How NOT to get kicked out of the Netherlands - Part 3
LESSON #4: Do not get persnickety with customs officials or point out minute flaws in their regulations. Doing so will earn you another 30 minutes of detainment in a bleak hallway.
After a lengthy departure, Buddy handed over a stack of forms, which I refused to sign, if only to exert the one option I had been granted by him and his colleagues. I would be allowed to enter the international terminal, where I would be required to stay the night. I was told to show up at 8am at Gate G25 and await further instructions.
M and I headed upstairs to Sbarro’s to get a slice of pizza. She had to be at work in 11 hours. We hugged, cried and parted ways. I will never forget the mournful look she gave me as she rode the elevator downstairs to fetch a train back home.
With nothing better to do, I went in search of wifi. I obliviously wandered through an open entry in a security gate and quickly discovered that I could have easily walked right out of the airport. I suddenly felt like Tom Hanks’ character in The Terminal. I could have headed outside, caught a cab and have been back in my apartment in 45 minutes.
That said, had I done so, I would have been considered an illegal alien, putting myself at risk to be placed on a "You’re Never, Ever Going to be Allowed Back Into the Netherlands Again" list.
Instead, I hung out at Starbucks, called my family back in the states to explain the situation. A friend of mine, a British expat living in Ohio, offered as much advice as he could over G-Chat, based on his own experiences in dealing with customs officials in the states and during his years in Australia.
On my way back through the security, a frantic guard ran up to me. "WHAT ARE DOING," he yelled in Dutch. I handed over my forms and it quickly dawned on him that his colleagues had majorly screwed-up by leaving the door open for anyone to come and go. He chatted with a colleague, they laughed and he gave me advice on which of the airport’s hotels to stay in for the night.
If only the officials downstairs had shared his casualness.
I paid 75 euros to spend a sleepless night in Yotel, a micro-hotel next to the terminal’s food court. At 7, I rolled out of bed, took a quick shower and rushed down to the gate where... no one could tell me where to go or what to do. Two American clerks were busily hustling the final passengers on board a flight bound for Newark. "Oh my God," I thought. "I am going to be deported to... New Jersey?!”
Then I noticed a young woman pacing nervously beside an unmarked, gray door. Beside the door there was a small black button with a piece of torn, crumpled paper hanging above it. "PUSH BUTTON FOR IMMIGRATION ISSUES," it told me. I hit the button as the woman took a seat and wiped tears off her face with a sleeve. She was on the verge of a full-blown panic-attack.
I never caught her name but she was being deported back to her hometown in Russia for making the same mistake as me. "I have to get to gate in 45 minute… I have ticket. They have my passport," she told me in broken English. "I need get on plane."
She had come to the Netherlands to spend time with her significant other, a Russian college student. We waited another 15 minutes, her foot tapping nervously. I broke out the forms I had been given and called a number on them. I told an official, somewhere downstairs, that we were waiting for someone to help us.
Out from the door emerged a man who reminded me of Colonel Quaritch in Avatar. He had the same military haircut and "take no prisoners, no mercy!" expression locked on his face, which may as well have been cut from a block of concrete.
With quick precession, he helped out the Russian gal and sent her on her way. After thanking me for making that phone call, she rushed off to catch her flight.
Then "the colonel" turned to me. "Ok, I looked into your situation," he told me. "You’re being deported back to Dublin."
LESSON #5: Never, ever allow yourself to be deported from the Netherlands if you can help it. If you find yourself in a similar situation, offer to buy your own plane ticket out of the country or use an existing one.
Doing so will result in you being officially "denied entry," much more preferable to deportment. This is helpful if you intend to return sometime in, say, the next decade. Getting booted will not do you any favours when / if you head back to the Netherlands.
This bit of advice was given to me by my British pal and I am forever grateful. First I was being deported to the US, now the Dutch government wanted to boot me back to Ireland. "I do have a ticket I can use," I told the colonel. His mood immediately brightened. "Is this true," he asked. "Then we will not have to deport you then."
I moved fast, rushing down to a US Airways desk where some calls were made. A clerk named Mathilda took me under her wing. I paid a fee to reschedule the flight and she jumped through the hoops of getting my passport back.
In 30 minutes, I went from being treated like a persona non-grata to a naive, harmless American who had made a simple mistake. I took a seat and watched as plains-clothed guards made their way in and out of the gray door.
LESSON #6: I do not think I am giving away any Dutch state secrets when I say that Schiphol Airport has cops dressed as civilians roaming about.
That buff dude dressed in an Adidas track suit? The one sipping a cup of coffee outside McDonalds? He is probably a cop. The airport’s undercover policewomen do a better job of concealing their identities. They carry shopping bags or rolling suitcases. It is almost impossible to differentiate between them and an administrator in the Netherlands for a conference.
"You’re not the first person to make this mistake," the colonel told me. "And you won’t be the last. Be sure to give your girlfriend a call before you leave to tell her you are OK."
He shook my hand before heading back through the gray door. The last thing he told me: "In 83 days, after you reach day 180, you can come back to Holland. No problem."
Where have I heard that one before?