Immigration Impatience: The Power of the EU

On the morning we left Helsinki, Jamie and I found ourselves whisked rather quickly through security and deposited at the end of a very short immigration queue. Perfect, I thought. Plenty of time for coffee and a little peruse around Duty Free.

But no.

Jamie, flashing his British passport, was diverted to the EU immigrations officer who smiled cheerfully and waved him through. Then, the officer resumed doing nothing, as the rest of us non-EU travelers had been corralled off into two separate and unequal lines.

In front of me, a short woman with a veil shuffled up to the window. I waved to Jamie on the other side. I was still optimistic.

The Finnish immigration officer examined her passport and scrutinized her before proclaiming rather loudly that she was in the country illegally. (His emphasis, not mine.) Of course, that got the attention of everyone else. My goodness! Who was this woman? What on earth was she doing in Finland illegally?

I was a little astonished at how loudly he’d stated this, and irritated because surely this would take some time to sort out. At the window to the right, the EU officer sat, bored, staring at his computer screen.

The kerfuffle ahead of me persisted, with the officer explaining that the woman had had 70 days to remain in a Schengen country and today was day 73.

“73? No…” she retorted.

This was going to take ages.

I glanced to my left at the other All Passports line, watched two passengers pass through, then switched. A few ill-fated people followed me. A man proceeded to the window. I would be next. And then –

“Sir, you don’t have any entry stamp for Finland.”

“I came by sheep,” he argued. I found this humorous, until I realized he meant ship.

“Yes, but this is a problem,” she told him.

“No, no. It’s OK.”

This continued for about ten minutes. The veiled woman in the other line was finally allowed through. The EU officer looked bored, or was perhaps using his time to ponder some new theory of relativity. Finally, the woman at our window stood and addressed us:

“I’m sorry, I must close this line.”

She slid the window shut on our alarmed faces and the hope for caffeine, and we all shuffled sorrowfully back into a now very lengthy All Passports line. I looked back toward the end of the line, which curved back around toward security. It was ridiculous. I expended the last of my silent pleas on the EU officer, praying that perhaps he might have a change of heart and open his window to us savage non-Europeans, but no. He continued to ignore us, studying a fingerprint on his window.

I wanted to scream. I spotted Jamie, still waiting faithfully on the other side. Urging him to go, I sent a text explaining as best I could what was happening. I used a bad word.

At this point, an Asian girl with braces appeared and asked the couple in front of me if she could cut, as her plane was boarding ten minutes ago. So was theirs, they said. I let her in front of me.

Finally, in perhaps an act of desperation, the couple cut over into the EU line. I heard them explain that they were not EU citizens, but their plane was leaving, and could he please get them through. Slightly annoyed at having to do something, he obliged. I’m not sure if it was because they were older, or Caucasian, or convincingly distressed, but they were ushered through. The Asian girl ahead of me then approached his window, but the man had clearly met his quota of good deeds for the day. He pointed at the sign above her.

“This line is EU only.”

Still smiling – bless her, really – she returned to the line in front of me. I looked behind me again. I could no longer see the end of the line, our line, the only freaking line with any people in it. I looked pointedly at the EU man. A couple arrived and slipped through his window in less than a minute. I hated them, and I hated the EU.

Finally – finally! – another officer arrived and opened the booth two to the right. I readied myself for a quick line dart when he flicked on his screen.

“Any EU passengers?” he called out to the burgeoning line of very explicitly non-EU passengers. No one moved. He shrugged and comfortably switched on his computer as the bored guy to the right clicked his own screen off.

I wish this hadn’t been my last impression of Finland. It’s maddening, feeling harried, short-fused, and well-meaning. You want something – any flicker of humanity: a kind gesture, a smile, a helpful officer whisking you through or, at the very least, apologizing for being short-staffed.

That, or an EU citizenship. And a coffee.

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