Aug 202009

Yes, that is how the universe is divided up these days; or if not the universe, at least the immigration queues at Gatwick South Terminal.

When the Devil and I arrived back in the UK this morning–three hours late because Thomas Cook Airlines make the Titanic seem like a pleasant transport option–from our lovely trip to Cyprus, we were greeted by the sight of two separate corridors at the border. Not just two separate queues, you understand: the Rest of the World now are now directed by a sign (helpfully footnoted with the legend ‘This includes US citizens’, in case we’re too stupid to realise we’re not part of the EU) down a cattle chute of their very own, beneath exposed piping, drop cloths, and alongside bare sheetrock walls, twice the length of the EU corridor, to meet with surly border agents next to another sign that proclaims, reassuringly, ‘Tougher checks mean longer waits’ and ‘We catch 2,100 immigration criminals a year.’

After some further surly misdirection, I was made to join the EU queue anyway, as one of the only three representatives of the Rest of the World in the terminal at that time. And was duly questioned, although fortunately not detained again, probably because I had associate firepower standing next to me.

Quite apart from being pigeon-holed into Sneeches-with-Stars-Upon-Thars and Sneeches-Without-Stars by Angus McFergus McTavish Dundee Border Agent, what also peeved me was being questioned about the Refused Tier 1 Application (see here and here). The Border Agents can see on their little passport-reading computer that I was refused that visa but they can’t, apparently, see why. Evidently, this innocent piece of data makes me out to be quite the shady customer. So even though the refusal was entirely document-related, and due entirely to the Border Agency’s own misinformation, its presence on the database paints me with the brush of Immigration Criminal–they might as well slap a sticker on my forehead that says ‘Undesirable! Treat with suspicion!’ Because that’s exactly how the Border Agency are now treating me.

Somebody ought to relay to them that (a) living in Britain has now become so repulsive to some of its own citizens that they feel no shame in asking me ‘Why in the name of all that is holy and pure do you want to stay here?’ and (b) the United States is not yet such a shithole that its productive class are now fleeing in droves to the sunnier shores of the UK. It’s not as if I’m here to start a new life in a better land where all are free to pursue prosperity and happiness. All I wanted was to carry on enjoying my nice job and my nice home with my nice now-husband, fulfilling all the responsibilities of living in Britain without having access to any of the privileges. I don’t see why that’s so much to ask, or why it means I must not only put up with being shepherded about, marginalised, and interrogated like the sneakiest crim in history, but also be expected to feel safer and grateful for it at the same time.

That said, Cyprus was wonderful, and interestingly enough, provided a tremendous contrast: we went to the American Embassy in Nicosia to have a document notarised by the consul, and from start to finish, I was treated like royalty. Admittedly, royalty that has to be metal-detectored and patted down three times before being allowed into the Inner Sanctum, but royalty nonetheless. Everybody was polite, nay, downright friendly; they ushered me to the front of all the queues, no appointment necessary; the consul himself congratulated me in paternal fashion on the impending nuptials; and the guards were kind enough to arrange transport back to Larnaka for us–all because of my shiny blue American passport. Sometimes being part of the Rest of the World is quite pleasant.

  20 Responses to “The EU – and the Rest of the World”

  1. Dear god, you travelled Thomas Cook airlines? I made that mistake on my honeymoon. Being 5ft 10 with a 6ft 4 husband we’re not really designed for Thomas Cook airlines, whose optimal height to fit in the seat space is 3ft 4. Who knew you could squeeze that many people in such a small space? And who, when their child was turning green would continue to stuff it with M&Ms? Fortunately it wasn’t still hanging over my seat when it inevitably threw up. I don’t give a monkey’s how long the queue for the loo is, it is NEVER acceptable to change a shitty nappy on your knee if you’re sharing the seat next to me. Never. I am now saving up for my next holiday, which should be in about ten years as after my Thomas Cook airlines experience I have vowed never to leave the country during school holidays unless I can afford to fly BA business class. And if it’s any consolation, when I flew to Perpignan we too got herded and it took 90 minutes to get through security. Congratulations on the wedding and glad you enjoyed Cyprus!

  2. Angus McFergus McTavish Dundee Border Agent

    Angus McFergus McTavish was, at least, in his own country.

  3. And your point is…?

  4. Congrats on the nuptials and I’m glad you’re both back to take up cudgels again against the Righteous, venal and insane inhabitants of this sceptic isle.

  5. Back. Good.

    And hey, believe it or not it could have been worse. A [naturalised] Canadian woman was arrested because, it seems, her lips did not look like the lips in her passport photo (well, according to the article I pulled up: a commenter pointed out she did not much resemble her four-years-ago self after considerable weight loss). The Canadian Consul agreed, and the government voided the passport – without checking any of her other papers, fingerprints… Luckily, she has clout and money – managed to have her DNA tested and prove her identity.

  6. I went to see England play The Rest of the World at the Oval once.

    The pitch was a bit crowded.

  7. Congrats on marriagery, good skills.

    Apologies for the cuntery of our borders people. If it makes you feel any better about your choice of adoptive home, seriously, the service at the You’re Not An American, Sod You counter at JFK is no quicker, friendlier or saner.

  8. Many congratulations on the hitchedness.

    Reading about the (mainly) happy experiences of these people I kind of know off of that there Internet-thing make me pleased to be living in this fluffy communication-age.

    And don’t worry, the Border Agency feature high on my Purge list for when I’m sort-of-Benevolent Patriarch of the United British States of Slug.

  9. Your problem was coming through like a normal person – just go to Calais and smuggle yourself back on the BA’s own coach .

    You’ll never have to worry about seeing a BA man again! :)

  10. God knows I don’t want to defend the Border Gestapo but fairness makes me point out that other countries (in my experience the USA and Canada) have similar fucked up IT systems. Until I changed my passport I had endless trouble getting into Canada after one trip where, for obscure reasons, I mislaid my passport on entry and used a california drivers license instead.

    My boss had a similar deal with the HSA/INS in the USA where the morons had a problem with the idea that a trip could be for both business and pleasure and thus considered that he was lying. Thereafter he gets interrogated specially every time he goes into the US.

    In both cases the reason is that what is noted is a flag by the passport numebr that says “problem” without saying what the problem is.

  11. What, you can’t just walk in the UK line with your husband now? That’s what my wife does when family demands mean I have to revisit the cursed isle.

  12. Welcome back Bella and congratulations to you both.

    JuliaM beat me to it though, you are “low hanging fruit” as far as the BA are concerned because you try to stay within the law and subject yourself to their authoritay…

    The last time I talked to a border agent I asked her whether the book she was reading was any good.

  13. It would seem that the British establishment have used Terry Gilliam’s Brazil movie as training course material and BAA have used it as an interior design benchmark…

    Provincial airports can be even worse than the London ones – half wit ‘scurritee and scowling, staring officialdom seem the rule.

    You seem to like it here – I’m a native – and I’ve seen enough – I’m off.

  14. I agree wholeheartedly that the UK Border Agency employees who ‘greet’ you when you return to Blighty are, for the most part, ignorant tossers.

    But I just get the feeling that, like so many other home-grown bureaucrats, they’re playing at being ‘serious’ and ‘tough’, and, of course, they’re absolutely crap at it. They may want to look like Sylvester Stallone on a bad day, but it’s hard to do this when you’re a balding, weedy, forty-something, wearing a Primark short-sleeved jumper over an ill-fitting shirt and crappily-knotted tie.

    And it just makes you want to take them on. If you have the temerity to suggest how shambolic the whole affair is you just get the now routine, defensive accusation that you’re being ‘aggressive’. This can be tricky because although it’s easy to see what insipid jobsworths they are, one shouldn’t, I suppose, harbour the delusion that they’re not still capable of the sort of vindictiveness which leads to you ending your protest or contretemps with a torch shone up your arse or missing your connection.

    My guess is they’re unsuccessfully trying to ape their counterparts in the USA: the ones who do sinister really, really well. No Primark jumpers for them; rather, they sport those scary, dark blue uniforms (how do they get their creases so sharp?), bristling with badges, medals and sundry instruments, the purpose of which, no doubt, is to inflict pain and/or humiliation. They work from booths upon which, prominently displayed, are signs saying (and I paraphrase) you’re welcome in the USA; we’re here to serve; we will be efficient, polite and treat you like you’re human. All this, of course, as they carry out their business silently, using only a forefinger to indicate each part of the process.

    And they do this, each surrounded by an aura such as that generated by the road boss in Cool Hand Luke.

    UK Border Agency to note. If you’re going to try and be hard, no more Primark jumpers.

  15. That is a good point, Talwin. US Border Control are hard-asses indeed. They once questioned me (albeit briefly) because they’d never heard of the town where I lived. (‘Aha! Immigration criminals are always inventing place-names to disguise their intentions. I shall sniff out this lie with the keenness of a foxhound.’)

    Fortunately, the officer in the other half of the same booth piped up to say his son went to summer camp there every year. It was a curious mix of hard-assness and down-home friendliness…

  16. Congrats on the marriage.

    I find it creepy that we now have Border Agents and not Immigration staff. Pretty soon they’ll be quizzing us as we leave.

    Anyway, all that fuss and only 2100 people stopped. I wonder what that works out on a per person stopped. It would probably be cheaper to let them in and give them benefits.

  17. Points well made above on US Immigration (and Canadian: had an annoying experience at Calgary airport once.) Doesn’t make it an excuse for our lot to emulate and surpass them, however.

    Good shout, Tom. Brazil is my #1 fave movie. Gordy Brown’s cabinet’s training video.

    Congratulations on your nuptials, Bella.

  18. Your problem was coming through like a normal person – just go to Calais and <a href="; rel="nofollow">smuggle yourself back on the BA's own coach</a> .

    You'll never have to worry about seeing a BA man again! :);. All the best!!

  19. Veracruz: If Angus Fergus McTavish was working at Gatwick, then he was NOT in his own country.

    Just saying.

    Nearer to the topic, the way to get decent treatment from anybody’s immigration service is not to enter at huge busy tourist airports.

    Last time I went to the US, I flew to Canada and then drove into the US at a tiny border crossing. The staff there were friendly, polite, and helpful; the whole experience was as near to pleasurable as such things can be.

    Of course, I do appreciate that – Britain being an island and all that – my advise isn’t applicable in the current case!

  20. @ Vicola – Thanks! The holiday was indeed lovely apart from Thomas Crook. Our flight out of Gatwick last week was delayed by 3 hours, with no communication about why; and our flight back here last night was delayed by 3 hours, with no communication about why. They suck, and I said so on the little customer satisfaction survey they asked us to fill out during the journey. Survey respondents are put into a prize drawing of £2000 toward their next holiday – and if that £2000 in any way requires further flying on Thomas Crook, I shall find their nearest representative and shove the cash up their backside…

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