You see them, first time travelers, disheveled, wrinkled and looking as wide-eyed as a deer in headlights while trying to negotiate their way through immigration, aka. Customs. Many times I've wished they'd actually hand out a list of "Customs" for these newbie visitors if only to ease their nervousness.
Last week while waiting in the "Foreign Residents" line at the airport, I reflected back to when I myself was one of those newbies. It was 2001, just a year after the crisis in Kosovo and I was here with a short term group to help with humanitarian aid and teaching English. We'd been traveling for about 36 hours, which included an overnight in the Zurich airport, and arrived tired and very hot as it was 100+ degrees outside.
As we stood in the customs line, not really sure if we'd picked the right one, I felt as if I'd followed the rabbit down the hole into wonderland... or rather, "where am I again" land". Everyone around spoke a different language, there were strange sights, smells and, well, everything was different... I did mention this was my first time in Eastern Europe, right?
Anyways, what got me thinking about all this last week was due to the EXTRA TIME I had to wait and wait and wait in the customs line... and how 8 years ago when waiting in this same line I unwittingly started a tradition that continues to this day: I pick the wrong line and always seem to be one of the LAST FOUR people on the plane to be processed. Always. It's like Murphy's Law or something.
Yes.... I am writing a blog on this.... I claim sleep-deprivation and jet-lag! ;)
It never fails... each time I return to Skopje I end up picking the wrong line at customs... this time I thought I'd picked a good one as it was moving quickly and there were at least 30 people behind me. I thought, "Yeah, this looks great! I just may break the vicious cycle of wrong-line-picking."
Well, no sooner had I thought that than I noticed a group of "foreigners" (aka non-locals) being given the VIP treatment and being escorted to the front of MY LINE! (The people were arriving for some special event happening that was sponsored by the Ministry of Culture or something.) When all is said and done, I was again one of the last people to make it through customs. Even the 30 or so people behind me managed to maneuver to another line. :(
The upside of all this, though, was that due to the little green ribbon I tied to each of my pieces of luggage, an airport worker had removed each of my suitcases from the baggage claim belt and stacked them neatly on a cart! So when I got through customs (and walked by the table with the Swine Flu hand-outs) my luggage was ready to go! So, no complaints about waiting this time.
Besides, getting in the wrong line almost seems nostalgic at this point anyways. ;) My own personal Macedonian-entry-custom, I supposed one could say.
Note: Some may wonder about me using this image again.... well, it's become a fond image for me to use with anything refering to waiting in line. So, as one tradition/custom continues, so does another. ;)