[Written on the bus from Cork to Leap (pronounced “Lehp”). Sorry for the terrible writing]
The last few days have been CRAZY.
I left for Houston on the 14th behind schedule. Dad was trying to jailbreak my phone so that I could use it in Ireland (just swap out pre-paid SIM cards), but he couldn’t finish it in time. I ended up rushing into the airport to catch my British Airways flight.
The flight itself was okay, if a little odd. The dinner and breakfast served was actually tasty and the flight attendants were very nice. Thankfully I had a window seat and nobody sat in the seat immediately next to me, so I got to stretch out when they turned the lights off and actually lay down a little. I’m thankful for the few hours of sleep I got.
There was a lovely Indian woman sitting two seats away. She was dressed in traditional garb. We tried to communicate a little, but we couldn’t really understand each other and it degenerated to hand gestures. I think she thought I was younger than I am or something because she adopted a motherly attitude toward me. I slept through the breakfast run, but she grabbed me a breakfast box and gave it to me when I woke up. She also asked me if I had my blanket and pillow and was doing okay. It was sweet. I’m sad we couldn’t communicate more.
Things went pretty smoothly until I got to the UK border patrol. Those people were freaking assholes. I had landed in London and was planning to catch a connecting flight to Edinburgh, Scotland, before switching airlines and moving on to Cork, Ireland. However, I didn’t have my Aer Lingus tickets in hand yet. On the Aer Lingus website it says that Americans just need a passport to check in and that it’s a ticketless flight. I had my connecting ticket to Edinburgh in hand and I also had a copy of the receipt for my return ticket in December to show that I was leaving England within the allotted six months. I stepped up to border patrol and they gave me a card to fill out that requested my name, address I was staying at, employment, etc. I put the Ireland address (which doesn’t have numbers, by the way, it’s just a series of words), and “unemployed”. This apparently caused the border patrol to think I was an American bum sneaking in to England to steal their jobs and men or something.
The border patrol officer (to henceforth be referred to as A. O. for asshole officer) proceeded to ask me tons of detailed questions about where I was going, why I was going there, how much money I had, etc. He was very suspicious about the fact that I was going to stay with people I had never met. He thought the Ireland address I gave was a fake. He was suspicious about my length of stay – he informed me that most tourists only stay for a few weeks. I pointed out that I had bought a return ticket for well before the six month tourist limit. He didn’t seem to care. He asked me to produce all the money I had and bank statements for my credit cards. He also was very suspicious about my unemployment status. He asked why I didn’t have a job yet. I told him I just graduated. Apparently that wasn’t good enough. Meanwhile, a group of elderly Americans gets passed through without any kind of questioning at all.
I mean, I totally get it. In hindsight I should have brought loads of information proving that I had a place to stay and money to support myself, etc. I thought having an address, return tickets, phone numbers, and my word would be good enough. Apparently not. But this next bit is what infuriates me.
Now, this whole time he’s been super skeptical and critical and talking to me like I’m being hostile or misleading. He tells me that my story paints a dim picture and that he’s going to flag me because I sound like I’m lying, but he’s still going to pass me through. He then proceeds to tell me that I need to bring more information through next time (duh), and that just because I’m American doesn’t mean I get a free ride wherever the hell I want. Furthermore, he turns away more Americans than any other nationality because we (read: arrogant Americans) believe regulations don’t apply to us. Oh, and it’s not his fault, it’s our government that upped the regulations, so I should take it up with them. But don’t expect to get through Irish border patrol without better proof of my identity, and if Irish border patrol doesn’t let me through then they’re going to ship me back to the UK where they’ll sure as hell deport me to the U.S. Also, the minute I leave the UK (so in half a day) my tourist visa is null and void, so if I expect to come back I’ll need to present loads of information because I’ve been flagged. I’ll be questioned even more intently and I run the very real risk of being denied entry. THEN A.O. tells me this story about and American who was denied access to the UK ten years ago, and A.O. had to turn him away a few weeks ago even though the guy was on a business trip with his boss because the denied access was still on his record. Said businessman begged and pleaded, but there was nothing A.O. could do. I should learn from this, says A.O., and not be an arrogant American in the future.
So finally A.O. stamps my passport and lets me through. I have to sprint to my Edinburgh connection. I have the fear of God in me, and I’m trying to figure out a way to print out all the stuff I need before I get to the Irish border patrol so they don’t deport me. I’m sitting there fretting on the plane, nearly in tears, wondering how it could have gotten to this so quickly.
Ironically the older Americans that were easily pushed through are sitting next to me. The lady asks me if I’m okay – she saw A.O. questioning me and was curious as to what happened. I told her. She was amazed and said that they didn’t really ask them for anything at all except an address. She tutted and fussed over me a bit and I felt a little better.
So I get to the Edinburgh airport, grab my bag, and head to the nearest ATM to see if I can print out my account totals. I can’t. Crap. I catch sight of a computer station and printer. I think Thank God. I walk up and the printer is out of order. I ask at an information counter to see if there’s any other place in the airport where I can print stuff out, and they say no. I ask if I can buy a phone in the airport anywhere. They say there’s only SIM cards available in the airport.
Fuck my life.
So I get on my computer and pay Boingo an exorbitant amount to have internet access. Then I talk to my parents, explain the situation, and then start taking screen shots of my bank account amounts, letters from the people I’ll be staying with, and airline receipts for between flights. I’m freaking the hell out, sitting by a window in the departure area of the Edinburgh airport in the middle of a huge amount of people speaking dozens of different languages. By the way, I smell sweaty and gross and I feel disgusting. I also apparently can’t check in to my Aer Lingus flight and get past security until two hours before my flight, which is at 10pm. So I sit there. For five hours. Freaking out.
Finally I get past security and go searching for a lounge to see if they maybe have a printer. No luck, and the Brits behind the counter were rude to me. I decide to just wing it and bust out my computer screen shots if the Irish ask for proof that I’m not some kind of job-stealing hussy. So I settle down to wait for my flight. My flight is delayed by two hours.
I get into Cork around 1AM. I go through Irish border patrol nearly trembling with trepidation. I imagine them asking endless questions, taking me in a back room, cuffing me, and telling me to get the hell out of their country. An old guy takes my passport, looks at me, and asks how long I’m staying and what I’m doing. I told him two weeks, and that I’m on holiday. Without any further ado, he stamps my passport and says “Welcome to Ireland.” There were nearly tears of relief at that point, but it quickly turned into a serious prejudice against A.O. and British border patrol.
Due to the flight delay, I get into Cork fifteen minutes after the last bus leaves the airport for downtown Cork (near my hostel). I have to go call a cab via the information desk because I only have American currency and a five British pound note, no Euros. The cabbie takes me into Cork to the hostel and makes me pay an exorbitant amount for a less-than ten minute car ride. At this point I’m completely beyond caring. I pay him and get out of the car. It’s about 1:30AM and there’s a big bruiser of a German guy banging at the door because his keycard doesn’t work. He’s pretty inebriated, but when he sees me he’s all smiles and cussing and “Pardon my Irish!”-ing. We stand there for a few minutes banging on the door before a gaggle of French chicks come up and open the door with their own key card. I go through the front bit and into the bar to check in. There the girl on duty tells me that my online booking (0:00 on August 16th) is actually considered to be the next night, not the midnight of the 15th. They’re all full. At this point I must have this really downtrodden look because a few of the other staff members come up and ask what’s going on. I say, “Look guys, I’ll sleep on the floor if you don’t have any room for me, but I have nowhere to go at this point.” Thankfully the Irish are super nice. They said they wouldn’t hear of it and set me up in their staff quarters on one of the extra beds. They offered me a beer after my shower and listened to my tails of traveling woe. Eventually most of them ran off to bed, and I stayed downstairs to get a good Wifi signal and shoot off a few e-mails to family so they knew that I wasn’t getting deported.
The bar was pretty empty at this point (except for one man of unknown nationality reading Xenocide by Orson Scott Card in the corner). The night worker came up and asked if I wanted to play a game of pool. I was surprised but delighted. Their billiards table is super small, by the way. Apparently the U.S. standard pool table is a lot larger than the Irish standard. So I ended up staying up most of the night with Jeff the Irishman, talking about the differences between the Irish and Americans, traveling, American music, etc., and generally shaming myself at billiards. He bought me a pint of Guinness and laughed when I choked on the first drink. I punched him in the arm. We bonded. The Irish substitute Guinness for a meal most days, according to him. He has a beautiful accent.
Oddly enough, Ireland seems to be dominated by American media. Jeff played music in the bar all night; mostly well-known U.S. bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mumford and Sons, Gorillaz, and so on. He’s in an Irish band called Time is a Thief. They’re pretty good. You should check out their music video on Youtube. He invited Alicia and me to see their band in early October when I come back through Cork. We might just do that.
Traveling was terrible, but at the end everything turned out all right and I made my first Irish friend. I got up a few hours after I went to bed and ran into the Cork city center to buy a pay-as-you-go phone before checking out of the hostel and running to catch the bus. It’s been a rushed and crazy couple of days, but I’m still glad and excited to be here. Jeff and his coworkers really made me feel at home. I can’t wait to meet my host family.