Regular readers of my Blog know that I was in the US a few months ago. Long time readers of my Blog even know why. The first time I visited the US; a nervous lone female traveller, with no idea of what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely Homeland Security was when I dealt with them in San Francisco. After I went through Customs, and was given a hearty “Welcome to the United States of America!” these lovely people carrying guns did everything they could to put me at ease and even showed me where to go to catch my connecting flight to the East Coast. I was so pleasantly surprised that I could not stop smiling. I felt truly welcome in a country that I fell in love with the moment I arrived.
The person I had come to see turned out to be almost as far from welcoming as it is possible to get while still wearing a smile on their face. I thought it was a one-off experience. I really did. Until recently, I thought my experience was appalling, but singular, in nature.
You see, everyone else I met in the US was truly lovely, friendly, welcoming, and kind. They were generous, caring, funny, and considerate. They did nothing at all to leave me questioning my sanity, self worth, and sense of wellbeing. I was truly sad to return to Australia and, as I was leaving, two more members of Homeland Security commiserated with my sadness, told me my country of origin was lovely, and hoped I would return to the US again, soon: “You can always come back, right?”. “Yes I can, and I will”, I said, as I thanked them.
So, imagine my surprise when I was given the opportunity to do just that a couple of months later. I was coming back to the US and I was so happy I could not sleep for days before my departure. That was no easy feat, given that my father had died one month earlier.
So, I packed my bags again and set off for another 35 hour flight. There was no reason for concern. I was coming back to stay with friends this time. I was going to be welcome. I was going to a place where I could feel at home; where I was not considered something one step up from a junk food wrapper to be discarded at the first opportunity. It was great…
It was great until I landed in LA and met Homeland Security there. In place of the welcoming smiles I had received the last time, I got frowns, downright glowers, and was asked a series of pointed questions. I was ushered into an interview room and asked even more questions. I was told that, while I didn’t need a Visa to enter the country because I am from an allied nation, I would be denied entrance if I tried to come back again without spending more time in ‘my own country’ in future. Now, let me point out at this juncture that I was travelling alone; a single woman with 40 years to her name, from an Allied Nation, small, polite, dressed in jeans and a blouse, and was simply very tired from a long, tedious flight. I was hardly anything threatening. After answering all the questions asked of me, I was allowed into the country again but, so much for enjoying myself. I was in shock, actually, and my visit has been marred by that one experience ever since.
The people were still friendly. Most of them were as shocked as I was about what I experienced in LA. Quite a few seemed to go out of their way to apologise for the behaviour of their country’s security system. Unfortunately, it did little to make me feel any better.
I wish I could say this was a one-off experience. Imagine my horror when I was told about my son’s ex girlfriend two days ago. She had arrived in the US, alone, in her 20’s, and also from Australia. She had crossed the border into Canada as part of a three month holiday to this part of the world. She was almost deported when she tried to cross back into the US. It didn’t matter that she didn’t realise she needed to fill out an ‘exit card’ before crossing the border. No. She was questioned, escorted by security and made to buy a return ticket to Australia, and had her stay shortened to one month.
Now, granted, I would not piss on this girl if she were on fire. I really wouldn’t. But that is not the point. The point is, since when have single Australian women posed a threat to the United States of America? Since when have members of a country that fights along side the US been considered worthy of scrutiny at this level?
Obviously since I left the country and came back…
I have no problem with the reason Homeland Security exists. These people have an important job to do. I understand that. However, when things like this happen it really does little for the concept of ‘Tourism’ and friendly relations between allied nations.
My entire trip to the US has been utterly tainted as a result of what I experienced in LA. Trying to enjoy my stay now is about as easy as growing an extra set of arms.
I was returning to a country that I had nothing but good things to say about after my first visit. I was looking forward to being here again.
Now? Now about all I can say is “The average person is friendly, the scenery is awesome, the food selection is vast but, if you are looking at feeling welcome here, please think again?”.
I have been left feeling about as welcome here as a junk food wrapper. Same feeling as last time, but for a completely different reason.
And, yeah, I am paranoid enough now to think that, even writing this Blog post will see me barred from the country permanently should I ever think about coming back into it ever again.