The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

We desis have several crosses to bear. If we are not Christians, possibly there's one fewer cross, but I am referring in particular to the necessity of obtaining a visa before one can travel to 95% of the planet.

The wife and the boy are British citizens, so - if they felt rich and wanted to visit, say, Monaco - they could book the earliest available flight, hie to the airport, nip over to that garden of the high and mighty, and be back home before I returned from work. If I, on the other hand, wanted similarly to gamble away some of my immense wealth at short notice, I would find myself stymied. You guessed it: I need a visa.

Luckily, the European Union recognises that I am subsisting on the wife's coat-tails, and makes it possible for me to apply for a visa with little fanfare. Unlike the ever suspicious Americans, Canadians, and Australians, here I only need to produce our passports, our marriage certificate (issued under the laws of God and the State of New Jersey, which never ceases to amaze the provincials in various consular offices), and one photograph - white background, no grimace, no visible teeth - and, gratis, the visa will be stamped on my document. Gratis! The word is music to my ears, felled as I am with despair at parting with eighty dollars for a measly single-entry Canadian visa.

A few EU countries are kinder than others. The Austrians sometimes smile but do not ask for EU spouses to book an appointment, a process fraught with extortionate telephone calls and long waits. But they look askance at my British 'Indefinite Leave To Enter' permit (issued by the UK's New York consulate) - "Why is it you can enter but not remain?" - and give me very short-dated entry permits into the Schengen system. The Greeks, Danes, Italians and the Dutch are friendly and always smiling, but otherwise not different from the Austrians in their predilection for restrictive visas. I have not been to the German, Spanish, Finnish, Irish, Belgian, Luxembourgish, Icelandic or Swedish or Portuguese consulates, so won't calumny these good folks. The French are famously bureaucratic - they want me to make an appointment, and specify a time and date to show up at their consulate, the only hitch being that eighty others have been given the same time and date for their appointments as well. On the other hand, they gave me a visa valid for a year, so now the wife and I spend our waking moments arguing about where to go for our next holiday, and how often we will travel, and "Can we make a lightning trip to the antique markets? I've seen a Louis Quatorze chair that I simply must have."

Still, it brings me great pleasure to realise that there are some countries where the desi can enter visa-free, laughing at the masses of Westerners who can no longer jauntily wave their passports at the immigration officers and expect to be admitted. Bhutan, that princely state, is chief among them. Nepal is another.

Finally, there are several countries that issue visas on arrival without discriminating against us lowly brown skins (as Navjyot Sidhu said, "We are all Adam's children - it's just the skin that makes all the difference.")


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