DOA (Downs on Arrival): ugly officials, adopting NZ’s customs and gumboot tea

DOA (Downs on Arrival): ugly officials, adopting NZ’s customs and gumboot tea
Well, I’ve finished my course at Stanford, but apparently many of you enjoyed hearing my thoughts on the experience, so Idealog have asked that I continue blogging every now and then.

I’m happy to oblige as it’s good for my narcissism. I would say my narcissism needs improving but I'm too vain to be self-critical. Ah well, we all need something to work on.

Anyway, after being back in NZ a week (and even Australia for a couple of days), I’ve been reflecting back on my experiences living in the USA – albeit as a short term visitor. There is a lot to like about the US, and a few things little old NZ can still teach Uncle Sam… Of which the primary thing, having now been through around 10 airports in the past 10 days, is how to greet visitors.

Landing in the USA is not ones of life’s most pleasant experiences. Almost as soon as you touch down, you are made to feel guilty. Not since my catholic secondary school have I felt so bad for doing so little wrong. They line you up, march you up and down, give you confusing signage to follow, and deny you the basic human rights of Wi-Fi and clean bathrooms. You’d confess to anything after two hours of this treatment – and they try to get you at every turn, especially on the arrival form.  Make sure you have your wits about you when you fill that thing in, it’s a trap to weed out the weak-willed: “Yes! Yes I do have a communicable disease, and Yes! I did try to overthrow a government with a band of rebels. Damn you, you got me…”

The entire experience of arriving at a US airport seems to rest on the premise that the reprobates and wastrels of the world are arriving in droves, and the role of the airport staff is to weed out the very few decent people from the drug abusers, child traffickers and committers of crimes of moral turpitude. Whatever that is. Sounds interesting. I feel guilty for even wondering about it.

Contrast this to New Zealand where, upon landing, our airport not only looks amazing, with a traditional Māori gate and images of native bush, it also sounds welcoming – we have bird song rather than cat-calls. You are encouraged through immigration in the quickest time possible, by people chosen for their welcoming smiles rather than their deep-seated mistrust of foreigners. 

Waiting for your bags, you may be forgiven for thinking you arrived on ‘pet day’ for the airport staff, as a friendly young woman appears to be walking her dog through the suitcases, stopping to chat with travellers and do tricks for a treat. The dog that is. 

Once you have your bags, you face the only real danger to visitors to New Zealand in our airports - the customs people hunting for illicit mud and apples. Indeed, visitors could be mistaken for thinking the customs people work for treats too as they trot out their standard line – “welcome to New Zealand… got any food?” They all appear to have the munchies. More than one visitor has mistaken this as a cry for help, and adopted one of the customs team. Indeed, my own mother regularly does baking and brings it into her local airport to feed the starving officials. However, if a peckish official is the worst hazard we face at NZ airports, we aren’t doing too bad.  If you are lucky, they will even clean your golf shoes for you. A blissful arrival! Haere Mai!

The NZ airport lounge proves another lesson for US hospitality, with their selection of caffeinated beverages.  Unlike my previous blog lamenting my choices, the proper distribution of tea is as shown below, courtesy of the Koru Club. Note the pleasing relation between the ratios of English Breakfast tea, Earl Grey tea, and all others – 3:2:1. It’s as nature intended it, with the clear dominance of English Breakfast tea. For your reference, America, it would also be acceptable to have ‘gumboot tea’ in similar abundance. For your further edification, said gumboot tea is available in the arrival hall of the airport, for free. It’s next to the tin where the biscuits would be if the customs guys hadn’t scoffed them all.