Last month I took a trip to Nashville, Tennessee to visit my sister. I was rolling my little green suitcase towards the security gate in Berlin when all of a sudden a woman swooped towards me, like a hawk.
She was wearing an airport security uniform.
“Excuse me,” she said. (But I don’t think she meant it.)
“A moment ago, you had a German passport. Then you switched.”
I paused. This was a rather odd accusation. I don’t have a German passport. And I certainly hadn’t taken anyone else’s.
“No, I didn’t,” I answered eventually, trying to avoid her piercing eyes.
She began firing questions at me. They weren’t hard but she phrased them oddly, so sometimes I had to think a moment before answering.
“With whom has your case been this morning?” she asked.
“With me” I said.
“Who packed it?”
“What items have you purchased at this airport?”
“What did that man whisper to you?”
She turned to point at LSB. He was watching the scene from afar, looking rather puzzled.
“I’m sorry? I asked.
“Who is that man?”
“My boyfriend,” I replied. “But I don’t remember him whispering anything. Wait, let me ask him.”
I motioned for him to come over. “What did you whisper to me just now?” I asked, forcing LSB into the same position hawk lady had put me in.
“I think I said goodbye?” he said. “But I wasn’t whispering.”
Our confused expressions seemed to satisfy her. “Okay, fine. Off you go,” she said.
I toddled off, taking care that my farewell nod to LSB didn’t appear conspiratorial.
I’m not used to this kind of treatment. It’s one of the unfair advantages of being non-descript, female and white.
I imagined the kind of terror I could prompt by browsing the airport shopping area sporting a long beard, turban or burqa.
When I set foot in the United States, a nice customs officer asked me some more questions about myself.
“Do you have food in your bag?”
I knew he only wanted to know if I was bringing fruit, seeds or meat into his country. But I didn’t want to give him a single reason to send me back to the scary hawk lady in Berlin, so I confessed I was carrying some Puffreiss Schokolade for my sister.
He wasn’t interested in my snacks. But he did want to know how long I intended to stay.
“Only eight days?” he asked. “Do you not want to stay here forever?”
“No,” I said. “No, thank you.”
I mumbled something about being content in Europe, which seemed to surprise him. But he handed me back my (not German) passport and wished me a pleasant stay.