04.30.10

Traveling comic book

Posted in Travel at 1:55 by RjZ

I’ve gotten a few new stamps in my passport lately. I can’t appreciate them though. Heck, I can barely even see them. Travelers have often enjoyed slowly filling their passports with exotic entry stamps and visas as little mementos from all the places they’ve been, but the latest revision of the U.S. passport takes all the fun out of it. The passport, released by the soviet propaganda style Department of Homeland Security, in 2007 even has a name “American Icon.” By now, many of you already have one of these coloring book civics lessons.

Entrance and exit stamps from the Ukraine float above a trout fishing grizzly. Both the stamps and the bear are diminished by each others presence.

Entrance and exit stamps from the Ukraine float above a trout fishing Grizzly. Both the stamps and the bear are diminished by each others presence.

The booklet, an official travel document, is brimming over with bright, bold, full color images of eagles and U.S. flags, purple mountains and amber waves of grain. Each page has an inspiring patriotic quote too. The over the top patriotism of it all ends up being an embarrassment, and likely frustrates border patrols looking for a clear place to stamp it upon entry.

American stereotypes may be a bit exaggerated. We notice all the loud, baggy shorts and white tennis shoe wearing citizens who confirm our preconceived notions but we actually miss all the folks who don’t stand out and would actually prove that the stereotype isn’t so true after all. What do Americans look like? If we noticed all of them, it might be hard pin down this mutli-cultural country where the only thing they might have in common is a little self deprecating sense of humor–a willingness to laugh at themselves. Instead, with this flag waving coloring book in hand, my America-First, screw the rest, attitude precedes me even at the border of every country I visit long before I have a chance to show them otherwise.

Even if you like the look of our comic book cum travel document, you’ll be disappointed as soon as you start using it as various visas and stamps will blot out whole pages. My Russian visa forces me to miss a whole chapter in our story of conquest of the American West. The Chinese visa authorities chose to obliterate amber waves of grain.

We shouldn’t be surprised. The “American Icon” passport book is a product of an administration whose president barely traveled outside the United States. It’s a ham-handed attempt to force a civics lesson on border guards around the world while instilling pride in U.S. travelers who wind up more annoyed that they can no longer make out just when they traveled to China last year.

As some colleagues and I presented our passports for security identification recently, one of them saw the last page of mine and asked: “so, America owns the moon now too?” Thank you, Department of Homeland Security. What am I supposed to say to this guy? The new passport book as one advantage, it provides continued motivation to travel, just so I can get enough stamps to hide the silly pictures and make it look like the formal travel document it’s supposed to be.

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