Wednesday, January 31, 2007

There are also good Americans

The United States is suffering of a very low opinion by most people worldwide a BBC World Service poll revealed recently.
There are reasons for that large majority of the world population not to see the USA as a country contributing to a better, safer and cleaner world.
However, there is a difference between living outside the USA and having a negative opinion and experiencing the American society from within.
What is more and more forgotten elsewhere is that many things in the USA are impressive or wonderful or great and certainly positive and many Americans as well.
That is very special to experience in the current geo-political circumstances.
It is giving hope. With another leadership, which will eventually come, the USA has the potential to regain their worldwide positive reputation.

However, entering the USA at the Tijuana-San Diego border is not a very pleasant experience.
Obviously the border crossing is not well enough organised to handle the many people crossing. This results in chaos. A hectic and nervous turmoil.
Hardest victims of this unfortunate situation are the immigration officers working at this border crossing. Their work conditions are rather appalling. Consequently they are bad mooded, unfriendly, suspicious and very ungallant.

The immigration officer first encountered getting into the process of crossing the Tijuana-San Diego border works in a booth. A run down booth. A small building without any conveniences and demonstrating misery. This man has to work outside where the air is saturated with the fumes of the thousands of cars. No wonder he doesn’t reply when greeted: “Good morning, Sir”. No friendliness but suspicion. Many questions asked in a slightly aggressive way. As if a criminal or potential terrorist is trying to enter his country.

Carrying a European passport an I-94 Visa Waiver is required for which a Secondary Inspection area is available. For this the motor home has to be driven dangerously against the one-way traffic. “They will stop” the immigration officer informs.

In the Secondary Inspection area many Immigration Officers are around. All heavily armed and many suffering of obesity. It seems necessary being a European with a motor home that the Immigration Officers want to come into the Lazy Daze and search for whatever might be illegal. Apples are found, bought in Mexico but coming from Washington State, USA. Immediately confiscated: no apples are allowed into the United States.

To obtain the I-94 Visa Waiver a line of dozens of non-American people must be joined because only two Immigration Officers are made available.
A sign on the window explains that an I-94 Visa Waiver form doesn’t need to be filled out anymore because the Immigration Officer will do this.
Once, after a long wait, a new Immigration Officer is offered a “Good morning, Sir” and this greeting remains also unanswered but the instruction is given: “Step aside and fill out the I-94 Visa Waiver form!”

Eventually the real thing can happen. The interrogation. Where are you from? Who are you going to see in the USA? What is your occupation? Where do you live? A long series of questions and many repeated 4 to 5 times. In a very unfriendly and almost aggressive way. Fingerprints are made and a portrait picture. An innocent visitor or tourist will wonder if one is actually welcome in this country. The Immigration Officer can slide the modern European passport through a slot so that on the screen of his computer all the information of the document automatically appears. This is done not once, but twice, three times, four times, up to 13 times… During the 20 minutes of the interrogation. Obviously the official is suspicious and nervous. Eventually he doesn’t give an I-94 Visa Waiver for the usual 3 months, but for only 2 weeks. Why? Who knows? No explanation given. Next.

It is a miserable experience these days entering the USA. But once in the country, the opportunity is there to meet extraordinary people and situations.

Take Trader Joe’s. An alternative chain of food supermarkets where another approach has been tried which has turned out very successful. The products are mostly organic and of high quality. The interior of the shop is cosy and pleasant. A great atmosphere. Checking out brings the customer to something that doesn’t look at all like the usual cashier centre in ordinary supermarkets. A friendly person stands next to a wooden console and takes the products for the customer from the basket to put them in paper bags. In a shop like Joe Trader’s the more conscious and aware Americans are buying their food.

Those more aware Americans, not matching the cliché many non-Americans have of them, can also be found in shops like Borders and Barnes & Noble.
Those are big bookshops but in a way they are not. There is a huge selection of books in any field but most of all an atmosphere is created in the shop. A person feels good in the environment that is created. It has a warm, welcoming and pleasant atmosphere. All over the shop are very comfortable chairs where someone can get an impression of the book considered to purchase. Often there is a fireplace to sit around as well. And a nice coffee and tea shop with delicious chocolate chip cookies.

To be among the many of the Americans frequenting Trader Joe’s, Borders and Barnes & Noble makes forget the San Diego border crossing quickly.

To learn more about the Trader Joe’s supermarkets, click on:

To learn more about the bookshop Borders, click on:

To learn more about the bookshop Barnes & Noble, click on:


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your entertaining piece of writing. It was very thoughtfully written. I would simply caution you not to put too much stock in polls, or anything else, produced by the BBC. We Americans usually readily admit to our faults. We just don't need the BBC to constantly remind us that we are an imperfect nation.

by One of Jorge's Readers

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is a pain to enter the U.S.A. especially at Tiajuana. You have to remember that the U.S is on a war-footing, for better or worse. In fact there are many that believe that we are in the first stages of WW 3.

Roland Pesch said...

Borders and Barnes&Noble, unfortunately, also have their dark side. Their cozy welcoming atmosphere is an imitation of the environment that used to be offered by many small, independent bookstores. (Borders in fact began as one such.) By virtue of being huge enterprises, though, Borders and B&N can pressure publishers into offering them deep discounts, unobtainable by those independent booksellers of old. I say "of old" because Borders and B&N use this economy of scale to outcompete the independents, many of which have since gone under. I am of course not privy to the chains' strategic planning, but as a naive observer it has repeatedly seemed to me that they actually target successful independents, opening new chain branches in their immediate neighborhoods. Some independents manage to resist; many do not. Community awareness can help.