Thursday, December 10, 2009

Welcome is MIA

It's a wonder really anyone visits our country. I can only speak to the courtesies I received as a US Citizen at Miami International, but I'd place my treatment something akin to that of a cow at the slaughterhouse.

My first interaction with my countrymen in over two weeks was such a delight I laughed out loud, a woman screaming at the top of her lungs "USA" and gesticulating wildly. If anyone was confused her first tactic was to yell louder, her second tactic was to grab their passport out of their hand and physically push them into one chute or the other.

Puerto Plata airport

Puerto Plata airport by jessicasays

Arriving in the Dominican Republic my first impression was a free rum and coke and warm smile. And that was just to keep me company as I went through customs. Talk about greetings. Not that customs was a hassle in the DR. There was no line and it was pretty much check the passport, stamp and go. Nothing says "You are welcome here, make yourself at home" like sipping a drink while they stamp your passport and you wait for your bag to appear.

Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Coca-cola, Pepsi, McDonalds, Burger King, Jack Daniels... any American company really... are you listening? Seriously. I think we can do better. At the very least maybe we can teach border patrol to cough up a smile and say politely, "Welcome to America"? I'll leave the security theatre of it all alone for now. Today I'm talking about manners and better marketing America.

After the yelling lady we were herded into a corral which eventually led to one of eight Customs Agents. The man who stamped our passports was genuinely friendly, though unfortunately either poorly trained - or possibly so disarmed by Shelly's smile, something that must be infrequent in the travelers he faces after such a joyous welcome home from the yelling lady that he made the wrong magic marker authentication doodle.

It was a half half mile walk down a corridor to a surly older agent in a tactical sweater who refused us enter to America. We asked him calmly, but repeatedly, what was wrong. All he would offer was, "Wrong mark, go see agent who did this." We were forced to retrace our steps, find a way past the lady screaming "USA" without getting shoved and return to corrals. After another twenty minutes we eventually returned to the friendly customs agent, who apologized for his error and changed the blue magic marker scribble from a one to something more two-like. Another half mile walk, and this token satisfied the surly tactical sweater dude and we were free to kiss the soil.

I sure hope servicemen and women get to bypass this ridiculous charade.

I will admit Miami was better than a recent arrival to Newark from abroad, but anyone who has spent any time in New Jersey knows that is far from a compliment. We as a country have to be able to do better. I was mostly in the "US Citizen Only" lines, and I can only imagine how we treat foreigners with a nice tan. What an embarrassment.

Let's get a some security folks together with some marketing folks and maybe we can find a way to make this both secure *and* enjoyable. Those Disney Imagineers would really come in handy here. Perhaps if we don't treat everyone like the enemy (including our own citizens) we might have less enemies? A better experience in immigration isn't going to stop someone who is already chanting "Death to America!", but it is harder to yell with salt water taffy in your mouth.

Fish on a Plane
Ivar's Seafood's marketing folks are brilliant, perhaps they might have some good ideas

Can't the country that invented the Snuggie do better to make everyone a little more comfortable and do a better job to market American companies - and America - in the process?

"Welcome to America! Here's your free Snuggie and Happy Meal!"