Thursday, 23 December 2010

Getting into USA!

A few pleasant days in Mexico with R, a colleague and friend for many years, attending an Exhibition.

An amazing experience compared to the Frankfurt version, the show only starts at 14:00 and lasts for a few hours, against the long hours of Frankfurt.

The exhibition went so quickly between the few meetings we had and watching all this dancing on every stand. It is just amazing to see people sitting discussing business and suddenly a stand starts a nice music and you get everyone on their feet dancing for few minutes. The same chap shouting and negotiating prices is simply transformed...beautiful exico.

A pleasant adios night out dining right after the show in a beautiful Mexican restaurant with local music and dance invited by a friend G. More Tequila and he became very emotional:

-Charles, you are my brother! ................No...............more, you are not any more Charles and I am G, you are G and I am Charles!
And as to prove his point, he took out his exhibition badge that we still had on our lapels, put it on me, and took mine for himself... He became Charles and I am G.

How could I have guessed that a few hours later, I would have to explain to an American passport control officer that, yes, my name is Charles but the badge I have for the exhibition says that my name is G!

A few hours later on a flight from Mexico to Oregon.

An officer indicated two different lines: UK and American passports this line please, and all other passports that line. Separated from R, I went to other line with mainly of South American passengers.

I was very glad it only took a few minutes as the flow was quiet quick. Even if the work was not hard, still, the lack of oxygen in Mexico combined with the time difference hit me quickly and, after this long flight and the Tequila night, arriving a little after 2 AM, I felt quiet exhausted and was looking forward to checking into the hotel, shower and relax.
I showed my passport to the duty officer. I was travelling with my Egyptian passport as it happened that I had an old 5-year visa that was due to expire in a couple of months, and at that time visa was required for Greek passports as well, so I did not bother:

-Good morning, I said.
Officer (most probably originally from South America) :  Buenos dias Senior. 

I somehow wondered why he answered in Spanish to an Egyptian passport holder on American soil, but thought to skip that remark: Buenos dias, I replied.
-Viene de México?
-Téngale cuánto tiempo estuvo en México?
I do speak some Spanish but did not feel like entertaining such chat in Spanish, so I thought of getting things wrong I was!
-Excuse me officer, but would it be possible that we speak in English? 
 I was in Mexico for 5 days. I answered to his last question.
Obviously not glad with my proposal to speak English in USA, he started looking more carefully at my passport.
-From Egypt, Sir?
-What were you doing in Mexico?
-Attending an exhibition
-You Live in Greece?
-What is the purpose of your visit to USA?
-Visiting our sister company.
-Where do you work?
- In an English company.

One look to his eyes and I knew I was losing him and smelled trouble!
I was obviously wrong, he did not lose track of what I was saying. Still, however, I was right, trouble was on the way!

-You are Egyptian, you live in Greece, you work for a UK company, you were in Mexico for an exhibition and you are coming to Oregon to visit a sister company?
-Yes, officer.
-Would you mind stepping out and following me please?
As if I had choice or that if I minded it would have made any difference!
I had to lie:
-No, officer, I don’t mind! ... (Of course I did mind for God’s sake).

As he stepped out and I followed him, I had a glance at R who was just 2 persons away from his passport check.
We went into a small room and the Officer offered me a seat before returning to his duty.
I thought I was alone first, then I heard someone coughing. Looking to where the sound came from, I saw an Asian looking chap with Pakistani traditional dress and quiet an impressive religious beard.
I thought to myself that that could not be good sign for sure if this room served that purpose, felt like in transit for Guantanamo flifgt!!!!

A few minutes later, an obviously higher grade officer came in and went straight away to me:

-Good morning, he said.
-Good morning officer.
From the glass window, I saw R just getting through the passport control and looking for me. An idea came immediately to my mind!
-Officer, me speak little English, me friend with me travel, me friend is white man and speak good English, as I pointed to R from the glass window. I was simply in no mood to explain again the story and, for years, I’ve known R and I know he just loves to talk, chat and explain!

I was obviously right! The officer just called R, and it took simply few minutes to get things fixed up, and we were through to customs. 

If you know R you will understand what I mean, he has an amazing quality of making simple things as a our sales visit to a sister company sounds like if we were in USA for a world saving mission and that so many lifes depend on our visit, all said in a beautiful diplomatic way that could have made the officer beg us to not to lose more time with him!!

To my bad luck or more likely instructed by the previous officer, they decided to inspect my pilot case.
I was asked politely to open my case as the officer put his plastic gloves and started looking to my bag with first item he picked to my luck was my ''Mexican brother exhibition badge''!

He looked at it and at my passport and could not solve the puzzle!
-Your name is Charles, Sir, right?
-This badge shows that your name is G.....
Hmmmmmm, difficult one! 

I thought it is becoming a nightmare, how can I explain that one?!!!! 

I had two choices, either to start telling this long Tequila story again and how it ended up with me being brother with G, but obviously that might not work or it depends on his understanding, which I was not very confident now, alternatively run for help to white man again!

I chosen the second option as it sounded more safe and started again:

-Me speak small English, me friend (pointing to R) come and say you me badge!

I was just right, it obviously worked out very quickly. And we were finally in Oregon!

I am more confident now than ever that the best way to deal with a white man is to let him talk to a white man!

Next stop: Best way to do business in Yemen is...............chewing kat!

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