maandag 24 november 2014

A Warm Welcome

Every country has its own way of greeting visitors, that’s one of the charms of travelling abroad. In a huge part of Europe there is no greeting but signs next to the road or at the entrance of the airport saying “welcome to …” .

Travelling to the USA is a complete different story. It starts even before getting on your flight. You will already be interrogated thoroughly about purpose of your journey and such. On the flight you will get a white and a green piece of paper. The crew is willing to give you assistance in answering the questions on these.

We did everything according to the rules and expected no problems whatsoever. Travelling a lot gives you a feeling of trust in things to come. I had not flown to the USA for quite some years but didn’t expect much change in procedures.
We were wished a very nice stay in Philadelphia by the crew when we left the plane. Although we were a bit tired because of lack of sleep caused by crying babies around us on the flight, we were in a great mood. The longest part of the journey was done and we would see our relatives pretty soon.

After some walking the passengers were split in two groups. USA-citizens and non-USA-citizens.
We belonged to the second group; I told my wife that another name for this group is: aliens.
She was walking with a walking-stick and I could only hope the walk would not be very far. It was not too bad and we were led into a huge hall. There were long lines in front of a lot of counters in a sort of booth. On each of them were large warning signs that it was forbidden to attack the officer that was on duty in them. In between the lines uniformed and armed security personnel were walking. Sometimes they shouted something to people.

My wife poked me in the ribs at a certain moment. One of the guards was addressing us, she thought. We had to get out of the line and form a new one immediately. We obeyed and stood in front of a booth that was empty. This looked a bit pointless and this was confirmed when the officer in the booth in front of our former line shouted at us that we had to go back. So we did. There was no explanation about this moving to and from.
The guard was checking the green and white forms of a man belonging to an Asian looking family.

There was a baby in the arms of his wife and he was leading two other children. They must have been younger than four and were half crying all the time. They were probably tired. The guard yelled at the man. He forgot a few lines on the white paper. He was sent back to complete it and she ordered him and his family to get back at the end of the line after doing this.

After twenty minutes it was our turn and the officer in the booth asked the same questions as were asked before getting on the plane. He made iris-scans and we both had to get our fingerprints checked in another scan . The first one of my wife went perfectly and because she has seen detective series she put after her forefinger her middle finger on the scan. The officers face turned purple and he yelled at her that she screwed up the system. He slammed a bit on his keyboard and sighed. It seemed like he restarted his computer. My wife offered to do the scan again, but he refused. She would be sorry for this messing up the system, he said. He slammed some marks in her passport and ordered her to make way for me. I learned the lesson and things went smoothly for me.

We were relieved to have passed the test and went to get our luggage. This was already on the belt so we felt quite happy about that. It had to be sent further on a next flight, so we were ordered to swing it on a pile of other suitcases. That took away some of the happiness. My luggage has been making real journeys around the world before. But we had no choice.
The next thing was getting on our next continental flight.

We came into a room of the size of a classroom. Some hundred persons were packed over here.
Because of no ventilation and no air conditioning it was very warm and smelly. There was obviously one line and it was led in a sort of labyrinth across the room. The red cord used for this was the only nice thing I could find in this. There was a uniformed guard yelling at people and some others prevented you from stepping out of line.

I knew that my wife was not going to be able to stand and shuffle in this room for a long time. So I asked one of the guards if there was a possibility to do something about this. She looked at me in disgust and barked that we had to come with a wheelchair. But she shrugged after this and led us past all the others. We felt a bit guilty towards the waiting people but also very relieved.

Immediately it was our turn. The security man barked something like “Cow Cow”. We both couldn’t make sense out of this. Even louder he shouted “SHOES OFF”. So we did and walked with our shoes in hand towards him. My passport was checked and my backpack screened. It went okay.
My wife noticed the working of the curse of the immigration officer. She was led to the side, she was body searched and her handbag was turned upside down and the content was checked. She was allowed to put everything back again while her walking stick was thoroughly investigated.
And then we could go on. Another guard yelled that we had to speed up with putting on our shoes. Even when we walked from this inferno we were ordered to hurry on. I made a comment about this. You can hardly expect that my wife will spurt away! She signed me to be quiet but the guard only had to laugh about this.

We walked out of this and stepped into a different world. The first words heard were “Can I help you Madam?” And there was air conditioning! And a lot shops and restaurants! We decided to celebrate by having a cup of iced-coffee in one of the cafes and we both said at the same time that we pitied the people who were still in that awful room.

We haven’t decided when to visit the USA again…

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