A month ago, as I was coming back to NYC after a long week-end back in Paris, I routinely queued with my fellow alien companions in front of the immigration booths at JFK airport. For those that are fortunate enough to be among la creme de la creme, i.e. legal holders of a Permanent Resident document, aka Green Card, or even better, US citizens, getting through the customs is pretty much a slam dunk. Actually, for the American traveller, this part of their trip is probably the only one that was not turned so much into a nightmare in the wake of the air travel security overhaul.
Anyways, for those of us that are not in possession of such laissez-passer, waiting to get through immigration is somewhat remnant of a Soviet waiting line. Depending on your hour of travel, you may get caught with fellow travelers from parts of the world that immediately arouse the suspicion of the "sharp" immigration officers, which invariably will increase the wait time by a certain amount. Obviously, anyone with floating fabric too close to their faces is suspicious, and this includes a large part of the world! Mind you, the French officials are probably the world champions in "delit de facies" - a French way to say that your face does not match the current wish list of immigration officers. As a rule, there are usually 2 immigration officers for 350 non-US passengers, while on the other side of the room, an army of 10 officers swiftly handles the stamping of Mr and Mrs Smith's passport, as well as a few lone business travelers. Only when there are guaranteed that no other plane will land in the next 55 minutes can they start to reluctantly deal with the Third World. That is me, and my fellow alien companions.
I finally proceed closer to the yellow line, with a little anguish, I have to say. Not that I have done anything wrong, but there are always epic stories from friends that make you want to look positively awake and fresh, even after a xx-hour flight in economy class on American Airlines. As a rule, you want to limit your time at the immigration booth to the bare minimum. When my turn finally comes, I put on my best smile, and walk with composure towards the officer.
As I offer him my passport - opened at the right page, he obviously does not respond to my warm "Good evening officer". He flips through the pages, and then pops the Question:
"Do you live or work here?"
At first, I blame it on my diminished hearing ability, due to i-pod abuse, and politely ask him to repeat. He repeats the question and I find myself wondering if this guy is dumb or also very tired. I look at him straight in the eyes, trying not to too look surprised, and proudly answer him:
And he responds:
"No. You don't live here. You only work here. If you lived here, you'd be American or would have a Green Card."
I am standing dumbfounded in front of officer Ramirez who, at some point in his life or his parents, probably stood in the same position as I did that day. I quietly explain to him that, because I work here, and I happen to live in the country where I work, hence I live here. As Descartes would say, Cogito Ergo Sum. But this tautology did not enthuse him that much and he stuck to his version. So I finally ended our discussion abruptly with an ever convenient "Whatever", he furiously stamped my I94 and I walked out happy enough to have avoided deportation on the ground that although I am legally allowed to work here, I can not officially live here.
As I walked to the customs, I was mentally trying to figure what my daily commute would be if I still claimed residence in Paris, while getting my W2 in the US. While pushing my suitcase full of chocolates brought back from home, and praying for the customs not to ask me to stop, I put on my nice airport smile (the same that did not quite work at immigration) and hand my form to the officer. And this gentleman greets me with a "Welcome home, young lady!".
Well, my husband today has sent me something that could solve my alien work/residency conundrum. If you go to Google Map and go to the "Get Directions" section and type
New York, NY as a departure point and Paris, France as the destination, you will get this smart itinerary.
I particularly enjoy directions #23, and #24 which say:
"Swim across the Atlantic Ocean 3,462 mi 29 days 0 hours" and "Slight right at E05 0.5 mi".
Does not seem too complicated. Working in America is well worth it, isn't?