220 Shades of Grey

220 Shades of Grey

Wednesday 5:45h, Munich airport. I am at gate 16, Air Berlin. Life is grey, blue, black. Mostly grey. So many men. So many suits. So many shirts. So many shiny shoes. A few pairs of jeans, below a practical Jack Wolfskin coat. Tech staff or engineers I presume.

I am sitting, staring at the passengers I will soon share an airplane with. I smell Axe, Adidas, Chanel for men. Some look at me, flirt. I wonder if they find me attractive or if it´s just the lack of alternatives. I am the only woman between so many men. We sit, we wait and nip from our coffee.

The stewardess starts to call for boarding. First all the people having something to do with the frequent flyer or Sky programme.

All of a sudden I see purple. It is lively, beautiful, refreshing, business…feminine. High purple heels, tights, a purple skirt, a yellow top and a purple blazer. Oh what beautiful clothes. You make this picture shine! My eyes move up. A wrinkly skin, heavy lipstick and eyes looking annoyed. You express misery. A grumpy man I would not have noticed, but you are in the spotlight. A light of misery in the dark. A purple dot in a sea of grey. Poor you!

I am boarding the aircraft. Row 26, seat B. Seat A and C are occupied by men. One helps me out of my coat, the other stores my backpack in the luggage compartment. Daddy instinct or potential sex partner? Age-wise both possible.

A sporty stewardess is elegantly walking from the front to the back of the aircraft. Every step is followed by two clicks of closing luggage compartments. She pauses at the row in front of us. It is empty. She comes a bit closer and looks over the seats into our laps.

“Anyone with long legs?”

The man on the aisle jumps up.

“I have.”

I struggle to keep the sip of coffee I just took in my mouth, pressing my lips together, swallow. A few drops still run out. He looks at me. Playful, friendly, surprised.

“You call that long?” I ask him.

He shakes his head, smiles, lifts his arms sideways.

“What? I am not that short!”

“No, but long is just different,” I reply.

My other neighbour is laughing, entertained. He looks at me, curious. One minute of silence. I feel he is searching for a question, a comment.

“Where are you going?” he asks.

“I think we all have the same destination” I reply. Realising that my answer is an absolute small talk killer I say: “You tell first.”

“I am having an appointment today to sell something to a potential customer.”

“Are you a salesman?”


“What do you sell?”

“Plugs” he says slightly insecure.

I laugh. “You sell plugs?”


“What do you tell people at parties if they ask you about your job? Do you admit you sell plugs?”

He laughs. “It is not that bad…”

“Well, it is,” I reply. “But what is so special about your plug that you need to fly to Hannover for it? It is not a normal plug right?”

“No, it is not a normal plug. But it is too technical to explain.”

“Really?” With a half-smile I briefly look him in the eyes. “You think I do not understand it?”

Slightly embarrassed he tells me about his plug. A special plug that adapts to the position of cables attached to moving medical lights in surgery rooms. It takes him a while to explain. Smartarse me, I say: “You should write a pitch. An “explain your plug to dummies” pitch. For parties and so on.”

“Probably” he says. “Now it is your turn. What do you do?”

“I am traveling to a research institute to give a seminar to women in science. A career seminar.”

“Why for women?” he asks. “Is that topic not done yet?”

I lift up my head, stretch my neck, look over the seat in front of me, to the front, to the back. I look at him. Mockingly I say “It is a grey, grey world here, dude.”

“Yes”, he says. He lifts his shoulders and nods his head. “You are right.”


Karin Bodewits (NaturalScience.Careers)

This article was originally published in Laborjournal.


Interested in women’s challenges when entering the world of 220 Shades of grey? You might be interested in our workshop Women in leadership.


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