Dona and Joe’s European Vacation, Episode 17: Back Home (and Don’t We Know It)

We’re up at 5 this morning, which is a lot better than getting up at 2 as we did yesterday, as we continue to readjust to the nine-hour time difference between Seattle and Paris. It’s not as easy to get back into our daily schedules as it might have been when we were younger. But I’m not complaining. Dona and I had so many great experiences on our trip that we’ll remember them for a very long time.

I don’t often praise a big company, but our Delta flight was excellent. We had two meals, read, watched movies, and even slept a bit. I’ll admit, business class makes a huge difference.

But as if to make clear that the vacation party was over, we were subjected to a full dose of good old American bureaucracy as soon as we landed. The first clue was hitting a long line two floors from the Customs booths. It wasn’t moving either. In fact it became chaos, as more and more people, from our flight and others, piled in behind us. Everyone else jostled for position. A few folks had Nexus clearance and tried to worm through the crowd. A sign said you could download an app, fill out a form, and then skip the line. But so many people tried to do that only a few were able to access the website.

The official explanation was that several overseas flights had landed at the same time, and somehow Customs wasn’t expecting them. That meant there were three Customs agents for what had to be at least a couple of thousand people. To their credit the three agents were extremely friendly to everyone, which couldn’t have been easy since most travelers were exhausted and cranky from their long flights, and eager to get to their destinations. And it was a marked contrast from the Customs interviews we’ve experienced before. Coming back from Canada (Canada!) we usually get grilled on where we’ve been and why we’re crossing the border (um, because we live here?).

The entire delay lasted nearly two hours.

All those billions poured into Homeland Security—I’m pretty sure none of it went to SEATAC Customs.

As Americans, we’re constantly being told how great and advanced our nation is. And we truly want to believe it. But our experience in Customs was thoroughly third world. We went to four cities overseas, and our total time in Customs was perhaps fifteen minutes. I don’t want to get into conjecture about the reasons for that incredible delay, but I will say that I think our experience in Customs is symptomatic of the differences between how governments view people (both residents and visitors) in their respective lands.

Sorry to end our journey on such a downer, but I couldn’t just let that experience slide.

Anyway, we’re back now. Dona is in her office upstairs cranking out a Powerpoint for work. Henry is asleep on the couch—after three weeks of “Late Night with the Brother-in-Law” he has some readjusting to do too.