Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Unfriendly Welcome

I've made it! I'm in London, which is awesome. I've literally only seen a few blocks of it, but from what I've seen, it's got a different look to it than any other city I've really been to (I haven't really been too many places in Europe yet, so that may be why). When I stepped out of the subway (or as they say, the "tube"), the sky was a beautiful overcast grey and the city seemed to have a very dark feel to it. Everyone was wearing black coats like in New York and the trees have a gnarly look to them with black bark. All that, topped with interesting, old European-looking buildings made me kind of excited I'm visiting, which was very necessary. Let me explain.

I have never in my travel experiences had such a weird "immigration experience" as I just had. It was seriously enough for me to almost turn around and go home. I was in line, watching all the people in front of me pass through with amazing ease. I smiled and thought for a moment I'd be out of the airport in five minutes. When I came up to the desk I smiled to the young woman and handed her my documents. It was there that I suddenly became her enemy who deserved neither respect, nor allowance into the country.

She interrogated me, right there at the counter, covering everything about my life. I sensed that her sanity wasn't complete within the first minute, so I played along. When she asked very directly if the girl I was seeing was my girlfriend or just a friend (scribbling it down on my immigration documents), I asked her (very politely) if that really mattered. She then informed me that it was her decision if I was allowed into the country or not and I'd better answer all of her questions and that she was going to call this girl and I'd better not be lying and if I was I needed to come clean right then or else there would be consequences. Okay, you have to understand that I was baffled at this point. She really had given me no indication as to why she was treating me so poorly and why I was being interrogated when clearly no one else was. I continued to answer her questions. Here's a few sample rounds: (remember, everything that woman said sounded like she was accusing me of something)

Crazy Woman: Why did you stop your job before you came here?
Me: Well, I was just substitute teaching and I wanted to travel...
Crazy Woman: Why are you coming for six weeks?
Me: ... what do you mean?
Crazy Woman: Why wouldn't you continue working and come here on a holiday for a week?
Me: ... umm... I'd like to see more of the country.

Crazy Woman: What sites are you planning on seeing here?
Me: (wondering if she wants a complete itinerary of my travel plans for the next six weeks) ... I'm not sure.
Crazy Woman: Why not?
Me: Well, I'll probably buy a guide book when I'm here.
Crazy Woman: Why didn't you get one before you came?
Me: I was busy working.
Crazy Woman: Exactly when did you stop working?

Crazy Woman: You only have seven hundred and fifty dollars with you?
Me: Yeah, but I probably won't convert it all.
Crazy Woman: Why not? That's not enough for six weeks.
Me: Um... I think I'll manage...

This is for real. I could not believe it. And I'm serious when I mean every single thing that came out of her mouth was as if I was a licensed criminal. Anyway, she decided to detain me for further questioning. As I waited, I tried to go over what it possibly could have been that triggered her insanity.

Another woman came and told me to follow her with my things. She wasn't friendly, but was clearly in her right mind. I told her I really didn't know what was going on and asked her if I did anything wrong. She said it was normal procedure. I mentioned that the other woman had seemed genuinely angry with me, to which the lady told me that she might have just had a bad morning.

She searched through every item I brought with my into this country, rifling through each pocket and reading the business cards I had in my wallet. Of course she didn't find anything, but decided to take my CTE website design plans and journal I wrote in India for further inspection. I was taken back to the detaining section where I waited for another long while. Finally the crazy woman told me I was done and could go. She told me that it was documented that I would be staying six weeks and something else angry. Trying to get some sort of explanation out of the mess, I asked her if that meant I had to leave in exactly six weeks or if I could go earlier or later. She somewhat sheepishly told me I could stay longer, but not longer than six months. Really? How do you say something like that to me after putting me through that mess? I can legally stay until June 21st. I asked her politely how I could avoid this next time and she told me to have a return ticket and to have all my money information or something more official. So... basically she was nervous I was going to try to get a job, even though I can't get a job without a worker's VISA or maybe she was nervous I was going to get involved in some illegal activity or something. Who knows? That woman was crazy.

Anyway... there's more. I guess she did call and wake up the poor girl I'm visiting, who had no idea what was going on or why she was seemingly being accused of something or why this crazy woman was interrogating her about our lives. Yes, she did ask Adela my home address, how long I'm staying here, exactly what sites am I going to be seeing, and other questions Adela didn't know the answers to. She also threatened her that she was going to ask me the same questions and if they didn't match up then there would be consequences.

Crazy Woman: Is he your boyfriend or your friend?
Adela: Um... he's just my friend I met in college.
Crazy Woman: You went to school with him?
Adela: Yeah.
Crazy Woman: Where?
Adela: Miami.
Crazy Woman: What university?
Adela: ... University of Miami.

And it continued. By this time, as you can imagine, I had a horrible first impression of London and coupled with only 4 hours of sleep I'd gotten cumulatively the last two nights, I just wanted to go home. Nevertheless, eventually she let me through, however begrudgingly, and things have been looking up since. The exchange rate right now is 1.377 US dollars to the British Pound, which is a lot better than it has been in years.

But beware, fellow travelers. I guess my little immigration incident is not a rare occurrence. Another friend of ours from Miami (also a man my age) was given near to the same treatment last September, also completely unprovoked. So if you decide to come to this unwelcoming land, be sure to know absolutely everything about who you are staying with as well as a complete itinerary of your plans, be they however long.

Stay tuned.


KellyA said...

Hey Mr King of No plans! Relax - you are there and you will have a wonderful time. As to your horrid experience, I feel bad for you but she was just doing her job (which is probably tedious at best). And yes she was probably crazy. I can't wait to see pics of your trip - be safe and don't go trying to move there or I will have to go through her line to visit! :)

Sarah said...

Two words: Green Card.

I've heard many stories like that. Here's what they heard:
"I have no job in the US. I have a female friend in Europe. I am going to stay with her for a month or so. I have no plans because my only goal is to marry this girl so I can work in your country. and it's none of your business." They were probably looking for something to prove it.

Don't believe me? I know someone right now who tried to come here and find a wife. He couldn't, so he's going back home for a month until he can come back and try again.

Donna said...

Hi Jacob,
See, I told you that you need an itinerary! That kind lady was just reminding you-she must be a mother! Actually I think the green card comment was pretty funny! Love, Mom