Thursday, 6 October 2011

Welcome to America

New York, headed north

This is how the conversation with the charming US Border Agent at New York’s JFK airport went, l’esprit de l’escalier style:

Him: You need to remove this piece of paper from your passport, affirmative?

Me: <groggy jet-lagged silence>

Him: AFFIRMATIVE?! Jesus, it’s like talking into a cave!  

Me: Affirmative? Affirmative? Since when were you guys a wing of the military? And since when did your job description morph into outright hostility and rudeness?  And as we’re clearly in a Q&A session why don’t you go fuck yourself?

And this is how it really went:

Him: You need to remove this piece of paper from your passport, affirmative?

Me: <groggy jet-lagged silence>

Him: AFFIRMATIVE?! Jesus, it’s like talking into a cave!
Me: Bit unnecessary. Yes, affirmative. Sigh.

New York is, apparently, renowned for the rudeness of its inhabitants.  I’ve never noticed it in the past though.  Brusque certainly, direct maybe – all OK by me – but not outright rude.  Our border guard friend clearly felt, however, that it was his responsibility to fulfil the stereotype.  To get the newly disembarked all nice and angry before they plough off into NYC so they can fully contribute to the melting pot of passive aggression and poorly concealed frustration that is the low background hum in big cities.  Perhaps if I’d really have said what I so wanted to say he’d have slapped me on the back, smiled broadly and said welcome to New York son, you’ll fit right in, now you have yourself a shitty day, you hear?

I simply wasn’t mentally prepared for this rudeness having spent the last month in the loving embrace of family in beautiful Vancouver where rudeness just doesn’t fly - there’s probably a by-law against it.  Nor was I expecting it, blindly convinced as I am that Americans are the friendliest people on earth.  I mention this arsehole with his little stamp to prove only that there is the exception to every rule, whereas the rule itself (Americans = friendly, keep up) has also been proven time and again over the last few weeks as we’ve been treated with hospitality and kindness, and have a trunk full of free firewood as evidence. 

Let’s get the hell out of Dodge I said to Helen, still grumpy from our encounter with officialdom, gunning the newly acquired SUV out of the airport, and north out of Manhattan, bouncing over the potholes (Obama’s right – the roads in America do need sorting out, the driving standards could do with a bit of an overhaul too while he’s at it).  We were on our way.  Another road trip, this time on the east coast of the states, with no real plan other than ending up in Miami six weeks hence.    It can be slightly overwhelming, having no plan, but it’s equally exhilarating.  And when you have your own car you can just drive in a rough general direction, and pretty much let the rest take care of itself.  Which is what we did, heading north east into Connecticut, with a rough plan to take in Vermont and Maine in the coming couple of weeks.  But that’s a tale for another day.

The road trip had started.  Affirmative? Affirmative?! Geez, it’s like talking into a cave.


  1. Dear Homeland Security drone,

    Caves echo, dumbass! If you said "Affirmative" into cave, you'd hear your own rude, stupid voice say it right back to you. Maybe you should try it, then you'd realise how ridiculous you sound.

    Your sincerely

    The civilised world

  2. Love it Mark, love it. These were my two other, in retrospect, responses that buzzed through my mind as I drove away:

    1) Talking into a cave, you mean in the Platonic allegorical sense? Is that what you meant? Is it? IS IT?! Does that make you Socrates then? No, it's pronounced soc-rat-es, not soc-rates Bill and/or Ted.
    2) Are you accusing me of being some kind of terrorist with this cave comment?! HOW DARE YOU!!!!

  3. Why thank you, I specialise in retorts that all but guarantee a thorough cavity search

  4. Hi Ian, long time since I read your blog, but sooo worth it. Affirmative just made me think of K9. He obviously wasn'have t having a nice day. I wonder was it a particularly offensice piece of paper?

    If you want cheering up about New York, a look at this... Millions stroll in New York's 'park in the sky'. For every border guard, there's someone who dreams and then acts.

    Take care mate! x

  5. Hi Eamonn, so lovely to hear from you. The offending piece of paper was the green immigration slip from when we went to Alaska. Very offensive.

    Love that BBC story, what a super idea.

    Looking forward to catching up in a few months. Take care, and hope the house move went well. x

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