Feb 14, 2010 - travel    31 Comments

Getting some glove love


I never knew that a bottle of Tylenol had the power to terrify the living daylights out of you but if they are in a hand sheathed in blue rubber glove along with your passport, even the bravest of all would tremble a little.

I have heard stories about racial profiling before but it was the first time I actually encountered it. I flew in Netherlands last week and suffered one indignity after another at Schiphol airport. I was the only desi person in the non EU passport line. When I presented my passport, the immigration officer asked me to step aside and disappeared with my passport. All other people in the lane were Americans who were breezed through the immigration. After about 15 minutes, the immigration officer returned with my passport and asked me one gallactically stupid question after another. I think there is a universal code that every government will hire the dumbest people to work at the immigration counters. After a while I was so pissed that I told him that I will not respond to any of his inane question because his country’s embassy has cleared my visa, if he has issues he should refuse me entry and inform my hosts that he was unable to do so on whatever grounds and I will take the first flight back. I think he has had his fun with me so he decided to stamp my passport and let me go. He obviously was not threatened by my outburst.

After getting my luggage, I was passing through the green channel thinking that my ordeal was over when a policewoman stopped me and asked me if I had anything to declare. I told her that I had nothing and started dragging my suitcase when she put her hand on my arm and asked to come into an area where there were a few other people – all Asians, from Jordanians to Indonesians to Sri Lankans – standing with the contents of their suit cases wide open sporting harassed looks. She asked me to put my suitcase on the counter and open it. In that split second I realize how humiliating it is for an adult to realize that the other person, especially an authority figure, is not willing to believe his or her word. I opened my suitcase and she wore those dreaded blue gloves and looked through my stuff. Even while she was going through the my luggage I had this look about me which said that you are making me go through this tribulation but I am clean and you are just wasting my time when she got hold of a packet and asked me what is inside. Call me a typical desi paindoo, but I do travel with tea bags if I know that I would be away from home for longer than two weeks. In that pack, I had my tea bags and a bottle of Tylenol, an over the counter painkiller. She asked me to give her my passport and disappeared again with the bottle of Tylenol, teabags and my passport to check if these items are allowed to pass through the customs. I wanted to scream – hello, this is Amsterdam, the weed capitol of the world. People would want to take stuff out of the country, not bring it in by putting it in teabags. She was only gone for 5 minutes and she did apologize for putting me through all the trouble and helped me pack everything back, but the experience was extremely traumatic and those 5 minutes that I waited for my passport were perhaps the longest five minutes of my life.

I have travelled to Netherlands a few times in the past and immigration was always swift and efficient. I don’t know if I should blame the increasing paranoia in Europe against the Muslims for it or crazy people like the good ol’ panty bomber, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate an explosive in his underpants, on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day from Amsterdam for the special treatment that I got, but I do know that I am not the same person any longer. Once you experience that kind of fear, something inside you dies. Suffering indignity is definitely more harmful than facing a bullet, the harm is more long lasting.


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  • Can commiserate. I dread the airport pat down I get when I go to India. They actually feel you up- and it is horrible.

    But its losers like the briefs bomber who make it tough for all of us.

  • 🙁 I don’t even know what to say. Except that hopefully one day they will declare war on each other and then we will all be treated equal. I really don’t see any other end to all this..

  • Unfortunately, people like you will need to pay the price of what the crazy mullahs are doing worldwide. But thats the sad truth of the current climate.

  • Sad that the decent ones suffer the indignity, when the crazy ones do the wrongdoings. The world is becoming such a paranoid place!

  • Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life when one travels today. We don’t like it too much, but there’s not much we can do about it. Profiling is here to stay.

    Quirky Indian

  • Oh, I love these screenings. Its like special treatment. Too bad you did not have the Gujju clan with ya to add a dose of humor.

    I once got racially screened at Baltimore, but hte Gujju in line made it totally worth the effort. Blogged about it here:

  • im worried. when i went to the US, they didnt stop me at immigration, security or anything. im very brown and very pakistani and it was my first visit in ever.

    she asked me where i was going and how long i would stay. i said chicago, boston, DC and NY, and i was going home in two weeks. she went: you will travel alone? i said nah, ive got friends.
    and that was all.
    no checking of luggage, no questioning of motives and no chemistry test.

    now im getting paranoid. maybe my phones have been tapped and im under surveillance…

  • The growing suspicion of Europe and America is not completetly unjustified, but somebody needs to tell them of the discomfort and anxiety which harmless passengers go throught at immigration desks.i wonder, why can’t these “porgressive nations” figure out a way to avoiding tormenting innocent travellers.i am sure if they can ban burqas on the pretext ofa threat to liberty, they can definitely avoid mechanism which threatens someomne’s dignity and respect.

  • yes somehow saying Im Hussein and Im not a terrorist just doesnt cut it.

  • sorry sara punch line bigaar diya, I meant my name is Javed and Im not a terrorist just doesnt cut it.

  • Yay! Long live the war on terror! Pakistan, the most allied of allies, lackeys of Amrika on Earth, are now rewarded for our contributions with cavity searches at airports! Damn it feels good to be an ally. So: either be blown up by the Taliban, or be fingered by an obese Dane. Nice.

  • hey LUCKY you , they didnt go for whole body search / Panty Search or something…….;)
    Thanks to Mullas,travelling around is getting more & more humiliating.Take care

  • I’m american and even I got stopped a couple of times in atlanta. I didn’t get my bags searched though. I don’t fly through amsterdam, I go through frankfurt in germany. I’ve never had any problems there.

  • Oh my… that’s an awful experience. 🙁

  • Bonjour Tazeen,

    Unfortunately, those customs people don’t know you and your splendid blog.

    Please make the effort and try to understand what is going on in this world and how we – the Europeans – have to act in order to avoid mass murder in airplanes, buses, trains and underground.

    I am afraid you will have to endure these indignities as long as fanatic Muslims try to hurt us.

    However, if you have some ideas how to proceed in a better way, don’t hesitate and let’s have it on your blog.

  • I’m not saying this just for the sake of it, I promise, but that didn’t sound like much of an ordeal at all! Judging by Pakistani standards of course. Come on, when you mentioned rubber gloves I thought that maybe you had a finger stuck up your bum. Why an immigration officer would need to do that I’m not sure, but thats exactly what the old guy in the picture looks like hes about to do. Now THATS indignity.

  • stopped by at your blog after such a long time… thought i’d drop in a hello

    i am sorry you had to go through this the airport


  • This is sad…. I wonder when this paranoia will stop. How funny that this has happened to you just when the Indian movie MY Name is Khan, (which is inspired by the Pakistani movie Khuda Kai Liye) hit the screens. I wish that you get over this soon.

  • Why are making up a routine encounter in a some kind of ?big inconvinece . They are doing their jobs, be fair . I always found journalist exaggrete story like you.

  • I didnt see a big deal in your narration of events..& is cavity search real? I thought it was a joke..I havent yet traveled by air or something..but low-power X-Ray scanner is the way to go..and when the high-tech senors like “artificial nose” which is developed in Israel goes into production..these inconvenience will hopefully go away..
    Or another Idea is Islamic air travel..like Islamic food,banks and personal laws..why cant there be a Muslims only trips including pilots and crews..so nobody will blow it up..and if it is blown up..then..Naahhh..just forget it.. I was just brainstorming..to solve this “issue”..

  • I had my fair share of searches around 2001-2003 although it has gone down remarkably in the last two years. come on, taz, they are just doing their job…

    If some one gives you racial bs on the street yea give it back to them..but airport screenings esp in netherlands have been jacked up…

    one just needs a single jerk to spoil the party…like the xmas day attack..none can be too careful these days..

  • Shan, Ovais and Shumaila,

    Yes, it was not as terrifying as it could have been, but being profiled just because you look different is NOT nice, esp for someone who has never lived by the US & THEM code and has always lived with dignity. I dont know about others, but it WAS a humiliating experience for me.

  • A sign of the time we live in…if one is prepared to travel then one must put up with this crap…just expect the worst I guess. A few years ago I used to be stopped at Heathrow by Customs by their usual questions even when passing through the green channel so what I did was to actually go through the red channel and say, well I have the usual baggage etc and no I don’t not know what allowances one is allowed,so can you go through my baggaage and check for yourself… and I was invariably waved through.

  • I’m not Asian, or bearded or brown or shifty-eyed, yet I have been singled out, patted down, wanded, had an enormous US Marine with a huge gun sidle up and glare at me while I was removing my shoes as instructed at LAX. I have been detained for several hours at an airport, if this is any consolation.
    This is all massive stupidity.
    There is a sensible way to do airport security and then there is hysterical reality.

  • Tazeen,
    You have said it correctly ” It is not being trusted”, whether your word,baggage or person because you are a desi.
    Those poor taliban fighters who live in caves donot know airtravel and will not mind blowing everyone off just like our naxalites in India because those who travel by air are well heeled.
    Others like those well heeled clean shaven who direct the Taliban themselves will go through the green channel because they will have that white or red diplomatic passport.

  • Yeah, this is common in airports across Europe these days. At some, although they dont search your luggage, they’ll just give you this “look” thats meant to say “what are people like you doing here?”

    It makes you more determined I would say, to go about and prove you have nothing to hide nor are you a threat – the only threatening thing is the idea they have in their head of brown skin = threat and the paranoia associated with it, which they have successfully spread to most of the world.

  • Hmm, I havent been through this but I can definitely understand the feeling. Indignity does kill you inside and you are never the same again. Really sorry you had to go through this.

    Btw, why do people comment anonymously when they have something negative to say? No guts? :p

    Take care

  • Taz,
    just to give a historial perspective.
    The Irish were humiliated in America in the late 1800s for being Cathloic. They would be denied housing or jobs and were openly discriminated against. And they were caucasian….
    The japanese in usa were humiliated after ww2 and suspected of harboring a soft corner for Japan. thankfully there were no further wars with USA and the feelings have since subsided.
    In 1991 when USA was at war with Iran, ‘eyeranians’ were the soft target and now it is the entire middle east and south east asia.

    Same goes for other countries. If an Indian goes to Pakistan, he is subjected to harassment and has to report to the local police station every week. Isn’t that being paranoid about Indians ?

  • Aha!!! I thought it was only men over the age of 18 who get “randomly” profiled. Guess not. You lucky soul – didn’t have to go through security in US.

    My experience, last month:

    San Francisco: 1.5 hour.
    Vegas: 20 min
    Tulsa: 25 min
    Baltimore: 20 min
    NYC: 20 min

    It may seem that 20 min is a short while but I could write a book about what all happened in all the places in that not-so-short span of time.

    At the end of my trip, when I was leaving NY, I got so used to the harassment that I was looking for a separate “vip” queue where I would get “special” treatment.

    The best case was when I left Baltimore: I had to go through the new x-ray machine where some not-so-pervert person was looking at my almost naked x-ray while 200 people passed by me, looking at me as if I’ve stolen an expensive necklace and everyone had a share in it. I can so understand when you say that the images of people looking at you (I was wearing the coolest jeans I had, with the best t-shirt and wondered what would have happened if I was wearing “traditional”) is just something that one would never forget. Guess I wasn’t bothered much cause I was already harassed 3 times

    I knew something like this would happen which made me think twice before I left for the trip. Next trip, I’d think 200 times.

    There were times when I was terrified and prayed that I’d go back without any hassles as I did not have any intentions of going Guantanamo Bay.
    For me, this experience, was terrorizing.

  • You live in Pakistan where there is no value for any basic human values and you are aking for dignity. Come on, please be real. And it is their country and they can do what ever they want. If you dont like it then just dont go.

  • I end up traveling alot, and the green passport does result in extra questions… but i try to remain calm, and keep my responses friendly and light. I think it takes away the fun for them. lol. my encounters with immigration to this day (THANK GOD) have always been friendly to the point where ive had people waiting in line while they’ve wanted me to show them my work on my laptop.
    (i hope my mentioning it doesn’t jinx this good streak)

    also on a trip to the US, i once had a man check my suitcase, so i whispered to him if he could turn my suitcase away from the crowd since i had packed all my ‘personal things at the top’. lol. he rushed through it then.

    i ALWAYS carry tea bags with me, since no other country seems to be able to make tea the way we do. tea everywhere else is like water… and even our tea bags are stronger.

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