Fotoeins Fotografie

Apparitions & inundations

A friendly smile works wonders

“Welcome back to the United States, Mister Lee.”

These are some of the best eight words to hear first thing in the morning.

When I lived in Chile, I made the Chile-U.S. trip with some regularity. In this example, I’m entering the United States after flying in from Santiago de Chile. Through passport control, and baggage claim and transfer, I’m off onto the next stage of my travel.

The folks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection are doing their jobs the best they can. I know most officers aren’t (deliberately) grumpy; in the same way, most travelers aren’t seeking trouble.

Instead of the ill-tempered tactic which is sure to fire off a crappy start to everyone’s day, I’ve often gone with another approach.

By 京市 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Frequent travel between Chile and the United States for me meant boarding an American Airlines Boeing-767 plane in Santiago, Chile. Ten hours later, the plane lands at either Miami or Dallas Fort-Worth (DFW). I always have ongoing flights, and both availability and transfer-times are much better for me at DFW. Traveling frequently in and out of DFW, my colleagues at Gemini Observatory could tell you where in the airport the best places are to shop, nap, eat, and have beer.

Passport? Check.

Customs form filled out? Front and back? Check.

Appearance? Not quite business-savvy, but not quite rolled out of a turnip truck, either.

Breath? Where’d I put my minty-fresh gum? That Freshmaker © would come in real handy right here …

As one of the first international flights to arrive at DFW, the queue at passport control isn’t long.

Two lines or queues are present: one for holders of American passports, and one line for everyone else. But I’ll sneak in sometimes into the line for American passport-holders.

So, I’m in line with other people clutching to their dark-blue passports.

By clappstar on Flickr

After some minutes of staring into the imaginary aether and shuffling deeper into the check-in coil, it’s my turn.

I approach the counter, and the first thing I do is smile, hand over my passport and completed customs-form, and say “good morning.”

More often than not, the officer will reply similarly in kind.

The officer asks simple direct questions.

I offer equally simple and direct answers, despite my fuzzy half-awake state.

The officer flips through my passport and sees a lot of US-entry stamps. They find an empty spot on a page, and presses a new entry-stamp into my Canadian passport.

“Welcome back to the United States, Mister Lee … and have a good time here in the U.S.”

I don’t ask for much, but that’s a good way to start the day.

By Michael J Chealion, on Flickr

Thanks to a conversation with LM which found its way onto digital life, this post appears on Fotoeins Fotopress at

2 Responses to “A friendly smile works wonders”

  1. Anita Mac

    Life is always better with a smile…I never get the power trip customs agents. I know they are just doing their job, but the majority of people coming through customs are just regular people! Life is more pleasant with a smile!


    • fotoeins

      Hi, Anita. I agree, even if I’m off the plane in a tired foul mood. Perhaps, it’s disarming to them if a passenger comes into passport control all smiles. … or they might suspect that no one in their right mind could ever be that happy so early in the morning …


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