Tips for the travelling translator/interpreter (1): just give me a sandwich. And a huge glass of Leffe.

Post date: Oct 01, 2013 1:9:14 PM

Picture the scene if you can: you have completed a gruelling two-week assignment in a French-speaking country somewhere in Europe (let's call it France). You are flying back to the UK from Paris CDG Terminal 2E, for which you deserve considerable sympathy. You are craving carbohydrate, and possibly a small bottle of strong lager.

Searching for said sustenance, you are guided by signs to the bizarrely located "food court" on the first floor. The lift is not there, so you schlep up the stairs with your heavy laptop bag, only to come face-to-face with what is surely quite simply the worst piece of food outlet design in the Western World. Where are the sandwiches with ostensibly exotic yet comfortingly familiar fillings? The drinks so easy to recognise when your eyes are red-rimmed and blurry? The simple self-service layout? This is what I need at an airport. To be fair, sandwiches were on sale last time I was there, but they were so dreadful with their fussy fillings and unconventional bread styles (gruyere, black olive and taramasalata on crusty soda bread, anyone?) that there was clearly no point in continuing to stock them.

No, the famished T/I is confronted with a row of fridges containing salads and desserts, and an array of hatches selling a bizarre range of hot food options (Lebanese, Chinese, Mexican, etc.). I don't want hot food! I know I'm not being reasonable! It's an airport! It's 3 pm! I want a sandwich, and, as I said, strong lager (quite possibly a big bottle now I think of it). This is a fantastic example of giving the customer not what they want, but what you think is good for them. Even the location - bizarrely out of the way, up some stairs, hidden from view - is perverse. The airport is packed, the food court is not - although I bet the staff prefer it that way. What the designers are trying to say is, "You can eat here at midday, at which time our range may be vaguely appropriate, but at any other time you are inconveniencing us, so we reserve the right to confuse you with the oddity of our offering, OK?"

Slinking back to the ground floor, hungrier than ever, I discover another, smaller, café-style food outlet under the stairs. It has a distinctly "designer" feel. I eagerly seek out the available fare. Salmon and cream cheese on a small square of focaccia - OK, sounds palatable. For 12 euros (that's £10, if you're lucky). Maybe not. Other, even tinier sandwiches are priced at a hefty 10 euros. And the only drink I recognize is coke. The bottled water looks so pretentious it makes me feel faint. I daren't even look at the price.

I stagger to newsagent-cum-emporium Relay, where I buy a tuna salad on granary and a big bottle of water for 6 euros. Several hours later, after a free glass of red wine on the plane, I fall asleep and dream of a pint of draught Leffe at Brussels airport. So many things can be considerably improved by the addition of a little strong lager. Just look at Belgium.