Entering another country is a perilous business.  A few years ago I flew into Detroit to run a workshop for managers in Ford Motor Company.  All the workshop materials had been sent in advance; handouts on A4 paper with ring binders for each participant. Unfortunately (but this is an aside – not the main point of my story) someone had neglected to punch four holes in the handouts so that they could be clipped into the binders. Of course, in the USA they don’t have A4 size paper and we soon discovered they don’t have four-hole punches either; only three-hole. In the end we solved this incompatibility problem by borrowing a four-hole punch from the British Embassy!

I wasn’t going to bother you with these trivialities but I had to tell you that the materials had been sent out ahead of me because, as you’ll soon see, it is a vital piece of information. I stood in the queue at Detroit airport clutching my passport and the immigration card I had completed.  Even though you are innocent, waiting in the queue triggers anxiety. You feel diminished and vulnerable. This was especially true on this occasion because a large man, in uniform and bristling with guns, kept shouting at us. He was particularly keen that no one should put so much as a toe over a yellow line painted on the floor. So, by the time it was my turn to step forward and present myself I was feeling decidedly inadequate.

The man in the kiosk took my passport and documents without any sort of greeting. There was a long silence while he slowly looked through them (well, I thought it slow).  Eventually he looked up and said, ‘Psychologist eh?’. ‘Yes’, I replied feeling it was a shameful admission. ‘Got any merchandize?’  ‘No’ I said, ‘It was all sent in advance’.  Then, without a flicker of a smile he said, ‘Got it all in your head I suppose’.  I realised this was a joke but in that situation I thought it unwise to risk a chuckle.

On another occasion I was invited to speak at a conference in Perth, Australia. I flew all the way there and found myself, inevitably, standing in yet another queue waiting to have my passport checked.  My turn to step forward eventually came. The man in the kiosk looked at my passport and, looking grave, summoned a colleague who asked me to accompany him. This was a surprise – I hadn’t expected to be personally escorted into Australia.  I was taken into a windowless room and left there without my passport. Eventually another official arrived looking very po-faced and proceeded to question me.  He was particularly keen to know whether the airline – British Airways – had checked my passport before I embarked. I was able to confirm that my passport had been checked a number of times including during a short stop-over in Singapore.  My interrogator was reluctant to explain why they had selected me for special attention but, at last, he came clean.  My Australian visa had expired ten days earlier.

I’m sure that BA would have been asked to fly me, in disgrace and no doubt in handcuffs, all the way back to the UK except that the conference at which I was due to speak had been organised by the Government of Western Australia. I was able to substantiate this by producing a copy of the invitation on impressive headed note paper.  I was allowed in with a temporary visa and a severe ticking off. 

Even entering the country of my birth can be hazardous. After a week’s skiing, I foolishly left my passport in the chalet (on a high shelf so that I couldn’t lose it!).  I had to confess at Geneva airport and was issued with a boarding pass after I had spoken on the phone to an immigration official in London.  When I arrived at Heathrow, I stood in the queue wondering whether I would be allowed in without a passport.  After the dreaded wait, I stepped forward and explained to the man in the kiosk that I had misplaced my passport. Without a word he picked up the phone and spoke into it quietly, ‘Dr Honey has arrived’.  It felt as if I was in some sort of spy thriller.

A few days later the chalet owner kindly returned my passport.  I used it on three occasions without mishap before, on the fourth occasion, it was confiscated.

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