Friday, May 28, 2004

Everybody hates foreigners

So it's taken me about five years of travel through approximately 20 different countries to realize a multinational truth: Short of actually hijacking your airplane, bureaucrats at foreign embassies will do everything they possible can to prevent your travel to their country.

My suspicions began two summers ago, when I was applying for a visa at the Russian embassy in Ukraine. The official at the desk winked at me as he suggested that the speed with which I would procure a visa would be directly related to the quantity of small foldable green bills included in my application. It's interesting that although accepting bribes and even conducting transactions in American dollars are expressly illegal in Russia and Ukraine, those rules don't seem to apply with the officially appointed bureaucrats at embassies. It's good to know that they are vigilantly looking after the interests of Russian citizens by deterring would-be American terrorists from crossing their boarders under the silly guise of business or recreation. Anyway, I was dissuaded, and never got the visa.

My uneasiness was further confrimed last summer, as I applied at the Ukrainian embassy in Azerbaijan for an entrance visa. Between numerous assurances of unbounded love for the American people and way of life, this bureaucrat informed me that he just could not assure me that my visa would be honored when I hop off the airplane in Kiev. This was because the term for travel on my Ukrainian visa didn't technically start until the day after my arrival in Ukraine. As opposed to altering my visa, the bureaucrat was curious as to whether I could just cancel my trip to Ukraine. I felt comforted to know that my convenience was more important to him than my desire to visit his country. Fortunately, I went to Ukraine, anyway, and the lady with the visa stamper at customs was too busy with a fascinating Brazillian soap opera to pay any attention to the travel term on my visa. The take-home lesson from this is that I can still conduct my typical subversive behavior in foreign countries. I just have to know where the boarders are porous and the officials aren't so vigilant in their defense of national interests.

My frustrations with visa applications have, however, reached new heights. I should have known that the application process for six visas would be complicated, but for heaven's sake! The application process has taken over 2 weeks, now, and I have one Tajik visa to account for it. I'm headed out to Washington D.C., on Monday evening, to personally attend to the problems at the embassies. I'll make sure that I bring plenty of money and patience. One way or the other, these experiences have helped me to understand the mentality behind people in the John Birch Society. It's not just Americans who hate foreigners; everybody else does, too!

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