Monday, January 10, 2005

Welcome home!

This is my favorite moment when I travel back here: the time when the border or the custom officer looks at my French passport with my US address, my resident card and after the usual questions on the purpose of my trip abroad, tells me with a broad smile "Welcome Home!"
I look forward to this every time.
No one ever told me this in France the many, many times I came back home from trips in Europe at a time when they were still controlling borders. No one told me this at the airport when I was coming back from the US with my French address still in my passport. They'd look up, with a bored air on their face, barely looking at me while sliding the passport back through the small slit at the bottom of the glass window in front of them. Not a smile, not a nod. I was the reason they had to work that day and they resented me for that.

Tonight though, I'm not there yet, still in the small bus that takes passengers to the main airport terminal. The bus is packed. An old man next to me is speaking to a guy seating at his right. "Yes, now we'll go through security. This could be very long. Ah! Don't say anything bad. They can do whatever they want to you. This country has become very bad for that". In a really military country, no one laughs about it in public. I'm always amazed by the puerile attitude of people who think that this counts for public courage. They're like spoiled rich kids pretending to be poor while carrying their parents' credit card in their pocket: a little thrill with no danger. The man goes on, his voice being heard clearly in the otherwise silent bus: "Now, if you are ever in Tel-Aviv. Please don't joke about bombs. They'll really make you miss your flight." I hear a woman voice behind me "Are you coming from Tel-Aviv?". Our plane was a direct flight from London. We could all be coming from anywhere in the world. The man shakes his head. "No I'm not. I've been there though". The woman keeps talking "I'm coming from Tel-Aviv and I showed up 6 hours before my flight and was interviewed by 17 different members of the security!". The man grasps "How many?" "Seventeen", the woman says proudly as if there was an official "airport-hassle" competition and she has just been declared its world champion. People are looking at each others with the air that says: "Well, well, didn't we know that already?"
This time, I react. "I am too coming from Tel-Aviv (which is true even if my flight out of Tel-Aviv was 4 days earlier), and I arrived 2 hours before my flight, was in line like in any other airport, got interviewed by 2 persons and finished with time to spare for a last coffee." My voice is raising a bit. "So maybe you saw 17 people before boarding, but it is not the norm, neither there, nor here". She is silent, looking at me with surprise and contempt. I'm saved of her certain angry answer by the bus' arrival to the terminal. I speed out to the "US citizens and residents" line. I'm done quickly and I turn around to see her in the "Foreign nationals" line.
Welcome Home!


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