Travelling around the world is wonderful, but it also comes with some irritations, and one of them is all the administrative procedures you have to do before visiting other countries. I can’t complain too much though: the French passport is one of the most powerful in the world. But even like that, going through customs is never the most pleasant part of the trip.
I travelled to the United States for the first time in the summer of 2015, just for a few days including a visit of New-York that I was very excited about. I landed in Boston where I was staying for a few days, and like every other traveller coming to the US, the first person I talked to was an immigration agent. So if you’ve been there as well, you know that this moment is… let’s say particular.
First there’s the way he’s looking at you. A little bit from above, with a mixed expression of contempt and boredom on his face. He’s not exactly polite : it would take him probably too much energy to smile. And then there’s the questions he’s asking with an accusing tone, as though he doesn’t believe a single thing you’re saying: “what are you doing here? Do you have friends in the US? Why are you going to New-York? Just visiting, really?”. I obviously had nothing to hide. I was just a random tourist, like thousands of others landing in Boston or anywhere else in the country every day, but this short moment made me feel really uncomfortable. It was a great relief when he finally let me go and waved at the person behind me to approach.
Nothing like that in Australia.
When I landed there, I had a lot of very different feelings in my mind. Excitement and impatience of course, but also stress on beginning this huge adventure just on my own and sadness because leaving my friends and family turned out to be harder than I had thought. I also was very tired; I’d barely slept on the plane (at least I could stare at the vast and empty Australian plains from my window), and if you add the jetlag to the equation, I started to get completely exhausted. So I really feared the moment I would finally stand at the border control and present my passport.
The first person I talked to in Australia was a blond woman, probably in her 40’s. She smiled at me from behind her little desk and before telling me to give her my passport she asked me how I was doing. I wasn’t sure what to answer so I said “good, thank you” and wondered what terrible thing would happen to balance such a friendly first sight.
The next few minutes that she needed to enter all my details into her computer were not spent in an awkward silence. Neither did she ask me weird or inquisitive questions ; she started to talk to me as though we just met somewhere else and had some time to kill. “Is it your first time in Australia? Where will you go first? Oh Byron Bay? That’s where I come from. It’s amazing you’ll love it!”. And when I left she wished me a “very nice day mate. Enjoy Australia!”.
I thought that I had just been very lucky and met the friendliest person in the country. But then at the baggage claim, two policemen stood with a detection dog; on my great surprise, they didn’t have that very serious and sullen face that security guards have in every airport in the world. They too were smiling, and even offered a little kid to stroke the dog. Later the guy who served me a quick snack also asked me how I was doing and where I was coming from when he spotted my accent.
I was starting to ask myself if Australians were simply just all incredibly kind.
The contrast with my first steps in the US couldn’t have been bigger. The airport I landed on was quite small and while I was eating that snack on a sunny little terrace just outside the hall, a couple of ibises (these weird birds with a very long beak) walked around me, in the hope of getting some crumbles from my sandwich. I was still exhausted, but I started smiling.
Friendly people, strange animals and sun over my face… No doubts : I really was in Australia!