Coming to America? If it's a Sunday, get ready to queue

A chaotic wait to have my passport franked threw up a surprising titbit

Share

I am a patient man. Oh, OK then, I'm not a patient man. I suppose it's built into the journalist gene: we want things to happen, and we want them to happen NOW. But at least I understand the practice and etiquette of queuing.

Which is more than can be said for an old friend of mine, an editor of some eminence, whom I was with in a very popular Chinese restaurant in Leeds some years ago. You couldn't book a table, and it was simply a case of waiting in an orderly line until one came free. The restaurant was all noise and bustle, but most of us could work out what was happening: as people left, you'd move up the queue and eventually you would be seated.

This was not good enough for my friend, who, every time a particular waiter rushed past with a tray laden with with food, would ask, in increasingly plaintive tones: “Any joy?” Eventually, this repeated enquiry was too much for the waiter, who smashed down the tray he was carrying on a table and, as the restaurant fell silent, screamed at my friend: “Look, I've only got one pair of hands!”

This incident came to mind when I arrived at immigration control at Washington airport the other day. As I stood there for two hours among the huddled masses in a queue that snaked this way and that around the barriers, and barely moved, I ached to ask the officials: “Any joy?” They might have responded, firmly: “Look, we've only get three customs officers!” That's right. This is the capital city of ostensibly the most advanced, most prosperous, most outward-looking country on earth, and they keep people waiting for hours on end to get their passport checked because they haven't got enough people to process them.

It's not as if they were taken by surprise. “Oh my God, three jumbo jets have landed at our airport! Why didn't anyone tell us?” Those from my British Airways flight waited, as you may imagine, with dignity and patience. The passengers who arrived in the hall after us, and faced an even longer wait, were rather less phlegmatic, and you could sense the tension rising. Someone demanded to know why it was so chaotic. “It's always like this on a Sunday night,” one of the officials responded.

What? Was that really what she was saying? Don't come to America on a Sunday. We're a little bit short staffed. We've got a few people on holiday, and then, guess what, two others called in sick this morning. What kind of country is this? I will tell you what kind of country it is. It's where they like to tell the rest of the world how to conduct their affairs, and why the American way is the best. And yet your first impression of the place is that it's so utterly broke that they can't afford to pay for a few more public employees so that visitors wouldn't have to stand for hours on end to get their passport franked. However, the joy of getting through the ordeal is only intensified when you hear the words: “Welcome to the United States.” Never fails to thrill.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Should parents be allowed to take pictures at nativity plays?  

Ghosts of Christmas past: What effect could posting pictures of nativity plays have on the next generation?

Ellen E Jones
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick