On the flight back, they give you forms and instructions (including a film) on customs regulations in the US. All passengers are required to get their luggage, go through customs and then go through security again for any connecting flight
. So that means if you are just landing in the US to make a connection to another country (say we had a connecting flight to Canada or Mexico), you have to get all your luggage, do customs (even though you are just making a connection) and then re-check your luggage. After a 12 hour flight and about 300 people in line at customs (no exaggeration), I could not imagine having to do that. They also showed on the film how to complete your customs forms down to how to write your numbers (no crossing your 7s or putting a serif on your 1s and make sure your 4 is written with an open top-not like a triangle-I am not making any of this up). Make sure you always stand behind the yellow line, do not use your cell phones in the customs line. If you make a mistake on your form, do not make corrections, ask for a new form and start over. I had thought our plane had gone through a time warp and we had landed in the USSR rather than the USA. It made the US appear very unwelcoming to other travellers. It didn't make me feel exactly warm and fuzzy either after moving easily through the borders in Europe. It was kind of embarrasing actually.
I have had a lot of time over the past few weeks to ponder history and how people have been ruled over the centuries. I think it's important to realize that the issues we think of as "American" issues are really shared by all industrialized countries- terrible terrorist attacks have occured in the UK, Spain, Russia and else where
. Street crimes and homicides occur elsewhere. Illegal immigration and cultural intergration is an issue in all industrial countries too; in the UK, it's the conflict between the majority culture and Pakistani immigrants, in France the Algerians, Germany the Turks, Italy the Libyans, Russia the Chechens, China the Uigurs. All countries are dealing with the same issues that we deal with, but turning your country into a police state does not achieve anything. We have the highest percent of incarceration in the US but a much higher crime rate than a lot other countries. Rulers have effectively used fear of "the other" for centuries to keep people afraid and under control. Perhaps we can all become more in control of our own destinies and lives if we try to understand other peoples and other cultures.
I don't mean to offend nor denegrate my fellow citizens; there is a lot of good in the US and Americans can be some of the most friendly and helpful people. Sometimes I get frustrated that we can be so insular and allow our military contractors and corporate entities to run amok in other countries and then act suprised when people that live there get pissed off at us. Of course, corruption and monetary colonialism runs rampant everywhere in every country and always has. Just don't believe that other cultures "hate us for our freedoms".
I know travel is a relative luxury that many people cannot achieve but I think it is important to start thinking outside the box
. Letting your government and media keep you in a state of fear is not being free. The world outside the US is not a scary, dangerous place; at least no more than it is here. As we continue in another one of our perpetual election cylcles; think about the rhetoric offered to you by both major parties/candidates. Do they really have any interest in changing the status quo and improving your life? As our economy and culture becomes ever more global; you can help us all by trying to understand that most people everywhere are just trying to get by, to have a home and provide for their families just like we all are. There are always extremists and people that take advantage of the systems and others...
OK, off the soap box one last time. Thanks for sharing our travels. Wishing everyone a safe and happy journey through life!
John & Jerry
Our flight back from Munich to Los Angeles went well although it seemed interminably long (12 hours). Lufthansa is a good airline though; all thefood, snacks and beverages (including all alcohol) is complimentary. They even leave out juices, water, bottles of wine and snacks so you can always just serve yourself during the flight. Another nice touch is that they come around with cognac and Baileys after dinner as a digestif. The flight takes you near Iceland, over Greenland and the Canadian Arctic (seems like it is the long way when you look at a flat map but get a globe and hold a string between California and Europe and it is very obvious why going over the Arctic is the shortest route).