Friday, May 15, 2009


The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg apparently recently landed in New Zealand. This is how he described the experience:

It’s quite a contrast to the brutal fuck-you that greets foreigners arriving in the United States. Here, the lines are short and the officials polite; at J.F.K., arriving foreigners run a gauntlet of delays, ugliness, sullen contempt, and near chaos while being treated alternately as cattle or potential terrorists. Here the baggage carts are free; at J.F.K. you have to pay for them. Here, a welcome stand offers free tea and coffee; at J.F.K., the shakedowns begin almost as soon as you hit the ground.

I agree with him except for one thing: I don't think that Americans are really treated that much better when entering our own country. Since the 1980s, I have felt much more comfortable entering Europe as an American than entering the US as an American. The Europeans have never gone through my bags or asked me any stupid questions.

I remember once landing in Detroit, grabbing a cart for my luggage, and having some guy from airport staff grab it away from me because I hadn't paid for it. I told him it was standing around when I found it, but he wouldn't give in. I don't remember seeing an airport in the EU where you have to pay for luggage carts.

Once, a drug-sniffing dog was literally standing in the gangway that connected the plane to the terminal on a flight to the US. You literally hadn't set foot on US soil, and the dogs were already on you. All of this was before 9/11.

A few years ago, I flew back to the US with a new passport -- and I had forgotten to get my permanent residency permit pasted anew into the new passport. So when I presented my passport to a German official upon leaving, she asked me when I had entered the EU. I then realized what was going on, explain to her that I have been over here for two decades (I'm sure fluent German didn't hurt), that I pay taxes in Germany, and that I have two children with German passports. She let me leave and told me to get that residency permit put in my passport as soon as I get back -- for my own good.

US officials would have locked me up and thrown away the key.

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