I believe that the act of long queuing brings out the wild animal in many people. They push and shove and cheat and skip the line. By the time they arrive at the front of the queue they don't want to wait a moment longer and sometimes, as a cashier at the Chateau, you find yourself with two different people waving money in your face, saying 'I was first', 'no, I was'. It would be quite comical if it wasn't so pathetic.
Anyway, this is what I was faced with on one particular day at work: an older French woman with a group of five old fogies behind her, and a younger American woman with a protruding pregnant belly looking rather pissed off but about to give up. I had seen the French woman come from behind the queue and right up to the front - she'd blatantly skipped the line - and the poor American girl had been patiently waiting in the queue next to her husband. She had a right to look pissed off.
I turned to the French woman and said, "I'm sorry Madame, but they were first." She shot me a vitriolic grimace and clung onto the edge of the cash desk with such force that the tips of her fingers turned white, waiting to pounce before the next person in the queue could get in.
After serving the younger woman, the group of oldies pushed themselves closer to the ticket booth and I had a 100 euro note shoved in my face.
"Six tickets." The woman snapped, throwing me a scathing glance. No hello, no please, no nothing. I swallowed my desire to say 'and what's the magic word?'
"Wait, wait," her friend pushed her way to the front. "We get in for free, no? We're all retired."
"I'm afraid not, Madame." I replied. "There are no reductions for senior citizens."
"There are at the Louvre." One of them said.
"Yes, well...This is Versailles."
They all shook their heads and exchanged mumblings about how unfair that was.
"What about teachers?" Another one of them asked. "I have my education card."
It was becoming obvious that they were the type of people who would try to find a get-in-for-free card from every angle. "Teachers don't pay to enter the palace, but the card has to be the National Education 2009 card." I explained.
"But I'm retired!" She cried. "My card's from 2005!"
Well then you're no longer a teacher, I wanted to say. But I held my tongue. "I'm sorry, the ticket controllers will only let you enter for free if you have the correct card. Now, what kind of tickets would you like to buy?"
"What about diplomates? Do they get in for free?" One of the women asked. The thing was, I was a bit stuck now. I didn't know this word. Had never heard of it. (Even though, shamefully, my mum tells me it's the same word in English...)I looked to my left, preparing to ask my colleague if this 'diplomate' thing had free entry or not, but she was busy. I looked to my right where my other colleague was also terribly busy. Uh-oh. Not wanting to disturb them, it appeared I was well and truly stuck. And so, taking a chance, I said, "Umm, a diplomate?"
Now, normally, a nice person would try to find another word to describe what it was, but the woman rolled her eyes and said, "What? You don't know what it is?"
Embarrassed, I shook my head. "No..."
"Are you an idiot?" She asked, here eyes open wide in disbelief. "It's a career."
I could feel my cheeks turning red, the skin prickling with the heat. The woman turned to her friends and said "She doesn't even know what a diplomate is! I wish they wouldn't employ these damn foreigners. Do they only employ idiots here or are we just unlucky to have gotten stuck with this imbécile?"
And at that, I felt the adrenalin of anger fill my body. I was so angry at her disgusting, arrogant behaviour that something took over the normally scared-of-confrontation me.
"Excuse me Madame! But there's no need to be so impolite just because I'm a foreigner. No, I'm not French and I'm sorry that it offends you so much, but that's your problem more than it is mine. I don't know what a diplomate is, I don't actually know the entire French dictionary off by heart. Now, if you don't want to deal with a foreigner then I suggest you get in the queues either to your left or to your right. Both of my colleagues are French which should be more to your liking. Who's next, please?"
But the woman didn't move. For a moment I thought I had managed to silence her, to make her feel bad for her arrogance. For a split second I was sure I saw something like shame pass over her face. But instead of an apology or her getting out of the way, she came closer to the counter. "I shall speak Eenglish, zen." She said in English with a crappy accent. The woman refused to budge!
I sighed. "Oh, so you speak English, do you?"
"Yez I speak Eenglish very well. Per'aps we can get zee ticketz faster zan when we speak in French."
I hated this woman and I didn't even know her. I closed my fists and pressed tiny half moon nail indentations into my palms. It was all I could do not to just fly for her.
"Give me two seconds then please." I said and closed my glass window that separates us. I left my seat and crouched down beside my colleague and, whispering in her ear, asked her if diplomates were free. "Nope," she whispered back. "They just think they are. They're all connards."
Stiffling laughter, I went back to my post and opened the window again, a big, fake smile on my face. "Sorry about that. I just learned what a diplomate is. Where I come from it's called a baw bag*."
"A baw bag?" She asked.
"Yes." I said matter-of-factedly.
"And are zee baw bagz free in zee palace? My huzband is a baw bag."
"No, Madame, Baw bags are not free." I handed over six tickets and her change. "Bye bye now."
It may have been immature, but it sure felt good.
*baw bag - Scottish for ball bag. Literally scrotum. Used as an insult 'given to one who is annoying, useless or just plain stupid.'