Welcome Out Of Your Country

Here’s a question to ponder, is it easy to cross a border?  It seems like the answer would simply depend on the country.    Sometimes I’m surprised at which ones are difficult.

I’ve been to quite a few countries, and I’ve experienced numerous different reactions from border guards.  Sometimes they harass me with questions for 20 minutes and make me wonder if I’m about to go to prison forever.  Other times, the guy gives me a stamp without saying a word or even looking at me.  I could be dressed like a clown and he wouldn’t even know.

Being an American, I live under the assumption that the United States will always be easy for me to get in to.  This is not true, and I recommend that you laugh out loud at this statement.  If the person sitting next to you asks why you’re laughing, tell them “this fool thinks that being an American will make it easy to  get in to his own country”.  If they’ve crossed that border, they’ll probably laugh too.

I went home for Christmas, and I observed something very interesting.  December 24th, Christmas Eve, I was at Denver International Airport.  My sleepy body was excited to see my native country for the first time in months, but I had to clear customs first.

My little forms were filled out, and a new line opened up just as I got to the passport control, so I was able to walk right up without waiting.  I cheerfully greeted the man and handed him my papers.  It seems he wanted to give me a Christmas present of being rude.

In order to keep some government official off of my back, I won’t go into the details of our discussion.  I will say, however, that he seemed to think I was wearing a foreign military uniform and carrying a machine gun.  There were many, many questions, and none of them were asked in a polite manner.  It was like he was trying to find a reason to not let me in.  In the end, he begrudgingly handed me my passport and allowed me into the country of my birth.  So much for a warm welcome.

That’s when I learned that my suitcase – containing all of my Christmas gifts – had decided to spend a night or two in London.  But I won’t get in to that.

The fascinating part about this story is my return to Europe.  I landed in Frankfurt where I had a connecting flight to Budapest.  I didn’t have much time between flights, so I chose a line at passport control that looked like it would move quickly.  However, my judgment was so poor that I won’t be placing any bets on the Superbowl, I’ve learned my lesson.

I waited…

And waited…

Looked at my watch, and waited some more…

Unless the line in front of me was made up of Interpol’s Top 10 Most Wanted List, it seems this particular border guard was a stickler for the rules.  He wanted to talk to each person for 45 minutes and ask for every piece of paperwork they’ve ever had.

As the lines to my right and left swiftly moved through, I considered switching.  But, I knew with my luck they would immediately start moving slowly, and then I’d get arrested for switching lines.  So I waited.

Finally, after cursing my strange talent of always picking the border guard who’s bitter because the other kids used to pick on him, I got to the front of the line.  I handed him my passport and awaited an interrogation on where I was going and an order for some obscure document that’s obviously written in Hungarian.  It was quite likely that he would call Hungary and have them put a translator on a plane to come help with the situation.

Instead, he compared my face to my picture and looked satisfied.  Then he flipped through until he found my residence permit, read it, and seemed satisfied.  He didn’t stamp it, handed it back, and motioned for the next person.

I probably waited in that line for 15 minutes and he didn’t say a word to me.  It took about 15 seconds.  Plus, no stamp!  That doesn’t impress the girls!

Since then, I’ve pondered this whole situation.  Why was America mean to me and Europe so nice?  Because of my citizenship, shouldn’t it be the other way around?  I’ll never understand.

Moral of the story:  Never get in line behind me at passport control, I always pick the slowest one.


Hungarian words of the day:



Pronounced Rep-tare, and Rep-ool-oul-tare (again with these sounds that aren’t made in English).  They are both listed in my dictionary as Airport.  I’m not sure which is right (or better), but I’ve think heard repülőtér before, so I’m going to go with that.  I have to learn this word so I can get there early, I may be in the passport line for a while.