What is the Reason for your visit?
Last week I threw myself into the depths of travelling abroad.
I spent from the 23rd of August to the 28th of August in the UK. I met with my partner in a Tube station at King’s Cross, London and we spent two nights there.
Then my partner returned to his home town with me by train and we spent two nights with his family who showed me around their city, and then the Chatsworth House.
We then took a train to Edinburgh, Scotland, where we spent our last night.
Early that next morning, my partner would take a plane back to the states, and I would be taking a later plane to Paris to meet my host family for the next three months.
Like I’ve mentioned, this was my first time abroad. I’m excited, I’m nervous that I’m going to get a TSA pat down like I did on a flight home from San Francisco, and I have this (mostly entertaining) debilitation of over-thinking questions that I am asked. So, when the customs officer at the Heathrow, London airport takes my passport and without even looking at me, abjectly asks “What is the reason for your visit?” I am very obviously stunned.
I stumble through a few sentences about how I am visiting just for a week and then flying to France to participate in a family as an au pair, as if she gave two shits, I realize that.
But then the woman then starts to interrogate me. She gave at least a shit, it turns out: “Where is your work visa?” “How long are you staying in France?” “You’re not getting paid are you?” My voice gets quieter as I offer to show her documents on my phone explaining my situation. She looks at my customs slip again.
“You a student?” She asks.
“What do you study?”
“Religion,” I say quietly.
“Religion… and journalism.”
She looks at me with dead eyes, then rolls them all the way down to my passport, stamps it and hands it back to me, with no words more. Even when I thank her.
I immediately write to my company, terrified that I am going to be kicked out of France for working for some under-the-table organization. My partner assures me I am over reacting, as we ride the underground Tube to the other side of London. I email frantically anyway.
Apparently “British customs are notorious for asking lots of worrying questions” my Au Pair Abroad coordinator assures me. I was not warned before that this was a thing. Regardless, my coordinator sends me a new document not two days later to present at French customs if there were any problems.
The bigger issue however, is that I could have just said “I’m a tourist.” That’s what just about everyone says, says my partner. And yet, I couldn’t bring myself to say that. It wasn’t true. I feel like tourism isn’t a desirable identity. Sure, I walk around dressed ignorantly and carry a big bulky camera, but colloquially, I think it harbors a rather negative intonation.
I’d like to think I’m a humble guest, maybe. Teach me your ways, correct me, guide me, I am on your turf, I play by your rules sort of thing. And to be honest, in France at least, I wasn’t touring, I was working, so that seemed inaccurate.
This is my over-thinking manifesting and causing me problems, can you tell?
When I landed in Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, I had my documents at the ready, to defend myself against suspicions, but not to say anything more than necessary.
Je m’a dit “Bonjour,”
The customs officer took my passport. Looked at me, looked at my photo, fanned through the pages to only find one stamp from Heathrow, stamped a completely separate page and handed in back to me.
Ensuite, je m’a dit “Merci!” Et… c’est toute….
No trouble at all.
I am on my third day here in France. The first was just a long drive from the airport in Paris with my host father and Thomas, through Versailles to pick up my host mother who had a meeting for work and had picked up groceries, then to the sitter who watches their youngest son Clément, who is only a year old, then home for dinner and sleep. I slept from 10PM to 12PM.
The next two days I will write about, but have basically been an introduction to the family, before school starts for Thomas and my real duties begin.
The real reason for my visit, to persist with my over-thinking and over explaining is to know what it’s like in different situations. I got to spend time with a family in the UK, and now I am spending time with one in France. I got to roam the streets in London, get lost in them in Edinburgh and am learning the public transit system for St. Germain. Now that I am done with my degree I would like to learn how to be a real person, and not a sudo-adult, who’s responsibilities and attentions are focused on grades irrelevant to my intellect and for a piece of paper that supposedly makes me more marketable in the world of jobs. I’d like to learn how to be a person. And how better to do that, then in the throngs of an unknown culture?
On y va!