Business or pleasure? Something for the weekend sir? Remember the good old days when aeroplanes used propellers, cabin crew were air hostesses, your coffee was served with silver service and when you finally reached your destination several weeks later, passport control and customs treated you with the respect you deserved as opposed to a suspected international terrorist? But now, all you can do is beg for mercy, be told to take all your clothes off and please bend over.
James Bond would be choking on his Martini. Air travel ain’t what it used to be.
I’ve just returned from a delightful few weeks in the United Kingdom , also known as the ‘The First World’ to those of us who live in Buenos Aires. The whole trip began swimmingly; at check-in I was told the aircraft was almost empty and later, the captain announced that a favourable jet stream would plonk us in Madrid some minutes ahead of schedule. So why wasn’t I upgraded then? I even wore my best smoking jacket for that very reason.
Whilst lavishing in the bosom of my family in the old country, thoughts of serious shopping were never far from my mind, especially with Christmas approaching. For that very reason I had packed light; that is to say, a toothbrush, the odd sock and several pairs of gloves, for it was winter in the north. The icing on the cake being the old trick of squeezing a smaller suitcase inside a larger one thus avoiding the hideous and frankly, onerous baggage charges that airlines somehow manage to get away with.
What’s all this got to do with computer tips?
A fair question and the answer is: quite a lot actually, when you consider that cross border shopping isn’t just confined to those who live in third world countries. It’s never ceased to amaze me that the same product you buy in the UK can be considerably cheaper across the pond in the USA. We’ve known this for many years of course, which is why the term rip off Britain came about. The image above illustrates the point quite nicely.
But I digress; third world prices use a different set of rules and as I wandered through the hallowed halls of Amazon and the well trodden streets of a festive Hereford, I found myself converting GB Pounds to US Dollars; or was it Pesos? and which exchange rate should I be using? Black market, official or somewhere in between? In the end I stayed with US Dollars, since it’s the unofficial official currency in Argentina, like it or not.
So, being a gadget hound and a writer of sorts at DCT, I found myself vacuuming up shiny bits and pieces with gay abandon until the day finally came to pack my bags, weigh them on the bathroom scales and start praying.
I know we’ve all been there and done that, so picture the scene.
Dozens of passengers, dazed, sweaty and with eyes propped open by match sticks, shuffle en masse a la Walking Dead, in the general direction of the EXIT. The procession comes to a grinding halt at immigration, where you are met with line after line of yet more zombies, no air conditioning and 13 hours in the air seems a mere trifle against the interminable welcome of Ezeiza International Airport, Buenos Aires.
Having ticked all the right boxes with the passport official who couldn’t seem to give a damn anyway and totally ignores my customs form (will make excellent loo paper), I fall under the misguided notion that I’m on the home straight. Wrong! Gird your loins.
In my case, I simply followed the snaking mass of other weary souls and headed for what I saw as an ill defined bunch of lines waiting for the coup de grace, otherwise known as the search and destroy customs team.
And so, the lads at customs appear to have perfected the art of luggage inspections in the same way that south sea islanders of old had perfected cannibalism.On approaching the X-Ray machines before my final goal, which I could see in the near distance over their heads, marked EXIT in large green letters, I unexpectedly had a moment of terror and panic rush down my spine and was expecting a SWAT team to pounce at any moment.
Would the death ray machines see my haul of tea bags, various condiments and numerous items of an electronic flavour? As the cases slid far too slowly through the machine, I stole a glance at the customs operator and decided that he didn’t look such a menacing fellow after all.Then he stopped the machine, my cases came to an abrupt halt and in a split second I was overwhelmed with an urge to flee the scene. At which he simply approached me and asked ‘do you intend to sell these items sir?’
‘What items sir?’ I asked in my finest Queen’s English, since I conveniently forgot how to speak Spanish in that moment.
‘Usted es Argentino señor?’
‘No sir, British.’ Puffing my chest out for effect.
‘Oh, that’s alright then, you’re free to go, enjoy your holiday.’
‘I will and thank you sir!’
You know that feeling when you say to yourself ‘better get going, but not too fast or he might call me back and in a loud voice, shout ‘Sr Thomas!!!”??
That was one of those moments and so I made haste as nonchalantly as I could and didn’t look back, but grateful to the Argentine state for at least providing me some free loo paper, which was sort of a first.