Booking ahead for our early morning train ride on Saturday morning, I decided to opt for First Class tickets. Why not eh? It’s quieter and more comfortable and not much more expensive. Screw the recession, let’s treat ourselves, I thought.
I’m rather partial to a First Class voyage when I can get away with it, and who isn’t. My only concern lies in the effect it has on my brain.
Racing onto a plane home from Croatia a few years ago just in time not to miss it altogether, the on-board crew had no choice but to put us in First Class as the rest of the flight was full. The fact that this so-called area looked and was exactly the same as Standard just with a different label didn’t stop us being all ‘get us!’ and la-di-da about the whole thing. We’d been bumped up and even though it didn’t actually affect our flight experience in any way whatsoever, we were still disgustingly smug.
Even as I walked onto the train on Saturday – planning as I stepped to write a piece about the First Class illusion when I got back – I could feel that I was swinging my hips and, in spite of myself, striding like I mattered. It was a walk that said ‘Excuse me, step aside, I’ve got some free tea and coffee (which I actually hate) to consume, because THAT’S what it means to sit in First Class, don’t you know.’ That is all it means.
Online train booking means high-end travel is now a game everyone can play. Advance tickets and discount sites allow the likes of me – if we’re organised enough – to sit amongst the leather for the same cost as perching on whatever the cheaper seats are made of.
Like so many brands, the First Class effect is, of course, just a silly illusion. There is no such thing as a First Class person – you’re just a person who happens to be sitting in a particular type of chair. But the label and the palaver have the potential to make you, if only momentarily, believe that you are somehow better than those sitting/flying/eating elsewhere from you. How bizarre.
The train is like a long narrow microcosm of what’s going on beyond the stations it stops at. Some people are choosing yet another snack from the food trolley, whilst others are just trying to find somewhere to sit down. Either way, no group is better than the other.
And in reality nobody called me Madam, no-one polished my shoes, and when I went to the bathroom, there wasn’t anybody in there to hand me towels. Don’t get me wrong, it was very comfortable but all in all, it was just like I was just a girl on a train, sitting in the blue section rather than the red section – like it didn’t actually say anything about who I am or my place in society at all.
Thank goodness for that.