Diary of an Expat, Part 58
Traveling
So here is one of the first things you pick up, not about living abroad so much as about having a job that entails doing things like that: business travel is not all it's cracked up to be.

One of the most frustrating things about living in Germany is not living in Germany, per se, but about the fact that I occasionally have to leave it, and this as a process is almost always painful. Most irritatingly, it is painful for stupid reasons.

Movement within the European Union itself is relatively straightforward, because there is nothing inherent to international travel that makes it excruciating. And flying in to Frankfurt or Tegel does not seem to be especially trying.

On the other hand, crossing the international border into the UK is profoundly aggravating. Wednesday I was compelled to spend four hours in London, the lead-in to which was spending an hour and a half in a slow-moving line at the UK border, the culmination of which was a profoundly apathetic man drily scan my passport and decide that I wasn't too much of a subversive to be allowed into the country. Flying back again that afternoon required yet more waiting in pointl^h^h^h^h^h^hprofoundly meaningful security and control lines.

Now, for what it's worth I'm not entirely sure that I'm not simply irritated at Heathrow. I had to fly through it again today, a process which entailed standing in line a grand total of nine times:

Presecurity queue after disembarking my Berlin-Heathrow plane, so that someone could briefly glance at my boarding card
Queue for the holding area where I could make sure all dangerous items such as the dihydrogen monoxide (a known asphyxiant) I purchased without ID at Tegel were removed from my luggage
Queue for escalator to security
And for security process itself, during which I watched an officer systematically unravel a man's carefully packed suitcase, then shove the resulting chaos back at him ("okay, sir, you're good to go") as though entropy was an express part of hus charter
Queue for the bathroom, and also one for the pharmacy, but these were optional so you may discount them
Queue for the lift to the trains
Queue for the train
Queue for boarding the airplane itself, which is itself naturally composed of a queue to get your boarding card checked and also one to get on the plane, where your boarding card is checked yet again

I know that some people do seem to like Heathrow, and may therefore disagree with me, but since those people are wrong I don't really (to be honest) bother to give their opinions much weight.

It is in any case a truism that this is all ridiculous. Nobody who has ever flown more than once or twice in their life is much a fan of airport procedure. I'm not even going to talk about airport security; the wonderfully credulous people who believe that airport security accomplishes anything are not reading this diary, their childlike wonder having kept them captivated by those local moms who are perpetually discovering weird old weight loss and tooth whitening tricks instead.

Anyway, as I write this I'm sitting on a 747 behind an extremely heavy man in an extremely broken seat that has left me with "legroom" only in the most pedantically accurate sense that my legs technically fit in the space between our seats. Every time he leans back, which he does every few minutes, the seat torques badly enough that the tray table pops out and assaults me. I would leave it down, but this drives it rather uncomfortably into my ribs. This process has been going on for eight hours now.

And all this time I, like a prisoner on Death Row, get to sit with the knowledge that the best is yet to come. Because in a couple of hours I'll be landing in San Francisco, and there I'll get to deal with border security. I will have to get my passport checked yet again, and have my adorably precious landing card pawed at. I can't quite remember how San Francisco works — whether I have to retrieve my luggage and the check out, or whether I can go through the border and then go to baggage claim. Some airports, conscious that baggage claim is the best part of the airport, make you retrieve your bag and put it through to another carousel so that you can do this whole process twice. I think Atlanta makes you go through security again before you can leave.1

I have to do this relatively often, because I travel relatively often, and eventually it just fades into the background of "things that you know are bullshit, but have to accept" because that's just the way they are. This does not make it any less frustrating. In the 21st century, where companies are essentially stateless — where international communication, finance and business are so key to the smooth operation of the world — and where travel has become so democratic and so commonplace, why we permit ourselves to be told that this is all necessary escapes me.

But I suspect that international travelers are not the type to start a revolution, if for no other reason than the lurking concern that the queue to start one would take too long.

1. Afterwards I can say that clearing customs in SFO is the least painful experience I have had transiting an international border outside of Tegel. It was fast, efficient, and friendly. That was really, really nice actually. Thanks, San Francisco. Than Francisco.
Anonymous Coward
17.11.2012 - 1h42
James Bell
17.11.2012 - 1h44

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