2 May 2011

Passports

It must have been in one of the many trips my husband and I made to visit my family in Spain that I noticed it. The long wait at one of the London airports must definitely be to blame for my bothering to read the introduction page in my husband’s British passport (he has both an Australian and a British one): “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”  Looking at his Australian passport I saw practically the same text. “How nice”, I thought, and so I went to check what lovely words had been written in my passport on behalf of “my King.”  To my surprise, this is all I found: “This passport remains the property of the Spanish Government notwithstanding the rights of the holder. Consequently the holder is required to exercise the utmost care in the safekeeping and utilization of this passport. Any Authority or person who finds this passport either misused or mislaid is hereby requested to hand it in to the Spanish Authorities.” In other words “Just don’t lose it, will you?”  I looked for anything more empathetic in the document, with no luck.

I know, it’s just words, but I think it would have been nice to have something a little warmer in my pocket when travelling around the world, not necessarily involving the king.

Some people may consider the British/Australian text a bit dated and patronising on behalf of the monarch but I wonder if it goes a bit beyond that.  Can the words in a passport reflect the attitude of a country towards its citizens?

The text in the Spanish passport hardly reflects any respect towards the holder, an attitude that can easily be found in the country’s institutions.

I think it’s also fair to say that Spaniards don’t very often spend time on niceties, ceremony or celebrations. This can translate in no school balls and poor college graduation ceremonies, providing you get one. As for school photo albums...I recall someone tried to do something like that when I was in high school and the project was dropped because there was too much animosity towards some of the teachers and students weren’t keen to pretend just for the sake of the occasion.

However, in this case they could have made a bit more effort. It would be interesting to check what other countries do about it. I wonder what it is like in French passports, or Swedish ones...Does it differ from richer to poorer countries?

Faced with rejection or lack of appreciation people often feel like rejecting back.  I think this already happens to lots of people when they leave their homeland behind. “Why should I care about that place when I would be more valued somewhere else?” May ask the researcher, engineer or academic who has to migrate to the US to find work.

The fact is that there are always people we care about left behind and that although they may be less powerful than the ones that decide what text goes in a passport, put together they are a better reflection of what a country is than any official papers printed by the State.