Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Unfriendly Americans?

Reuters has an article featuring a survey that has determined that the U.S. is the most unfriendly nation toward visitors, from other nations.


Rude immigration officials and visa delays keep millions of foreign visitors away from the United States, hurt the country's already battered image, and cost the U.S. billions of dollars in lost revenue, according to an advocacy group formed to push for a better system.

To drive home the point, the Discover America Partnership released the result of a global survey on Monday which showed that international travelers see the United States as the world's worst country in terms of getting a visa and, once you have it, making your way past rude immigration officials.


You can view the complete results of the survey, here (PDF). But I have to say that I have some problems with the way Reuters has presented it.

Let's start with the Reuters headline:

U.S. is most unfriendly country to visitors, survey says

By reading this and the ensuing article, we can see how those that are not well adept at critical thinking and analysis skills could very well get the wrong impression about America, and its citizens.

Consider the main crux of the argument here, which is the entry process. Most ports of entry are places like New York, Los Angeles, and other coastal megalopolistic cities. These cities are not well-known for their "down home and friendly" feel. They are often distant and de-personalized, because people must deal with other people in close proximity, on a daily basis. So naturally, there is not a particularly warm attitude, unless someone has an angle and wants something from you. (Being raised in the LA area, I can attest to this on a personal level.)


In my only visit to New York in the late 70s, I had the distinct pleasure of flying into JFK International Airport, where I found the airport workers to be quite rude and indignant. Had I not lived in other parts of the country to include the south and midwest, I could have easily gotten the impression that all Americans were nasty. On the buses that transported travelers from one terminal to another, the men that helped people with their baggage grabbed the bags and threw them on without regard to the contents of those bags, and even yelled at one frightened Japanese couple (who obviously did speak much English), to hurry their "asses" up or they were going to get left behind.

Then, let's consider this. There is no crasser version of an American than the government worker. It matters not what part of the country you live in, whenever you must do any kind of business with any kind of government worker, you will likely find they are not the friendliest people in the world, either. Try getting a replacement for a lost Social Security card sometime and you will see exactly what I mean. I cannot imagine that the Port Authorities and immigration officials that handle visas are much different.

Of course the article does mention one factor that can be used as a possible explanation, which is the heightened level of suspicion created by the events of 9/11. But let's put ourselves in their place for a moment. If they take their jobs the least bit seriously, they must screen many different people from many different countries. Many of those people are from countries that are known to harbor hostile groups that would love nothing more than to destroy our way of life and at very least wreak havoc. So, knowing and understanding that New Yorkers bore the brunt of the 9/11 attacks, we can see why they would likely be especially suspicious.

One person I was chatting with a few years ago related to me that she had been to Europe (Spain to be exact) and said she would never return. After asking her why she felt that way, she told me she was very intimidated to see Spanish policemen carrying machine guns in the airport and it freaked her out, somewhat. I tried to rationally explain to her that that was Europe. As long as you were not trying to hijack an airplane or blow up the airport, the likelihood of them bothering you was very minute. At the time of her visit (which was in the late 70s), Basque terrorism was beginning to spin out of control in Spain; and other leftist terrorist organizations, such as the Red Army Faction in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, were at their peak. So, a show of force was necessary to deter and dissuade overt acts that could and would affect their respective tourism industries.

I am not sure I convinced her.

So as a result of this distorted image portrayed by al-Reuters, I cannot come to any other conclusion than they have used their platform to take a potshot at America and Americans. The poll is the poll, but the Reuters spin paints a very distorted picture of what America is all about.

And to all international people that would consider a trip to the United States of America, I would say this. Once you get past the jerks and travel outside of the huge metro areas, you will likely find people that will welcome you and treat you fairly, as long as you treat them in the same manner. There will always be bigots, in any country and this one is no exception. But overall, I do not believe that you will find people that are any warmer and more accommodating than the American people.

Just visit Indianapolis during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend, and you will see precisely what I mean. You will not be disappointed. Tell them that LASunsett sent you.

17 comments:

Always On Watch said...

Perhaps the United States is the world's worst country in terms of getting a visa, but I don't buy the unfriendliness with regard to our communities. And not every big American city is an unfriendly place--not by a long shot.

Besides, it SHOULD be difficult to enter here on a visa. National security first!

ms. miami said...

regarding entry into the country, i do have to say that i was very ashamed of my country when i saw that non-americans are now being made to give a mug shot and fingerprints when coming into the u.s.

hmmm, who else do we treat like this?

i don't buy that this behavior is necessary for keeping us "safe."

after that, i think that americans are like anyone else, you'll find kind people and not-so-kind people.

croquette said...

Well, I don't need visa for the US but my daughter went to NYC last week and return, she said nothing about that. Like Ms I would say there are un-wellcoming people everywhere, but I think US people is friendly.
Salut !

superfrenchie said...

I have mixed feelings about the mug shot and fingerprints. I understand where the US is coming from but I can tell you one thing: Europeans hate it! Lately, it has been the single most criticized aspect of visting the US. I know several people who have said they would no longer visit the US because of it.

LASunsett said...

AOW,

//...but I don't buy the unfriendliness with regard to our communities. And not every big American city is an unfriendly place--not by a long shot.//

I can only speak to my experiences and what I have observed. But I can say that not everyone in a big city is unfriendly, it's just that they may have a more difficult time showing it, because of the level of suspicion that comes with living around a lot of people.

By contrast, I am sure there are some smaller towns and cities that aren't so friendly to outsiders either. I can think of a few that I have been to.

My point was that those that encounter the ports of entry people, do not get to see the real America. This is the same principle as, those that visit Paris or London do not get to see the real France or Britain. Most any Frenchman or Brit will say the same thing.

And you are right, national security must be given the highest priority.

LASunsett said...

Ms Miami,

//i don't buy that this behavior is necessary for keeping us "safe."//

I do not like the idea of doing this either. But since we cannot profile by race or nationality, there is little choice but to do it to everyone.

As to whether or not it makes us safer, there is no real way to know for sure, since we have borders to the north and south that are unsecure. We can fingerprint and collect mugshots all day long, every day of the week for the next 50 years and as long as we have borders that are not guarded and controlled properly, we are at risk.

LASunsett said...

Croquette,

//I think US people is friendly.
Salut !//


Salut to you too. But, there are bad apples everywhere. I am only glad that your daughter did not encounter them here.

LASunsett said...

SF,

//I have mixed feelings about the mug shot and fingerprints.//

So do I. (See my response to Ms. Miami)

But when in doubt, it's best to err on the side of caution. I am sorry there are people that are not willing to come here, just because of the entry process. I believe they miss out on a great experience. :(

Anonim said...

LASunsett,

I second your defense of the actual American friendliness, warmth, openness, welcoming stance, etc. Having said that, I don't see where the Reuters report implied otherwise. Its language appears to be perfectly measured, and necessary qualifications are not omitted anywhere. Government officials in every country, especially the police and other security personnel, are famous for their acquired lack of humor. I don't think there is reason for heightened worry for ordinary Americans if travelers are finding American consular and immigration officials (and policies) particularly intimidating. American businesses losing out due to the falling number of visitors may think otherwise; but that is not the issue here.

I don't have a personal bad experience in my visa-getting, border-crossing adventures, but I can attest to some not-so-endearing practices . All anecdotal of course...

Story 1:
It's about three years back; I am in Ankara US Consulate waiting for my turn to have my passport endorsed with a renewed visa. In front of me are a couple, fifty-sixty years of age. They are presenting their tourists visa application papers to the Turkish-speaking American officer sitting behind the glass. She asks them why they want to travel to America; and, the husband explains: Their daughter and son-in-law are doing their graduate studies over there, they recently had a baby, so they wish to go see their grandchild, stay with them a bit. The officer asks when they plan to go and how long they want to stay. The couple are retired persons of modest means to say the least, so they are dependent on their daughter and son-in-law for the plane tickets, and they say so. They say, we don't know exactly, our son-in-law will send us the plane tickets. The officers shuffles the papers she is holding a bit, and says, sorry, I cannot give you visa, your application is denied. The husband is considerably shaken, yet too proud to cry, but you can tell what's going on inside of him.

Now, the couple would probably have gotten their visas had they had a clear itinerary and round-trip plane reservations if not paid tickets. But why deny their application summarily, and not give them a chance to fill in this detail? This denied application cost them $200 already before they even entered the Consulate. I heard of numerous other denied applications in similar situations. The understanding is that America regards such people as looking to go baby-sit their grandchildren, thus stealing American jobs or something. I think, this is BS, so heartless and un-American. But that's the practice, it appears...

Story 2:
Time: some year in the 90s. Place: Ankara US Consulate again. Victims: parents of a friend living in the Midwest, who is married to an American girl and who just had a baby daughter. Parents want to come to see her just as in the above case. But these parents, although retired persons again, are better to do economically. Still the same outcome: application denied. My friend's father throws a fit, curses all involved including his son and wife, and swears not to get anywhere close to the US Consulate ever again (funny but they live a couple of blocks away). My friend here is outraged, calls Sen. Bob Dole's office. The office personnel and Dole by extension sympathize with him, they pull a few strings that apparently lead to a special instruction sent to Ankara. The father is dragged back by his feet (figuratively of course) to apply for visa again. They are given a multiple entry tourist visa good for ten years. Since then, they have come over here once every couple of years for a couple of months of stay. Happy ending...

Story 3:
Time & place: same as in Story 1. Lucky applicant: a nonchalant blonde woman in her thirties. She wants a visa to the US. Why? --To see her husband. What kind of visa does his husband have? --He doesn't have one. (At this point, the Turkish-speaking American officer doesn't believe what she is hearing, and calls up a native speaker from the back office for help.) What? What is the husband's US address? --He doesn't have any. What the hell does this husband do? --He is a 'seaman,' works in ocean-faring ships. Where is he now? --I don't know for sure, somewhere on the Atlantic. Where will you see him in the US? --I don't know, he said, his ship may end up at a US port or head back to the Mediterranean. Which US port city? --I don't know, he said maybe New York or New Orleans. When? --Within the next three-to-six months. What US address will you be at? --Look, we won't have an address. He'll call me to say where they are headed for sure, I'll fly over, we'll check in at a hotel maybe, then we'll be given a cabin on the ship, and I'll be on the sea with him for XXX months (and purposes obviously :)... Okay! Do you have papers proving your husband's employment as you told us? (She has something, but not enough.) Okay! Bring such and such documents, and get your visa; your application will remain open pending those documents.

I don't think there is any point to this last story (except maybe in contrast to the first one); I just can't help laughing when I recall it. The changes in the officer's facial expressions shortly after the conversation started were something to be seen...

On a slightly different note: is it any better to get a visa to and/or enter and/or make a transit stop in European countries/cities? An airline desk clerk in London had the temerity to make a disparaging comment right to the face of a US Green Card holder (an acquaintance) who according to this clerk wasn't deserving of such papers. Mind you, this was before 9/11; I don't want to imagine what it may be like today. How about Israel? Did anyone travel to Israel? The problem with US may just be that it is the most desired destination, and after 9/11, the level of scrutiny is increased considerably.

ms. miami said...

lasunsett- officially, we cannot profile by race or nationality, but i think that it happens anyway.

beyond that, we definitely can profile by behavior. the husband of a friend of mine used to do this at MIA airport to find smugglers- it's a fascinating process.

if the point is to weed out people coming in a port of entry who may pose a threat- hire more people to profile behavior as people are standing in line. once they're pulled out, they can be questioned and, if problematic, stopped from gaining entry.

i believe that this would be a much more efficient use of funds and manpower instead of treating every grandma coming to visit her grandkids like a criminal...

LASunsett said...

Anonim,

Thank you for sharing those stories. It only reinforces my decision to not go back into government service and stay where I belong, in the private sector.

LASunsett said...

Ms Miami,

//if the point is to weed out people coming in a port of entry who may pose a threat- hire more people to profile behavior as people are standing in line. once they're pulled out, they can be questioned and, if problematic, stopped from gaining entry.//

I would not be opposed to this at all. The Israelis do an excellent job of this.

But it still does little good if our borders are so porous.

A.C. McCloud said...

I know several people who have said they would no longer visit the US because of it.

They are obviously using the incorrect port of entry. Just tell 'em to arrive around Nuevo Laredo, go about 20 miles northwest and they won't need no stinkin mug shots.. ;^)

LASunsett said...

AC,

//Just tell 'em to arrive around Nuevo Laredo, go about 20 miles northwest and they won't need no stinkin mug shots.. //

Now that you have done your Thanksgiving public service announcement, I must say that 10 miles should get it with little difficulty. ;)

Anonymous said...

And I thought there were no comment on this interesting thread... (the number of comments doesn't appear at the bottom of the post)
LA, you write in your post: al-Reuters which, I understand (maybe am i wrong), is an attempt to remind your readers of Al-Jazeera. Well, I prefer Reuters to be a British news agency rather than Agence France Presse then...

Anyway, it looks like all customs officers the world over aren't paid by their respective Ministers for improving tourism...

Flocon

LASunsett said...

Hi Flocon,

Yes, you are correct. I tried to make a little "play-on-words" joke with the al-Reuters quip. Since the story of the doctored photos that appeared in Reuters, I have on occasion referred to them as such. I do understand they are British. But I lost a lot of confidence in them after that story broke, amidst the backdrop of the "Pallywood" story.

Many people do criticize AFP and I am sure you see it in France more than me. But, I have to say that there are many stories that I read from them that are far more objective than Reuters, as well as those that exist here. CNN comes to mind.

As for the customs officers, government workers are government workers. No matter the country they aren't paid enough and are full of lazy, non-producers that care little about the people they serve. (Not all, mind you. But most that I have dealt with over the years are.)

Thanks for coming by, sir.

superfrenchie said...

Flocon, LA: What has AFP done wrong?