On a recent Phineas Fogg-type itinerary (6 cities in 10 days) I had occasion to visit Ireland for the first time. My flight from Bradford-Leeds on Ryanair was uneventful, except for the fact that the announcements by the Eastern European hostesses were absolutely incomprehensible. It was at the Immigration desk that I first discovered I was in another kind of country. Unlike the very serious-looking uniformed officials I usually encounter in other countries, these non-uniformed men looked as if they could be pulling pints in the local pub, or even providing the musical entertainment at a similar establishment. Passengers in the EU-queue vaguely flashed passports at the official. Many didn’t bother to do even that.
In the non-EU queue I was preceded by a middle-aged businessman, who dutifully handed over his passport. After studying it for a little bit, the official looked up, pan-faced, and said: “What’s happened to yer head?”
The businessmen looked confused. This wasn’t the usual line of questioning (e.g. Where are you staying? How long are you staying for?).
Still pan-faced, the official held up the passport, opened to the picture (clearly not a recent one) in which the businessman had a full head of hair.
My turn. How long are you staying? I’m leaving after my meeting tomorrow. Standard stuff. But then he caught me – since losing part of my vocal chords earlier this year my voice is not nearly as strident as it used to be.
“So, will ye’ be usin’ sign language?”
Immigration officials do an important job in screening undesirables. But they can also be valuable in getting visitors into the right mood. I thought these guys were great, and encountered nothing but genuinely warm and friendly Irish people in service positions for the rest of my stay.