Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Arriving at Narita - in plain English

I've always wondered just how much English the immigration and customs officers at Narita Airport actually understand. Not that they've been overly nonsensical over the years, but you know, just out of curiosity, I thought it would be fun to check.

The immigration guys (the ones that take your passport and put the little sticker in it when you arrive) are normally OK. Or maybe they just never had that much to say to me. Because how hard is it to take your passport, look sternly at you, mumble something about putting your fingers on the pads and looking straight ahead at the camera? Or maybe, I'm so ugly and my breath stinks after a long flight and they want to get rid of me as soon as possible? Who knows...

And back in the olden days, when there were no fingerprints required, it was even easier. Seriously, my cats could do it.

 Arrivals at Narita - after clearing customs

When I was returning to Japan last week, the immigration officer took the easy and convenient way out and didn't use any English at all. In fact, he was way too busy chatting with his colleague to pay me any attention. But then again, I was the only person in the re-entry line that morning and I suppose he was eager to get me done and over with ASAP.

Then I picked up my luggage, fished the yellow customs form out of my purse and made my way towards the customs desk.

The guy there (wearing white gloves and a mask to avoid those evil foreign germs) unfolded my form, looked at my luggage and suddenly the entire space-time continuum warped and I was transported back to my classroom. To Unit 1 of Passport 2 to be exact.

The customs officer followed the textbook script to the letter. I didn't.
Officer: What's the purpose of your visit?
Me: Eh, I'm going home?
Officer: How long are you going to stay in Japan?
Me: Probably until the day I die. Or my mother in law dies. Whichever comes first.
Officer: Where are you staying in Japan?
Me: At my house, duh.
Officer: Thank you and have a pleasant stay.

So, how much English do these customs guys understand? My guess is - not that much.
Gotta love Japan.

Arrival hall at Narita

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