Courtesy of KeepCalm-o-matic.co.uk
Article from Today’s Thinking
I'VE SPENT much of the past week travelling. Train stations, taxi ranks, metro stops, but most of all airports, what seem like dozens of airports, though in truth there have only been about five or six. I love to travel, and some of my most vivid memories come from foreign trips: seeing the Taj Mahal at dawn, bowing to the mummified corpse of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang, getting utterly hammered in New York on New Year's Eve. (Or was it Sydney?) I don't trust people who don't like to travel, and I don't think you should, either.
But as I get older, my tolerance for all the tedious trappings of modern travel has started to wane pretty sharply. Sure, I've acquired the labour-saving habits of the frequent flier - the light packing, the business lounge pass, the stupid-looking but life-saving neck pillow - and I can tell you which duty frees are likely to provide you with the best selection of malts, and which ones consist of three shelves of dusty souvenirs and a tray of melted Toblerones. But gone, forever, is the childish joy I used to take in the business of travel itself, the excitement my ten year-old self used to feel when boarding the plane that would take me to the next exotic destination.
No, as I get older, every little thing about travel enrages me more. Airport shuttle buses infuriate me far more than a free service ever should - first they don't show up for forty-five minutes, then just sit there idling for what seems like forty-five more. Just shut the sodding doors and move already, for the love of Christ! Do I look like I'm here for a fucking sit down and a sightsee? Slow walkers on moving walkways, too: they should be disembowelled in public view and left to hang by their viscera as a warning to other travellers. Either walk at a normal speed or get out of my bloody way. Tracksuit-clad fucktrumpets who react to the first flickers of activity at the departure gate by forming a massive line, half a mile long, to be the first to get on the plane. What the hell do you gain by getting to your seat early, I always wonder, other than an extra half hour of discomfort and irritation? People like that should be made to straddle the fucking landing gear all the way to Magaluf.
And taxi drivers - God, how I hate taxi driver scam bastards, particularly in developing countries, who have been fed on a fat diet of doughy, credulous American fuckwits and now refuse to take you anywhere without trying to gouge you for half the national GDP. Some shaven-headed Russian prick tried to charge me £20 this week to take me to an airport hotel that I knew for an absolute fact was just three minutes away. (The fucking shuttle bus hadn't turned up.) The cunt didn't even bother to haggle; as I let out an involuntary, strangled laugh, still shocked by the effrontery after all these years, he was already turning away in disinterest.
But I think you can tell a lot about a country from its airports and the people who work in them. Chinese immigration officials peer at your travel documents, page by painstaking page, as if inspecting a pack of pornographic playing cards. Russian border guards gaze at you coldly, eyes like pissholes in the Siberian snow, a faint but unmistakeable threat of violence hanging in the air along with the stale cabbage smell. Israelis absorb your nervous patter placidly, all the while making it as clear as day that all your excuses and airy explanations aren't going to stop them from inserting a jellied digit up your jacksie and having a good rummage around. Greeks don't give a shit and just wave you through.
So that's my half-baked theory for this weekend; airport employees offer a pretty accurate window into a nation's soul. I have absolutely no supporting evidence of any kind for this, of course, but anyone who has ever suppressed a mild frisson of fear when confronted by a uniformed and just slightly overpolite German checking your papers will know instantly what I mean.
By this measure, British Border Security, or whatever we are calling it this year, almost perfectly reflects the society to which it is desperately trying to bar you from entry; barely competent, beset by queues and inefficiencies, treading a narrow and very British line between professionalism and surliness (unless you have the good fortune to be flying into Glasgow, of course).
But I can't be the only one who wishes, in this as in so many other things, that we would take a leaf out of our cousins' books. Aussie customs officials seem to be unfailingly friendly, laconic and generally good value, making the handing over of that contraband tin of peanuts as painless as being bought a pint. Even American immigration, no-one's favourite place to spend an hour of their lives, always manage to welcome US travellers, at least, with a cheery smile. "Welcome home, sir", they invariably say to returning citizens. A tiny gesture, to be sure, but how nice it would be to hear that at Heathrow once in a blue moon. Fat fucking chance.