Expat Life: The Joy of Airport Security

by missfootloose on March 2, 2013 · 17 comments

in Expat life, living abroad, travel

Amsterdam AirportI know you’ll find this hard to believe, but I’m a very innocuous looking person. There’s nothing suspicious, strange or fabulously exotic about my physical person. You’ll see me and the next minute you won’t remember what I looked like.

It’s a problem.

Why, you wonder?

Well, airport security personnel is very cautious about not “profiling,” especially in the US, but elsewhere as well. So they pick me to search and pat down and question. That way they can’t be accused of profiling because the only profile I fit is no profile.

I travel with my man a lot, but it’s always me they pull out. I’m used to it. It’s my lot in life to get searched and groped in airports.

One of my favorite airports is Schiphol, Amsterdam. Since this is my birth-country airport it is not surprising I’ve spent many hours there, coming and going. Here are two of my more gentle security experiences there:

I’m at the gate, waiting for my flight to Washington DC. I’ll be in the US for a week to visit the kids and then go back to Ramallah, Palestine where I live the expat life at the time of this writing. I’ll have to fly to Tel Aviv in Israel, then go on by car.

A tall, handsome Dutch security guy in a spiffy uniform asks for my documents. He smiles at me. He has very nice teeth, I notice. I’m sure he smells nice too, but I’m not really close enough to tell. I’m sorry, I digress. I’m a romance writer and fantasize a lot.

“Are you familiar with airport security checks?” he asks politely. If he’d checked my passport first he would not have found it necessary to ask, but hey, he’s doing his job.

“Yes,” I say, “I’m especially fond of the Tel Aviv variety.”

He breaks out in a broad grin. “Oh, but we are so much nicer here!” he says.

(If you are not familiar with the security procedures at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, click the link and all will be revealed.)

Schiphol Airport Amsterdam

I love the funky art at the Amsterdam Airport

Another trip, another time, again at Amsterdam Airport, Schiphol:

I’m once again waiting for a flight to the US, and at the gate extra security is in progress. Once again I’m pulled out to get a pat down. The female security person who asks me to step aside now hands me over to a young blonde thing in training, who looks nervously at me.

“Do you speak English?” she asks.

I tell her I do, but Dutch will work too.

“Oh, good,” she says, and takes a deep breath. “This is my first time,” she whispers. “I haven’t done this before.” She gives me a pleading look.

I am aware now that the older woman is watching us, checking up on her charge. I smile at the girl, take the position: legs wide, arms out.  “Go for it,” I tell her, “do your thing.”

And she does, quite expertly, no longer nervous.

“Thank you for being so nice,” she says when she’s done.

I’ve done my good deed for the day. For an airport security person no less. Go figure.

Expat life is not all about big exotic adventures. It’s the little ones that count too.

* * *

Go ahead, tell me your airport tales, nice or otherwise. I know you have some!

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

YTSL March 2, 2013 at 3:08 am

Hi Miss Footloose –

Oh my re the airport checks, especially Tel Aviv’s!

Years ago when I was at college, I got a knee injury (through playing soccer) and had to wear a metal brace for 6 months. You can imagine the havoc it caused at security checks!

The funny thing is that at some airports, the metal detector would beep, at others, they wouldn’t. Guess the metal detectors at different airports were set at different levels!!

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Pat March 2, 2013 at 10:03 am

Oh yes, I have my share of sagas at security checkpoints. I LOVE the Amsterdam Airport, Schiphol. I feel like it is my second home and I have my favorite haunts there. I am not sure they still have it, but they had one “rest area” designed as a nature park, complete with fake grass to lie on, tree trunks to lean against and the sound of birds and a river running. I fell asleep there and missed my connecting flight.

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Turkey's For Life March 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

Maybe we’re the type who have such non-profiles that we never get pulled out. That’s a bit insulting, I think! ;) The only time we’ve been searched was at one of the Berlin airports and I was asked to remove my shoes – I wasn’t amused to realise I’d put my walking boots on with laces tied in knots! We were there some time.
Julia

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Welshcakes Limoncello March 4, 2013 at 8:39 am

You’re right – there are little adventures too. Love the art as well!

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Gordon Barlow March 4, 2013 at 9:23 pm

I haven’t actually had any bad experiences at security-checkpoints, though I have read enough about them to be both scared and angry, especially on behalf of my granddaughters. For the past two years I have boycotted US airports, and insisted that the girls do too. (Since I pay their fares coming and going, I get my way!) I blogged about the matter in a post called “1984 revisited” in November 2010, if anybody’s interested.

US Immigration (it’s all Homeland Security, these days) ALWAYS puts my wife into a detention room in US airports for 30-40 minutes because several years ago she ONCE went into the US on the wrong passport – i.e. a UK passport with a visa-waiver form instead of a Cayman Islands passport with a US visa in it. Now, it doesn’t matter which passport she uses, she’s put in the sin-bin. That infuriates me.

My boycott is expensive, but I’m a stubborn old coot.

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Mara March 5, 2013 at 10:48 am

In the last few years I seem to be picked out every time. Something bleeps and it isn’t my belt (which I don’t wear), loose change or keys. Usually it’s the underwiring in my bra setting the thing off. And then you have to go through the whole ‘let’s check you four times before we think you are not a threat to a bunny’!

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Reese March 7, 2013 at 4:21 am

Hi Karen! As usual, your stories always entertain me, whether they’re about travelling or romance. I never knew that they picked nondescript looking people. Good to know. I’ve been padded down only once in my life and I was thinking we’re all just random numbers and it’s by chance like at a bingo hall. Although, I always get questioned and sent in when I want to cross the border into the U.S….go figure. I think I look pretty harmless. I’m short and petite and wear glasses.

p.s. you’re a kind traveller. that girl was lucky to get you.

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nmaha March 8, 2013 at 3:41 am

Though I’ve lived in only two countries (both are on the same continent, so does that count?), I’ve travelled a bit and I totally agree on the non-profiling profiling. The funny part is in Asia, I get checked when I don’t have a baby and outside Asia, I’ve been frisked the maximum while travelling with my little one!

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missfootloose March 8, 2013 at 10:24 am

I remember being checked at Heathrow, London, while hugely pregnant. The woman who frisked me didn’t come even close to my belly, which I thought was interesting! In West Africa women used to smuggle all sorts of things across borders by looking pregnant. Of course they weren’t always lucky, either ;)

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Joburg Expat March 8, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I don’t have my own story, but the one told to me by a South African at a German airport (the country she lives in, so she’s aware of the cultural differences):

She is at airport security, and, as always, has to take off her shoes. The lady at security stares at her feet, looks up, and says to her: Do you know that you have your socks on inside out?
She looks back at the lady and says that yes, she is aware. But then she just sits there and waits.
The security person (being German) can’t help herself: You know, there is enough time to change your socks to the right way before you move on, she prods.
My friend says that the fact that she was quite happy to keep her socks the way they were (she doesn’t like the seams on the inside) was just about killing this woman’s sense of order.

I (being German, too) find this so funny. One shouldn’t stereotype, but we Germans definitely are anal people!

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missfootloose March 8, 2013 at 3:43 pm

I love this story! Yes, very German, says this Dutchie :)

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Joburg Expat March 8, 2013 at 3:56 pm

thanks:-) I actually did a better job of telling it in one of my blog posts that deals with other feet-related cultural faux pas in Germany. Here is the link if you haven’t already seen it: http://www.joburgexpat.com/2013/01/shopping-barefoot-in-germany-and-other.html.

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Joburg Expat March 8, 2013 at 3:57 pm

oops, sorry, meant to post this as a reply to your reply:-)

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missfootloose March 8, 2013 at 4:21 pm

Fabulous story! I love these cultural faux pas! It is part of the fun of expat life.

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guyana gyal March 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Haha, I love Joburg’s story. I always wonder, suppose someone has reeeeeeeeeally bad, smelly feet…? :-)

I take the searching for granted. Once, I was pulled aside into a line of brown people, and the woman officer told the young man to search my bag and the poor chap was so embarrassed, he couldn’t, so the woman had to do it. I felt so sorry for the chap, oh man, he was almost blushing.

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missfootloose March 8, 2013 at 6:21 pm

You’d think in his line of work he’d seen it all ;)

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Maria March 9, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I was wearing my usual travelling outfit (very thin and comfy leggings and a fleece top) on a layover at the Munich airport. During the pat-down, the screener’s hand brushed over the mole that sits, very primly, on my inner thigh. “Was ist das?” she asked, surprised. I guess it felt like a detonator or something, judging by her sudden alertness. “It’s a mole,” I told her. She didn’t recognize the English word, and since my knowledge of German is limited to the useful sentence “das ist eine Katze,” I pointed to another mole on my body. She laughed and waved me through. I can’t help wondering what that says about security in Munich — I would have felt a lot safer if she’d double checked instead of taking me at my word. I had that mole removed a couple of weeks ago, but as I recall, it did have a sinister sort of feel!

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