Exhaustion, stiff muscles, stuffy air, too many people, bumbling bags, harsh fluorescent lighting, and lines. So many lines. These elements are not necessarily unexpected when partaking on a transatlantic flight, but they certainly don’t make the process of getting through customs and border control easier. In Fort Lauderdale, we were taken off the plane and placed directly into shuttle buses.

The airport is huge, apparently too large to let us disembark directly to the immigration area. So, we are shuttled to that section. Every person accounted for, cramped onto these busses, surrounded by tall sand-colored walls that promote a superficial sense of welcoming with engraved smiling lizards and sea turtles, which supposedly represent Florida.

In Helsinki, I was told, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do”. This was in reference to me being in the wrong line. I looked steadily at the two options. ‘EU Passport Holders’ here, and ‘All Passports’ there. I was traveling to the US, and I was concerned that if I showed my EU passport, then they’d wonder where my visa to the US was, and if I showed my US passport then they would wonder where my entry stamp into the EU was. Typically, I go in the shortest line and explain my situation to the officer, but there were no lines here, so I had to choose. I chose wrong, apparently.

The Finnish customs agent looked at the American passport I handed to him, then glanced over to the matte red book in my hand. He turned to me and told me to do as the Romans do. As I was still in the EU, I didn’t even need to show my American passport until I had crossed that border. He let me through after nonchalantly flipping through my Danish passport, barely even glancing at its contents. He essentially encouraged me to use my dual citizenship to its fullest extent, embracing the utter privilege I had access to.

In New York, we were separated. I was traveling with a friend, a non-US citizen. I wanted to wait in the same line as her, but that apparently was not allowed. I was instructed to head over to the US citizens line, which was in fact much shorter and easier than the other line. But the fact remains that we couldn’t wait together. Breezing through customs and border control is a privilege. It’s often not even available to those who hold the right passport in their given destination. But when the right conditions align: short lines, straightforward facilities, well-designed airport layout, often only those with the right passport can access that privilege.

In the age of increased commodification and the globalization of experiences, it is passports that grant you access to free movement and the privilege of feeling welcomed in a place you do not call home. Passports are the new nobility. They serve as determinants of access; one is born into a role which identifies where they can go and what places they can enjoy. It is a new world order constituted of borders.

By Maya Schwartz

Categories: Crossing Borders Blog

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