”
He pointed towards the toilet; he didn’t need to say anything more.
“Of course,” I agreed.
He moved his bag from the floor onto the seat itself, and disappeared in the direction of the toilets.
A couple of minutes passed; I continued reading, when I was suddenly conscious of the bag beside me being moved. I looked up, expecting to see the young Frenchman; instead, there was a boorish-looking, middle-aged Englishman. With no attempt at decorum, he pushed my neighbour’s bag onto the floor and sat down heavily in the seat himself.
My nascent “Excuse me” died on my lips, as he had his diatribe ready prepared:
“Seats are for people, not for bags.”
I tried to explain:
“But, I’m just saving this for someone who has gone to the toilet. He will be back in two minutes.”
My words were met by nothing more than an obstinately turned back and the slight shuffling of a fat arse whilst, across the room, I could see the young Frenchman returning.
What to do?
In my exasperation, I vacated my own seat, let the young, and now slightly bemused, Frenchman take my place, and let the ill-mannered usurper stew in the glare of my latent fury.
I wanted to say:
“You must need a seat so badly in order to support the huge weight of your self-entitlement.”
But the words only came to me later, much later, after I had left the waiting room; after my Eurostar had rolled out of Paris; later that evening when I was still stewing about the incident, in the restless quiet of my bed. Those were the words that I should have said. At the time, all I could come up with was a sotto voce:
The silly thing is, there is a part of me that sympathises with the selfish seat-snatcher; I don’t like people hogging multiple chairs in a waiting room with all their luggage either, particularly when there are people standing. It harks back to the old battleground of towels on sunbeds. But what I loathe more is the casual attitude of self-entitlement, which provoked my own assailant’s manoeuvre; his action was not inspired by wanting to take a high moral stand, merely an egocentric complacency of the world. I wish that I had had the quick wit to challenge him.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny to the self-entitled seat-snatcher: “J’accuse!”.