Welcome to Britain

On Friday I flew into Exeter Airport, which is a field with a windsock and a flat-roofed shed serving as a terminal building. You can fly there direct from Paris once per day on a Dash 8 turbo-prop operated by Flybe. It takes just over an hour, and should you want to get from Paris to Exeter, it’s ideal. According to Wikipedia, Flybe is based out of Exeter which surprised me a little. Exeter doesn’t seem the sort of place you’d base anything out of.

Anyway, what struck me as I entered the queue for passport control was the number of posters threatening passengers with prosecution, fines, and jail. There were several of them, each instructing people on what to do and what not to do in the cajoling, hectoring language so beloved of English-speaking authoritarian bodies. Nowhere did I see a sign which suggested people might actually be welcome; perhaps those are only to be found in refugee centres? I would have taken a photo but that, of course, was also forbidden.

These posters appear to me like open sores on the flesh of a badly wounded society, and they really grate. I’ve not noticed them as much abroad, but that could simply be because they’re not in English and so I gloss over them. Australia certainly goes in for over-the-top, nagging signage: there’s one beside the baggage carousel in Melbourne airport warmly greeting passengers by telling them using a mobile phone while waiting for their bags constitutes a criminal offence.

That said, I suppose the welcome visitors to the UK receive in British airports is at least honest: with the country having elected as PM the very embodiment of a threatening, bullying “security” poster at a regional airport, they let everyone know what sort of place they’re entering.

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49 thoughts on “Welcome to Britain

  1. Quite. Last time I flew into the UK the two fist signs were:

    1. How to claim asylum, in a zillion languages; and
    2. Don’t assault the passport control staff.

    I would have thought that the second would have been self-evident – and in NL, CH the passport control staff are indeed armed, so it is indeed self-evident.

    One of the (many) reasons I go back to the UK so infrequently is that I find such signage-based welcome notes saddening. You’re never made to feel welcome – and the passport control staff are often rude, surly, and ask questions which they have no right to ask – as a UK citizen the purpose of my visit is no business of theirs. Also, there’s a presumption that my non-UK wife might be entering to live illegally, or that she already is living illegally in the UK, so there’s always a bunch of questions around her.

    The funniest one was at Harwich years ago: “how long have you been in the UK?” “err, we’ve just arrived, so I guess it’s been an hour or so since docking” “No, how long have you been living in the UK” “err, I don’t” “Eh?” “I live in Holland” “Oh”. Apparently the Dutch-registered left-hand drive car was no hint…..

  2. Don’t assault the passport control staff.

    Oh yes, that one was there at Exeter too. In other words, if you complain about your shitty treatment we’ll arrest/fine/jail you. They have no fear of being actually assaulted, but they want to prevent what they call “abuse” of their staff, which includes a passenger who has been royally fucked around for hours “raising their voice”.

    What makes me laugh, without much humour, is you now see these signs in places like Boots.

    and the passport control staff are often rude, surly, and ask questions which they have no right to ask – as a UK citizen the purpose of my visit is no business of theirs.

    Exactly. I got asked how long I’d been away this time around, and then asked what I did in Paris.

  3. The fist time I kind of new that I was no longer welcome was the first time I went through the non British immigration line, I was travelling with my wife and went in an as an Aussie so that we could stick together, no kids then either, about twenty six years ago I think. I had my British passport in my back pocket.

    So we were waiting in the long non-British queue and I noticed that of the fifteen or so lanes at Deathrow that only about five of them were operational and there was a Sikh dude overseeing all of the other Asian gate keepers. No problem with Sikhs by the way they are a fabulous lot and I met a few in uniform in the Himalayas.

    When I eventually got to the immigration officer (cough) despite my Aussie passport showing my place of birth and it being a well known UK place, the officer asked if it was my first visit to the UK, I clearly and assertively said in my bets pommy accent no, they didn’t really acknowledge my answer either way, here was me dying to pull out my British passport and say naa naa ana nana naa, a couple of stupid moments later they stamped me in none the wiser. At least in the US they say welcome to the USA and have a good stay, sir.

  4. You’re absolutely right Tim.

    I come in via Stansted fairly regularly (for my sins) and was deeply embarrassed on one occasion in particular in the queue for passport control, they had a bloke there just literally bellowing at the newly arrived passengers to get in line – do this – do that .

    These unfortunate Italians just arrived for a weekend in London – what a welcome!

    This doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world in my experience, not even JFK.

    It saddens me deeply.

  5. “Exactly. I got asked how long I’d been away this time around, and then asked what I did in Paris.”

    I’ve been away for so long (14 years now) that I feel a foreigner in my home country. Plus, the passport control staff do nothing to dispel that impression – wifely never gets asked by passport control in her own country what the purpose of her visit is.

    She also gets annoyed that I get my back up instantly at passport control, and wisely does most of the talking to avoid me answering “I’m going wherever the hell I want, I’m staying as long as I damn well please; be assured, Sir, that it will be a mercifully short time, and what I do In Foreign is my business. Literally. According to every definition”…

    Aside from the remaining family links, I cut one more tie with the Prison Island at the weekend – I sent in the documentation to close a zombie bank account that had been sitting around for ages with £20-30 in it. It was becoming a huge PITA to stop it being blocked for non-activity, and to declare it every year on my tax return to pay 0.25% wealth tax on the small amount in it.

    If they’ll let me be Swiss, I’m likely to ditch my UK citizenship – frankly I don’t trust the buggers not to do something completely dumb like attempt citizenship-based taxation (which would seriously beggar me). And I have zero interest in ever moving back.

  6. “The funniest one was at Harwich years ago”

    Jeez I remember quite well as a young man when special branch pulled me at Victoria station from memory before I even had left London and got on the train to get to Harwich to get to Holland. Purpose of travel, passport number, occupation, when would I be returning, which sailing etc. As if you would even think about bringing any gear back from the Dam with you after that going over!

  7. I come in via Stansted fairly regularly (for my sins) and was deeply embarrassed on one occasion in particular in the queue for passport control, they had a bloke there just literally bellowing at the newly arrived passengers to get in line – do this – do that .

    If you fly into Manchester the bloke doing the yelling does so in a deeply foreign accent having seemingly arrived only a few hours before the passengers. I’m sure the native population just love this.

  8. I’m sure the native population just love this.

    Given the 20 questions to which UK citizens are subject, one wonders whether it’s not an artefact of NuLab’s deliberate policy to rub people’s noses in diversity. In a way that’s intended to be humiliating, forcing people to watch themselves and what they say to avoid any risk of an accusation of racism.

    Could just be being overly cynical though. Frankly, the rudest I’ve ever had from the French was them replying in English to me out of habit while I continue to speak French to them.

  9. In a way that’s intended to be humiliating, forcing people to watch themselves and what they say to avoid any risk of an accusation of racism.

    If that wasn’t the aim, there are enough people rubbing their hands with glee at the result.

  10. If that wasn’t the aim, there are enough people rubbing their hands with glee at the result.

    An apt quotation:

    “In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is…in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.”
    ― Theodore Dalrymple

  11. I remember being detained for offensive position of a fork at Newcastle Airport some years ago. New Zealand domestic flights are a blessed relief, just wave you boarding pass at someone, get scanned to ensure you are carrying nothing more than a .50 cal sniping rifle and compact explosives, then get on the plane.

  12. Just to clarify, I was detained for pointing out to the security guard that I could replace the said fork he had just confiscated with any number of forks from the pub directly in front of the security screening. Pointing out the utter pointlessness of the process was the offense.

  13. Flying into LHR from Hamburg during the “Winter of Discontent” and on my German passport (English looking name, born in London) I was loudly berated by the immigration official as a rat leaving the sinking ship and responsible for the parlous state of the economy.

    It’s obviously flattering to be treated as a one man brain-drain but I said nothing in reply until he handed me back the dear old green booklet whereupon I remarked that he had a strange way of welcoming visitors to his country.

  14. I rather like Exeter airport. The whole things seems so flimsy. The floors feel like (and probably aren’t) just a sheet of hardboard over some joists. Just gives me the impression that if anyone got seriously pissed off about the passport queues, all that malarkey, you could just tear the place apart with bare hands and make off into the Devon countryside.

  15. abacab

    “Given the 20 questions to which UK citizens are subject, one wonders whether it’s not an artefact of NuLab’s deliberate policy to rub people’s noses in diversity. In a way that’s intended to be humiliating, forcing people to watch themselves and what they say to avoid any risk of an accusation of racism.”

    I remember reading a compelling book some years ago that took the position that the more absurd the rules are, the more successful they are at creating a totalitarian society. This process makes liars of us all by making us conform to rules that make no sense, we know it, but still comply.

    This is exactly the same process used in the Soviet Union, just applied on the racial and diversity lines, rather than class.

  16. I rather like Exeter airport.

    Me too. In and out within a few minutes. Security was a breeze.

  17. My favourite re-entry of all time was at the tunnel, in a LHD German-registered car, travelling on my British passport, being asked by the 17 year-old with 5 GCSEs at grade C, whether I had a return ticket. The response to my affirmative answer was “good”.

    ““Given the 20 questions to which UK citizens are subject…”
    “Flying into LHR from Hamburg during the “Winter of Discontent” and on my German passport (English looking name, born in London) I was loudly berated by the immigration official as a rat leaving the sinking ship and responsible for the parlous state of the economy.”

    Interestingly, I anecdatally feel I get less shit when entering the UK on my German passport than on my UK one.

  18. Flying into LHR from Hamburg during the “Winter of Discontent” and on my German passport (English looking name, born in London) I was loudly berated by the immigration official as a rat leaving the sinking ship and responsible for the parlous state of the economy.

    If I’m not mistaken, the UK still applied “Jus Soli” at that time, so you were (and are) a British citizen by place of birth.

    There’s no effing excuse to treat someone like that though. Shocking.

  19. @abacab – no question: my blue passport was in my other pocket and I was just going for the shorter queue by using the green one.

    I came badly unstuck once though in Gabon where the customs guy found my German passport in my briefcase and decided I must be a spy because my British one was being examined by his colleague. And they were the ones with the dark glasses!

    Maya Maya is not as nice as Exeter airport.

  20. An aside on signs and authoritarianism (aka the new ‘British Disease’)

    I was in Chesterfield the other day and in the men’s loo (yes, they have one) there was an A4 sheet churned out of a bog-standard — no pun intended — desktop printer bearing the logo of some Derbyshire authority, if not actually the police, and taped to the wall above the hand dryer.

    It was not a warning about HIV or washing your hands properly before operating on someone, but a caution against hate speech.

    Now I know in Derbyshire any hate speech is normally aimed at Yorkies like me or visiting Port Vale fans but this was very serious and counselled that there was absolutely no place to use hate speech. Apparently I could not use such nasty words in the pub, in the gym, on a bus, at the football ground, or at a work place, and I could not even use it in the home. I could not use it with my mates.

    If I heard it, I had to report it. Everyone has to.

    Now here’s the thing that got me: While I accept that from time to time the members of my family may think I am an old git who ought to be put in a home, I wouldn’t think much of any mates who found it necessary to dib me to the fuzz and see me fined or exiled or whatever for telling a joke about an Englishman, Irishman and a Pakistani.

    Authoritarianism out of a Samsung desk top printer somehow makes me really mad. This pathetic little piece of paper quite sums us up in our shiny new, hand-dryer world.

  21. Tim N,

    I regularly fly in and out of Manchester airport and it is fast degenerating into an inefficient shithole.

    T2 passport control inbound is reminiscent of the Monty Python architects sketch. All that is missing is the rotating knives. Outbound security is staffed by people who spent their entire school lives sitting at the thick table. Last year I had an alan key in my backpack for my bicycle in the NL. A particularly officious little prick informed me it was being confiscated because tools are not allowed on the plane. I really had to bite my tongue and refrain from telling him that there was only tool and it wasn’t the alan key.

  22. I really had to bite my tongue and refrain from telling him that there was only tool and it wasn’t the alan key.

    Heh!

  23. Henry, T1 is no better. I think Tim’s yelling bloke is there, and he is essential to bring some kind of order to the pan-dimensional maze with multiple approaches. Somehow the arrivals area has been designed such that, just as you think you are getting close, several A380s-full of Whereveristani passport holders with expired visas are mysteriously funneled right in front of you.

  24. Somehow the arrivals area has been designed such that, just as you think you are getting close, several A380s-full of Whereveristani passport holders with expired visas are mysteriously funneled right in front of you.

    Heh! Dubai used to be like that, back when it was the old airport and the extension was under construction. The locals, unversed in western SJW concepts of racism, would occasionally wander up and down the lines pulling anyone with a white face out and sending them straight to the front. Just before I left they made it compulsory for all residents (well, white residents) to have an electronic e-gate card. That sped things up considerably.

  25. “If you fly into Manchester the bloke doing the yelling does so in a deeply foreign accent having seemingly arrived only a few hours before the passengers. I’m sure the native population just love this.”

    I have Canadian citizenship despite never having lived in Canada, and have a cool English accent. Last time I entered Canada with a Canadian passport, the Canadian Sikh customs officer , turban and all, said with an accent obviously derived from Apu in the Simpsons “You do not sound very Canadian”. Benefits of keeping a stiff British upper lip and not drawing unnecessary comparisons got me into Canada without unnecessary delays and cavity searches.

    OTOH, I’ve never had any problems in the UK foreign citizens queue. After dealing with several zillion monoglot pakistanis, I guess they are delighted to deal with someone who can speak English

  26. I like Singapore where, whilst clearly there is evidence of prior British colonialism in terms of authoritative signs, orders and notices, they’ve painstakingly gone through them to remove duplicates and confusion and make their tone far more polite and friendly. Time to enter country: 96 seconds, and the only rude things about the signs are the sizes of the fines.

    Coming back to Blighty is only bearable if I can use an e-passport gate that works and thus eliminate interaction with anyone from “UK Border.” But because we’re all so paranoid about fingerprints, we use the hugely inferior facial recognition which only works half the time. Not that you shouldn’t be paranoid about giving UK Gov your fingerprints, you understand…

    However, if the experience was pleasant and it just worked, what would we poms have to moan about? I mean, no offence but take your blog for example. I read it, almost religiously, in part because it’s a fantastically articulated and cohesive whinge on current affairs in a way that only Brits seem to be able to master. Take John Oliver for example. Can’t personally stand him, but his career is basically boiled down to being British at heart, complaining about the state of things with something one might call eloquence.

  27. I mean, no offence but take your blog for example. I read it, almost religiously, in part because it’s a fantastically articulated and cohesive whinge on current affairs in a way that only Brits seem to be able to master.

    Bwahahahahaha!

  28. Arriving at LHR can be OK. Twice in recent years my wife (Malaysian Chinese) and I (British) have been greatly impressed by avuncular, middle-aged passport control officers, who were very polite, very friendly and very welcoming. One was exceptionally patient, too; there was no queue (!) so, unexpectedly, we were first at the UK/EU desk. The thing was that we’d mislaid my wife’s passport with the “Indefinite Leave to Remain” stamp, and we had to search around for it. “Are you sure you don’t have it, dear?” “Are you sure YOU don’t?” The delay seemed not to trouble him at all.
    Those occasions were a bit of a contrast to the one time we were ‘processed’ by a sour-faced woman from, shall we say, Southall or thereabouts, who snapped endless questions at us and clearly wanted to let us know who was in charge.

  29. ” At least in the US they say welcome to the USA and have a good stay, sir.”

    Indeed.

    One of the perks (?) of living in Canada when traveling to the US is that you clear US customs in Canada prior to boarding. A few years ago my wife and I flew to New York for a holiday. When going through US customs they have an X-ray of your luggage on a screen in front of them. The fellow we had took one look at the X-ray and then said to me:

    “You packed all wrong.”

    My brain starts trying to think of what the heck I’d done wrong when he continues:

    “You’ve left far too much empty space in your luggage for your wife to go shopping.”

    Heh

  30. Western civ is big on the whole “due process” thing, and notice is a big part of due process.

    So, the thinking is that we put up eight-seven signs listing things one cannot do, and then the people who have been funneled past them cannot claim that they didn’t know they weren’t supposed to do those things. In the non-progressive world, it’s your responsibility to learn the rules where you are.

    It’s part of the same thinking that allows immigrants to evade criminal charges by claiming they never suspected that sodomizing ten-year-old boys was against the rules. If someone had thought to put up a sign in the immigrant’s new home saying “do not sodomize ten-year-old boys”, well, then, we could hold him responsible.

  31. @ David Moore Pointing out the utter pointlessness of the process was the offense.

    Failure to kowtow to your hi-viz vested overlords will not be tolerated!

    My ‘welcome to Britain’ story is not quite as bad as the various brushes with petty authority detailed above, but when I arrived in Manchester on a flight from Hong Kong earlier this year I noticed that the trolleys required a £1 coin to operate; something very few visitors to the UK would be in possession of…

    This thread reminds me again that the Viz cartoon ‘The Bottom Inspectors’ is a very accurate satire of modern Britain (incidentally demonstrating again that Viz has been way ahead of Private Eye for decade now).

  32. when I arrived in Manchester on a flight from Hong Kong earlier this year I noticed that the trolleys required a £1 coin to operate

    I first encountered this idiocy in Melbourne airport (again!) only it was a lot more than £1 and you don’t get it back. When I pointed out to an Australian that this is unheard of practically everywhere else in the world, I was called a “whinging pom”. I recount this tale most times when people ask me what Australia was like.

    This thread reminds me again that the Viz cartoon ‘The Bottom Inspectors’ is a very accurate satire of modern Britain

    Viz is magnificent, The Bottom Inspectors especially so. Based on the ticket inspectors on the Gateshead metro, apparently.

  33. I first encountered this idiocy in Melbourne airport (again!) only it was a lot more than £1 and you don’t get it back.

    That’s funny. Isn’t the whole point of the trolley fee to incentivize people to put back the trolleys instead of leaving them all over the airport? Maybe they take the trolley fee money and hire someone to put them back in order.

  34. What makes me laugh, without much humour, is you now see these signs in places like Boots.

    Not being much of a traveller and therefore having limited airport-lurking experience, I first became aware of them in hospitals. One that particularly grated was in a major hospital in Birmingham. After all the usual guff about ‘our staff have the right …’ came the startling claim ‘hate and aggression is a crime’ alongside the logo of the local police force. Do they think that these imprecise threats are likely to deter the sort of people who assault hospital staff?

  35. Exeter’s my local airport, although the infrequent visits I make are just to pick up/drop off. After decades of Heathrow and Gatwick it’s brilliant in that you can park yards from the door, and I’ve yet to encounter a queue of note. Reminds me of Aberdeen airport when that too was a portacabin, albeit with more drunks.

  36. I’ve always enyoyed the scrolling message in my home airport Bangkok. From memory it goes “Keep your bags with you at all times. No smoking in the terminal. The penalty for drug smuggling is death.” I love the idea of threatening to kill visitors to your country as they arrive.

  37. I love the idea of threatening to kill visitors to your country as they arrive.

    It must be an uncomfortable feeling if that’s the first time you hear about it…

  38. @Tim N – didn’t know that about The Bottom Inspectors!

    I find Australia very much like Singapore, but with more white people and 4 x the taxes. Britain is much the same, only with added decrepitude and gloom.

    Having said that, I am probably being unfair to Singapore. At least it controls its borders. I also suspect that the restrictions on free speech are no fewer in Australia and the UK, it is simply different speech that is suppressed.

  39. Britain is much the same, only with added decrepitude and gloom.

    The decrepitude is actually quite shocking when coming from foreign, particularly from flying-crisp-packet-free Switzerland…

    Sometimes it’s the simple things like filthy road signs and unkempt verges. Other times it’s the fly tipping, the awful domestic architecture, potholes and litter.

    In some places it’s almost like what you’d imagine the Eastern block to have looked like if they’d had crisp packets and takeaway containers rather than breadlines.

  40. Having said that, I am probably being unfair to Singapore. At least it controls its borders. I also suspect that the restrictions on free speech are no fewer in Australia and the UK, it is simply different speech that is suppressed.

    Well, quite. Singapore might be an authoritarian nanny-state but they can at least point to clean streets, a lack of crime, and law and order. What has Britain got to show for its authoritarian nannying?

  41. What has Britain got to show for its authoritarian nannying?’

    Lots of super nannies

    Theresa May
    Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson
    Leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon
    Leader of Plaid Cymru, Leanne Wood
    Leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas
    Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Arlene Foster
    Deputy Leader of Sinn Fein, Mary Lou McDonald awaiting selection
    First female Black Rod Sarah Clarke
    Met Police Chief Cressida Dick
    Commissioner of London Fire Brigade Dany Cotton
    SAS to lower fitness test to enable females to join.

  42. “It must be an uncomfortable feeling if that’s the first time you hear about it…”

    Especially if you are carrying something.

  43. As an Australian and long-time Melbourne resident, I have never seen nor heard of any law that says you can’t use your mobile phone while waiting at the baggage carousel.

    It’d be a bastard to enforce in any case. The baggage carousel is the first practical place to call your loved ones and tell them you’ve landed.

  44. I have never seen nor heard of any law that says you can’t use your mobile phone while waiting at the baggage carousel.

    There’s a sign up on the walls and columns telling you just that. At least, there was when I landed there!

    The baggage carousel is the first practical place to call your loved ones and tell them you’ve landed.

    Who cares about them, or you for that matter? The important thing is “security”, don’t you know!

  45. Yes you aint allowed to use phones in the international arrivals area before you clear the customs zone in Australian airports. I kind of get that mind you, especially when mobiles first came out. I could see plenty of valid security and customs reasons to ban them in arrivals, if I were the type of dude that was up to no good then they could have come in quite handy.

  46. The locals, unversed in western SJW concepts of racism, would occasionally wander up and down the lines pulling anyone with a white face out and sending them straight to the front.

    I arrived in Rome on a flight from Tunis a couple of years back. This meant that I arrived at the terminal gates at Rome Airport used for arrivals from Africa.

    Almost everyone on the flight was Tunisian except me. We were required to queue and have our hand luggage X-rayed before we were even allowed into the terminal. Once we got into the (non-Air Conditioned) terminal, everyone got into a long and very slow moving queue, in which hundreds of Africans were seemingly waiting in the heat for hours to be let into Italy.

    After a couple of minutes of this, I noticed that there was a large empty space to my left. Slightly after this, I realised that this was the “EU Nationals” queue, and there were about ten desks manned by people doing nothing. So I then just walked out of the airport.

    I got the impression there that the people in charge here understood western concepts of racism very well, and were therefore doing their best to be as racist as possible. Having signs saying “white people” and “black people” would have been illegal and they couldn’t have done that, but I do wonder what would have happened if I had tried to use the “EU nationals” queue with an Australian or American passport. My guess is I would have got straight through.

  47. I do wonder what would have happened if I had tried to use the “EU nationals” queue with an Australian or American passport. My guess is I would have got straight through.

    Yes, you would. Once you’ve lived in places like Africa and the Middle East for a while, and once you’ve abandoned the idea that “we’re all the same on the inside” (i.e. more than a week) you learn to spot these sort of shortcuts. They are everywhere.

  48. There’s a sign up on the walls and columns telling you just that. At least, there was when I landed there!

    The fine is around $1000, I believe, and it has been enforced. I’ve arrived in Australia on planes in which the cabin crew have gone to some lengths to explain this to passengers, and also make it clear that “we mean it”. It’s a good introduction to Australia, I guess.

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