Since I am in a very foul mood, and need a release of sorts, let me tell you this little experience I had with US Immigration, a long time ago. It was actually the first time I visited the US, and it cured me for quite a while. Cat. Curiosity. Dead. You know. Took me actually 10 years before I stepped again aboard a plane headed to the US. But anyway. Here’s what I happened.
I left Seoul Kimp’o airport (yeah, that story’s *that* old) on an Asiana flight (code-share with NWA) bound to Hawai’i. I was attending a conference on Asian Studies, and was staying at my friend and fellow crazy linguist Sasha’s place. As I said, first trip to the US. I only knew I didn’t need a visa. I didn’t even know the expression “Visa Waiver”. My English back then was good, I suppose, but still very academic, and British-influenced. Tom Clancy and consorts fixed that since, but, hey, I’m French, I started out with a huge handicap, aye?
Aboard the flight, the attendants were handing out long green immigration cards. Assuming I was a US citizen, they didn’t give me one. So I asked for one – I am not a US citizen. “Oh, okay!”. Handed me one of those green forms – the only kind they had. Important detail. I filled out the form, skipping the “Visa #” part – I’m French I don’t need/have a visa. kkthxbai.
Standing in line, I realize I’m in for a long wait. A long line of passengers ahead of me, all Korean, and not too many who speak English. There’s *one* Korean-American Immigration officer, who apparently speaks Korean, so that line is quick enough, the rest of the counters are slow. Next in line, I see that I will either be handled by a white lady, or a very angry looking Mexican. Well, I suppose he’s a US citizen, but he still looks like Zapata. And sure enough, with my luck, I get Zapata. Handlebar moustache, “Made in Tijuana” accent and bad temper all free of charge.
He looks at my form, my passport, my form, grumbles, lets me stew.
“Where is your visa?”
/me squints “I’m French, I don’t need a visa.”
“Don’t tell me what you need or don’t. You filled out a green form. If you want in on a visa waiver, you have to fill in the white form.”
“Wasn’t told. They had green forms on the plane. They gave me one. I filled it out.”
“Don’t give me that crap. All airlines have both forms.”
“Apparently Korean airlines don’t. Look around.”
“As I said don’t give me that crap. Now,” He throws back my passport, and a white form. “Get aside, fill this form, and wait.”
I think he wanted me to wait as long as he could possibly make it last, make me “pay” for my insolence or whatnot. Unfortunately, Pedro’s plans were foiled by one of his colleagues. I still laugh at the scene when I think about it.
Comes a HUGE black man, a colleague of his, probably senior to Zapata, since thereafter I didn’t hear a single word from His-Excellency-From-Tijuana. The giant, and I really mean Michael Jordan huge, I had to lift my head all the way back to look at him, says “Whassamatta?” Pedro grumbles something. “Where’s he from?” Grabs my passport. “Hey you’re French!” 1000 watt smile. Stop that officer, I don’t have my sunglasses.
“I just came back from the Loire Valley. Rented a boat, cruised the river for two weeks. Best holidays in my life!” I try to process what he’s saying. Like, you are telling me about your vacations? And I care because…? BECAUSE THE DUDE IS IN LOVE WITH YOUR COUNTRY AND GONNA LET YOU IN, DUMBASS. /me slaps self, mentally. We chat a bit, best pals. I never boated on the Loire river, but I sure am a fan now. NBA-dude deploys a crane, er, extends his arm, and grabs passport, form and stamp. Bang! Bang! “Welcome to the USA son!”. Glares at Pedro, then throws the stamp back on his counter. He escorts me to the luggage area, chatting with me while I wait for and pick up my bag, then again escorts me to the customs area. He nods to an officer, shakes my hand (Can I have my hand back? Intact? Now?) and sends me on my way. “Have a nice trip, son!”
That was surreal.