Just Be Nice

Upon arrival in Barcelona this summer, a Spanish official glanced at my passport and waved me on my way. Returning from Spain, I encountered a longer line at O’Hare, but I eventually answered a couple of perfunctory questions posed by a bored customs official who then waved me on my way. I was glad that I wasn’t visiting the U.S. from another country, because the “citizens” line made slow but steady progress while the lengthy queue of foreign visitors stood motionless.

It’s no surprise, then, that two-thirds of the business travelers polled by the Discover America Partnership considered the U.S. to be “the worst country in the world” in its treatment of foreign visitors at the border. More surprising, perhaps, is that a similar percentage of respondents fear being mistreated by DHS officials more than they fear terrorism. They viewed U.S. border officials as “arrogant, rude and unpredictable.”

“We deliberately sampled an elite group of business travelers who are more likely to feel positive towards the US than most people in their own countries,” said Geoff Freeman, the director of Discover America Partnership. “All they are asking is to be treated with respect, professionalism and courtesy: they are not asking for America to reduce its security measures.”

Treating guests with respect isn’t too much to ask from DHS employees. Long lines can be alleviated with more bodies at the gateways, but professionalism and courtesy need to be instilled from the top down.

The administration’s foreign policy (to the extent it has one) has diminished the country’s reputation worldwide. Rude treatment of visitors reinforces negative opinions about the U.S., and comes at a high cost to tourism and commerce.

The number of foreigners visiting the US has declined by 17 per cent since the September 11 terrorist attacks, while business travel has declined by 10 per cent in the past year.

More importantly, civil treatment of visitors is essential to national security.

“Since 9/11 this country has viewed foreign travellers as more of a threat than an opportunity,” [Freeman] said. “They [border officials] do not understand that foreign travellers are also key to our national security: they go home as ambassadors for our country.” Almost three-quarters of those surveyed said they were more likely to have an “extremely favourable” view of the US than if they had not visited.

Security and courtesy are not mutually exclusive concepts. Unfortunately, DHS has shown little interest in training its officials to manage crowds in a friendly, efficient way. We (via our newly elected Congress) should insist that visitors be greeted with the same courtesy we would hope for when visiting an allied nation.

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    financial capital of the world (none / 0) (#1)
    by squeaky on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 05:38:13 PM EST
    It seem that dear leader has also caused London to eclipse NYC as the financial center of the world. Partiot act and hostility to foreigeners is not helping anyone. Why would anyone put up with the nonsense if they did not have to.

    LONDON: At a black-tie event this summer, some of the world's most powerful bankers and business executives gathered for a toast: "We are the international finance and business capital of the world, the world's greatest global financial center, without question," the mayor told the assembled crowd.

    But that wasn't Michael Bloomberg talking. That's because the city wasn't New York - it was London.


    Just another (none / 0) (#3)
    by jimakaPPJ on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 05:52:39 PM EST
    Not much new here. I remember going through customs in '68 and '69 into the old USSR easier than getting back into the US.

    The point is that people go to places they want to, and need to, go. Ease of entry, or lack thereof, may be a problem, but will change nothing.

    Shorter. This is just another "America Bad" post;


    no (none / 0) (#8)
    by Jen M on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 07:05:32 PM EST
    this is a 'courtesy costs nothing' post

    Just another case of: (none / 0) (#15)
    by Edger on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 06:02:41 AM EST
    No one expects you to get it.

    Sarbox (none / 0) (#10)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 09:22:33 PM EST

    Well, Sarbox has made the move to London a way to save money.  

    don't blame the (none / 0) (#2)
    by Che's Lounge on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 05:45:54 PM EST
    people at the gate. Who selects and trains them? Those are the true incompetents. Mindless automatons. One more small sign of the loss of our collective humanity.

    Travel to the US (none / 0) (#4)
    by caramel on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 06:14:05 PM EST
    As a regular traveler from Europe to the US, I must say that the procedure for air travel is tedious in most countries these days. Coming in to the US is no big deal (except for the neverending line at immigration), however returning home from the US is becoming a very unpleasant experience. Security is an element of importance, still those who enforce it could learn how to smile and make the procedure more human. Before too long we will probably have to strip completely before getting on the plane...

    I agree with this (none / 0) (#7)
    by Gabriel Malor on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 06:44:53 PM EST
    Traveling into and out of the UK, the US, and France wasn't much of a problem. Yeah, it's a line. Deal with it.

    For me the difficulties came when I moved for a time. The UK folks didn't want to believe I was planning to leave eventually. Then, the US folks were inordinately curious as to what I'd been up to. Both times I was held up for 45 minutes.


    At least (none / 0) (#5)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 06:20:50 PM EST
    you don't have to bribe the border guards, like you do at many Mexican border towns.

    The above (none / 0) (#6)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 06:22:17 PM EST
    was in reference to having to bribe Mexican border guards, not American...

    I remember crossing into mexico (none / 0) (#9)
    by Jen M on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 07:07:50 PM EST
    never want to do it again

    Mexico City was great fun, though. So were some of the other places we visited.


    What's so difficult (none / 0) (#11)
    by Che's Lounge on Mon Nov 20, 2006 at 09:38:35 PM EST
    about crossing into Mexico?

    you don't have to bribe the border guards, like you do at many Mexican border towns.

    Why would anyone ever have to bribe a mexican border guard? There is no checking of your papers when you enter Mexico through the established roads. Crossing into the US requires you to be screened by the US guards, so bribing mexican guards would be a WOT.

    Mexico (none / 0) (#12)
    by kay on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 12:09:20 AM EST
    I've crossed the border from the US to Mexico at least 500 times in my life and it has been entirely pleasant and I have never paid a bribe. I really don't understand the comments above. You show your passport and get your FMT. I think neither of the posters above have ever been to Mexico.

    not when we went (none / 0) (#14)
    by Jen M on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 05:35:48 AM EST
    We were driving, and it was a nightmare. (I don't remember the details, it was back in '77 and I was sixteen)

    I don't know why we had so much trouble. All I know is I never want to repeat that.


    UK has taken its lead from the US (none / 0) (#13)
    by HK on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 04:09:59 AM EST
    Security measures in the UK have become increasingly irritating and bizarre since 9/11 too.  My friend got on a flight this weekend and was forced to throw her make-up in the bin before she boarded.  Not only that, she is a diabetic and the flight was 3 hours long, yet she was also forced to throw her high sugar energy drink in the bin, but was allowed to keep her syringe and insulin with her - items which are potentially lethal, unlike mascara and fizzy drinks...

    When I visited the US last, I had to have my bag searched because the sniffer dog could smell an apple that used to be in it.  I had eaten it several hours earlier on another continent.

    To be honest, the staff seem as fed up with all of this as those travelling.

    When will this nonsense end?

    When will this nonsense end? (none / 0) (#16)
    by Edger on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 06:07:30 AM EST
    I imagine it will continue as long as it still convinces some that the war on terror theme is reality instead of smoke and mirrors.

    Yep (none / 0) (#18)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 08:29:24 AM EST
    9/11 never happened.... the plotters in England were all fake... sure uh huh.

    When will this end? (none / 0) (#17)
    by jimakaPPJ on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 08:27:49 AM EST
    Most likely after we stop finding radical Moslems plotting to blow up airplanes?

    Europe (none / 0) (#19)
    by roger on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 09:07:28 AM EST
    Last time I flew in Europe (Holland), the security was more effective, as well as more pleasant.

    They ask about your vacation. What did you do? What was your favorite part of your trip? These are all things that the average tourist should be able to discuss, intelligently, and pleasantly.

    If the passanger is just too strange, they take other steps I am sure, but I have never been there when they found it neccesary.

    Here, we are rude, and we look for last weeks strategy. A very ineffective combination.

    Some have argued here before that this is the Israeli system, and that it is racist. This is the EUROPEAN system. It might resemble Israel's proceedures, but it is different.

    BTW- for the Israel haters- you may not like their method, but it is %100 effective, unlike ours which is just as offensive and completely ineffective.


    Correction (none / 0) (#20)
    by Edger on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 09:10:47 AM EST
    Most likely after we stop finding radical christian wingnuts and their AG's plotting to blow up countries.

    If you think it is bad now, just wait... (none / 0) (#21)
    by Bill Arnett on Tue Nov 21, 2006 at 02:26:36 PM EST
    ...until your travel outside CONUS has to be approved by Homeland Security as is being considered now.

    Just more dismantlement of our constitutional rights, like the freedom to travel and associate with whom we choose.

    When the government can restrict your EXIT from the U.S. by denying you permission to travel, you are just an unconfined prisoner of America.