Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Back in the US

Well I am now back in the US, back at my desk at work IMing with Alison, who sits directly across from me, and delaying writing feature articles I should have started weeks ago. Ah, back to the status quo. Actually today is a little unusual because I got up at 4 in the morning after having slept for 14 hours. I must say, sleeping 14 hours is very nice, I feel great!

I was pretty exhausted from the flight yesterday. I cant sleep on planes (too anxious, they make me nervous) so a nine hour plane trip is not exactly a pleasurable experience. I flew American Airlines, which I can safely say I will avoid taking on a transatlantic trip from now on except under the most dire of circumstances. The seats are uncomfortable, the monitors are terrible, and the service is very poor (one meal for a nine hour flight! One meal!!).

Getting back into this country was a nightmare. All those new security regulations you've heard about? They apply only to international flights coming into the US, not going out. So getting out was a breeze. Went through security with liquids and gels in my bag, and once I got to Switzerland I breezed through the border check in about 2 minutes. Like everything else in Switzerland and Germany, the process was smooth and logical.

Getting back to the US was a very different story. There's now a whole separate section at the Zurich airport for flights going to the US. For these flights, you must wait in line for an initial security interview even before you get your ticket. They ask where youve been, whats in your luggage, tell you what will happen to you if you lie to them, you name it. And, they scrutinize your passport. Then you get to the desk to pick up your ticket. They enter your passport information into the computer, etc etc. Then you proceed to the special wing for flights going to the US, at which security checkpoint there is a huge dumpster for tossing every last item of liquid or semi-liquid status that you have. All in all this entire process takes over two hours. Thankfully we got to the airport early.

So we finally get to JFK, disembark, and find there's a HUGE line for people with US passports to get through immigration, because there are only two booths open. The line for non-US passport holders? About 5 minutes long, with four booths open. We waited in line for an hour and a half while I watched planeload after planeload of non-US citizens breeze through the gate.

To add insult to injury, for some reason there was no cell phone use allowed in this waiting area. They told us on the plane that if anyone used a cell phone immigration officials could confiscate it permanently. I thought they were exaggerating. But when a woman in front of us tried to make a call they took her phone. Then 20 minutes later a physical fight erupted in the middle of the line. There was shouting, pushing, screaming. It took the police there no joke about 2 minutes to do anything about it. They just stood there watching! I guess they were too busy looking for people using cell phones.

By the time we got through to baggage claim our luggage was in this huge pile with suitcases thrown all over the floor, with no demarcation for which flight they had come from. Took a good 30 minutes to sort through the pile.

The experience did not fill me with warm thoughts for this country. These thoughts were continued this morning when I waited for 30 minutes for my F train to come during rush hour. Alright, admittedly unrelated but god damn! Ive gotten very used to German efficiency the last two weeks!

For instance, our flight from Zurich to Berlin was a dream. The plane left exactly on time, got in exactly as scheduled, and getting through the border was easy, albeit it much easier for those with EU passports, who basically just walked in. We had to wait for a short while with the rest of the hoi polloi, but its ok, I thought, when we get to the US we will be the ones in the fast lane. Guess I was wrong.

Seriously, everything was SO exactly on time in both Zurich and Berlin, it was almost eery. I mean, to the second. Sigh.

So having to jump through all these illogical hoops to get back into a country I dont even want to be in was rather frustrating. And then to watch the laughable absurdity of our border protection was even more so. Perhaps it is a sign, when getting out of this country is such a breeze and getting back in is so difficult.

All in all my Switzerland visit was great, although it didn't really have the affect of reassuring me regarding my concerns about my family over there. It did make me feel better to actually see their apartment and their daily life, but witnessing the difficulty they're having first hand was worrisome. My dad is just in completely over his head. Hes going from a small suburban town in Connecticut from to a major German-speaking city on another continent.

I was also frustrated that he hadn't learned a word of German. I tried to keep in mind that he has a very different frame of reference than me for this kind of thing, and that its easier for a young person to adapt to a new situation than it is for an older person. For instance my brother, who is 16, seems to be adjusting just fine. Hes made friends, has figured out the trains, and hes making the best of it. Its my dad who seems to be getting exasperated by it all. But I think with time he's going to learn to like it there.

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