28 March 2012

For the Love of Duty Free.

What do a middle-aged Maintenance Manager from Alabama, an 8 year-old Congolese boy and I have in common? This watch. That’s right, the Timex Weekender. Kudos Timex for appealing to quite possibly the broadest audience imaginable. And of course it looks totally fabulous on all of us. (Updated: Turns out my father-in-law also has this watch.)
When I pointed out our shared watch to Mr. Maintenance he said in his best Alabama meets Congo accent, “Did ya get that on the airplane?” When my student pointed out he had the same watch as me, I totally ignored him--like all good, embarrassed teachers do.

Really the message here is the power of the Duty Free magazine on the plane. I swear they pump something in that oxygen to make you say, “Yes, of course I want those heart-shaped diamond cuff links!”

earring jewel by Gnilenkov Aleksey, on Flickr
Yes. Of course.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Gnilenkov Aleksey

I can’t imagine how much money airlines make on duty free for their flights in and out of Congo. When you’re leaving Kinshasa it’s your first chance to shop on the way to your first world destination. And on the way back, it’s your last frantic opportunity to stock up on watches, Antonio Banderas cologne and those irresistible models of the plane you’re already in. I've actually seen a woman buy 8 of the same watch. This is a clear sign someone is coming to Congo for the long haul...or has been here way too long.

Take, for example, my last trip to Nairobi as the chaperone for a gaggle of high school girls. Waiting to board the plane in the N’djili lounge (I’m being very generous in calling this holding cell a “lounge”) every single girl had this purse. I felt very embarrassed I didn’t have this same purse, but then remembered I was in fact a good 12 years older than them, and maybe having the same purse would have been more embarrassing. Anyway, one looked at me, in that way that much younger, much cooler teenage girls do and said, “Duty Free. Air France. Spring Collection.”

P.S. After you land, never price compare on Amazon. You will have almost certainly spent more on your "duty free" purchase than the rest of the world does ordering online.


  1. One can never have too many bottles of Antonio Banderas cologne. I always keep a back-up in case I run out.

  2. Hey - that's my watch too (except for the 24 hr. numbers)! The stem came off and I have to use a knife and needle nose pliers to get the time reset, but woks great and was about the cheapest, good looking watch out there to buy.


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