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Close call
I'm British and no Yankee immigration gimp could ever touch me - right?

January 27, 2003
The Iranian

"The Indians have arrived. They are five of Varinder's gorgeous cousins. We have just finished eating a pasta dinner and are now settling down to watch some late night TV. They all think I am checking emails. In fact I am writing this article.

The conversation earlier in the evening had touched on some very uncomfortable subjects. I had explained how as a child I had been brought up to believe that the Iranian race was superior to almost any other race - except the English. Every time I behaved badly my dad would try to shame me by telling me that an English boy would never yawn without covering his mouth, shout across a room or do whatever it was I had done wrong.

I had also explained that most Iranians believed they were more civilized than Indians, Pakistanis and Afghans. I myself, when I was around 10-years old actually thought that Iranians were some kind of master race and that the Americans were dumb White servants working for the Shah and his people (this was when I attended the American Community School in Tehran in 1976) .

Two years later and the revolution changed everything. Suddenly (I was 12-years old) Great Britain was the best country on earth and was I pleased to be British!

Now consider the following:

* I was born in the UK in 1965.
* I had spent my entire life - bar 4 years - living in the UK.
* My father and mother had both been residents and UK passport holders since 1963.

I, naturally, felt extremely smug when people asked why I had such a good English accent ("I was born here!" I would reply). I felt even more smug knowing that I could travel anywhere without any Visa problems unlike most Iranians we knew.

Nothing lasts for ever.

My entire English world of security and smugness fell apart 5 weeks ago. I found out that Iranians, among others, were being "registered" and fingerprinted in the USA. With this news, for a short while, my smugness soared to an all time high. We were flying to the USA and Canada over Christmas. I was British and no Yankee immigration gimp could ever touch me - right? Wrong.

For the first time in my life, my ego and long nurtured smugness were to be rocked to their cores on the very eve of our flight to New York. I decided to read about this outrageous activity and stumbled onto a website (I think it was for the Iranian community in the USA) which spelt out a series of scenarios in which someone could be held, fingerprinted and even ejected on entry to the USA.

One of these, to my horror, described my status almost exactly. It stated that because both of my parents were Iranian, I was still eligible for an Iranian passport and could therefore be held and questioned on entering the USA. In other words l was suddenly demoted to the same level as every other Iranian.

My mouth dried up as I read the scenario to myself again and again. I was flying to NYC (with Varinder, my gorgeous Indian wife) for a client meeting in New Jersey before flying onto Toronto to spend Christmas and New Year with my relatives. It was all going to go horribly wrong. I even convinced myself that I was going to be returned in handcuffs with V sitting next to me in tears. I couldn't bear it.

The next day I was sitting in Virgin Airlines' Upper Class watching One Hour Photo with my mind elsewhere. To help me relax I even asked for a head and shoulder massage (yes, they offer a massage service in Upper Class) and was taken to a private section near the bar to have oil rubbed into my tense scalp. Before I knew it we had arrived.

As I stood in the queue at immigration I was braced for the worst. Varinder, in calm contrast, kept telling me to chill and not to be so stupid and sweaty. We reached the booth/counter where I had an entire speech prepared about how my parents were Iranian but I was British and I how I had sided with the CIA and MI6 during the Iranian revolution and was even a special advisor to Tony Blair.

Yes I had decided to grovel and cave in as a last resort. But the Mexican-looking officer kept talking to a colleague in the next booth the whole time he was inspecting our passports. He stamped them, smiled and suddenly we were off to collect our luggage. "Easy peasy lemon squeezy!" as English say.

Half way across the floor to the baggage hall I saw someone who looked like a police officer approach us.

"Passports please..."

After a momentary shock during which I froze, I reluctantly handed over our passports. I wasn't even sure he was authorised to look at them. I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead.

"What do you do for a living?" he asked us

I stood transfixed. I was so surprised by his question that I forgot what I did for a living.

After a short pause I heard V say, "Consumer research."

"Yeah... that's it" I added helpfully.

He handed our passports back and asked us to have a "Good day".

We were through.

Because we only had a few short days in NYC we decided to stay somewhere reasonably pleasant. Our hotel was called The Mansfield and was within walking distance of most shops Varinder would have wanted to raid. One of the first things we did after dropping off our bags was buy a copy of the Zagat restaurant guide. After all, we didn't want to waste time eating average food.

During our three days we gorged ourselves at Silvano's in Greenwich Village (a waste of money and full of waiters who looked like extras from the cast of The Sopranos). In fact, a quick story to share with you: after paying the bill for $274 a waiter returned to our table to inform me that in NYC it was customary to pay twice whatever the tax was on our bill. After considering his cheek for a few moments I delved into my wallet and pulled out another $20. The waiter took it and walked away without so much as a thank you.

Il Mulino was our favourite restaurant, again, in the village and full of extremely affluent looking customers who, unlike us, did not look like they were living on their credit cards from month to month. Second favourite was Gotham Bar & Grill which served the best Venison I have eaten anywhere. By the time we arrived in Toronto I had lost front buttons off two of my Chinos.

Our trip to Toronto was exclusively to visit family. And we have plenty of family who all seem to want spend time with us and feed us delicious home cooked Iranian fare. Varinder finally decided that enough was enough. If we were going to eat, we were also going to exercise. I succeeded in stalling her for a few mornings but eventually she cornered me in my Auntie Pari's hallway.

"Put your trainers on. We are going for a walk up to the mall," she growled.

"But that's a one-hour-plus walk," I complained.

"Put them on!" she snapped.

I sat on a chair and began to loosen the laces on my shoes so that one could slip them on. As I strained, doubled over my stomach, I felt my back give and suddenly spasm in agonising pain.


"Don't you pull that one on me Salari!"

"Honey, I'm not kidding you," I pleaded.

But there was to be no sympathy. Varinder fully believed I was having her on. Within a few minutes I was limping on the frozen snow inching my way up Bathurst. Varinder completely ignored my display of pain. I kept on limping and before we had walked a few hundred yards, she lost it.

"Walk you fucker!" she shouted - with no consideration for people nearby.

My walk, in a desperate attempt to speed up, began to resemble that of Cheetah the chimp when he walked hand in hand with Tarzan. Soon, I was back to my limp. I believe it was twenty minutes into our new fitness regime when she finally snapped.

"You can fuck when you want to but you can't go for a simple walk with me when I ask you!" she screamed.

I collapsed in a heap of laughter on the snow before she picked me up and walked me home.

That same evening, we were whisked along to an Iranian party. Actually, it was more of a concert. The singer was someone called, Massood or Mahmoud from LA and the venue, somewhere west of Toronto, was heaving with what looked like 5,000 party goers at least.

We arrived, parked in the gigantic car park and took our coats off as we bought our tickets in the entrance hall. I volunteered to take all seven coats to the cloakroom and went in search of it. As I walked around corner after corner I became aware of a line of people queuing along the wall. I reached the cloakroom and found, to my dismay, that the never-ending line had, all that time, been snaking its way to the the hatch with the gorgeous (Iranian) blonde on the other side, hanging coats up.

As I walked back to find the front of the queue I became conscious that I was being stared at. After all I was carrying so many coats I could barely see over them. Five minutes of walking later I found the start of the queue again. Then the waiting and people watching began. There were quite a few older ladies (late 30's and up) who were trying to pass themselves off as 20 somethings with their dress sense, blonde hair and loud make up. A few times I made eye contact and smiled politely to see how they would react and all I got was a momentary blank stare in reply.

Thirty minutes elapsed before I had a brainwave and left the queue to leave all the coats in the car instead. As I walked out, the gorilla of a doorman grabbed my arm.

"You can't come back in" he grunted in Farsi.

"But I have my ticket" I objected.

"If you walk out, I won't let you back in," he said in a deliberate and menacing tone.

I felt like saying, "be tokhmam jaakesh" but thought better of it and smiled apologetically instead.

Moments later, l was back to the very beginning of the never ending line to the cloakroom. Twenty minutes passed before another, incredibly annoying thing happened. A lone woman came and said hello to a couple who were in front of me. They exchanged a few words and suddenly I heard her shout to a group of people, "Ali, Hassan, Mariam, Ramin... injaa!"

To my amazement I watched all of these people walk up and squeeze themselves in front of me. If there was such a thing as spontaneous combustion, I would have exploded in flames. I honestly can't remember when I had ever been so angry before. As I seethed, in a state of shock at how blatantly they had taken advantage of my reluctance to make a scene, sweat dripped off my brow and onto my glasses.

An instant later I looked up and saw Varinder and the rest of our group following behind her.

"Where have you been?" she asked

"Right here... "

"We want to go home now."

"What!?" I shouted.

And that was the end of my trip to an Iranian concert.

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By Siamack Salari




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