Transatlantic tidbits on language & life

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Kategorien/Categories:    ›Transatlantic‹  ›EN‹   –  10.10.2010

One foot in the door

On a recent flight from Germany to Boston via Dublin, I had an encounter of the more scary kind. While changing planes, I walked into a full-fledged U.S Customs and Border Patrol point and was practically on American soil – in the middle of Dublin Airport. So does the Eastern U.S border extend all the way to Europe now?

I first began wondering when I had to fill out the familiar customs clearance form in Dublin airport, while clearing the gate to the connecting U.S. flight. As I came down a set of stairs I was greeted by a row of manned customs booths with the unmistakable U.S. customs and immigration lettering above them. Holy smokes, I thought, when did this happen?!

My next reaction was rather comical: I asked a border guy, who was standing around and casting his evil eye on the folks waiting in line, if I was really about to enter U.S. territory. And if so, did that mean I had to eat all my fruit right now?!? He didn’t crack a smile (these guys are well trained), but told me that no, Ma’m, you’re fine, as long as you don’t bring any fruit into the country. I breathed a sigh of relief. My little in-flight snack was saved.

Apart from feeling somewhat uncomfortable about the unexpected encounter with Homeland Security on foreign soil, it turned out that this so-called pre-clearance facility had a distinct advantage once we reached our final destination. To my utter amazement we were herded right past the long lines of incoming passengers waiting to pass through customs and immigration. No fingerprints, no questions, no stamps in the passport, since all that had already been taken care of back in Ireland. We just waltzed straight through to the baggage claim and that was it.

After doing some research, I found out that there are several of these U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) pre-clearance facilities for flights to U.S. destinations. Namely in Canada, Bermuda and Aruba. Ireland was the first country with such a facility on European soil, with two CBP-outposts (Shannon and Dublin) opening in the last two years. Don’t ask me why, though.

I’m still not sure where this whole experience leaves me. One thing I did miss, though, was the classic greeting by the U.S. customs officer when I pull out my blue passport. “Welcome back home!” they always say, and this both cracks me up and, in some weird way, does make me feel welcome. I guess they can’t legally say this back in their little enclave in Dublin Airport… That may just be one step too far – at least until the US applies to join the EU!