My first trip to Australia (or “Oz”, as the locals prefer to call it), was in December 2009.
I actually spent the Xmas and New Year’s there.
I landed in Brisbane (a big mistake, as it turned out). I’d heard about the Aussie Immigration’s paranoia, especially with first-timers. I’d even seen it myself on TV (there’s a popular weekly reality TV show, which deals with the Australian Immigration, and what they face on a daily basis). I forgot the name of the show (Border Control, or something like that).
Anyway, I remember always wondering what it must be like to be subjected to that sort of treatment on arrival at the airport. On the one hand, it’s understandable : the immigration laws are in place for a reason; and they need to be obeyed). But, on the other hand………….WOW!
When I arrived, I was immediately pulled aside, and subjected to 2 hours of intense scrutiny and interrogation. My first “offense”, as it turned out, was flying all the way from Finland to Australia, for only a period of 2 weeks! You see, Oz is wayyy down under………..millions of miles away from the rest of the world. Flying there takes at least 24 hours! So, if you’re planning on spending less than, say, 2 months there, you need to have a better reason than just “Xmas and New Year”, which was the case for me.
My second offense was having a packet of Ferrero chocolates, which I’d bought at the airport in Singapore (where I had my layover). You see, chocolates contain “drugs”. And they must be checked! Which those geniuses at Immigration proceeded to do. They tore open the packets, and actually proceeded to open the actual chocolates themselves (I tried hard not to laugh at this point, as I feared it would only make matters worse :=))))))
My third offense? Simple : I had two cell phones on me. Now, why on earth would you need TWO cellphones, for a 2-week vacation to Oz??? My response : one was my personal phone, and the other was my work-phone. As a Software Engineer, I sometimes found myself on 24/7 call — meaning I had to be reachable, at all times, in case of emergencies.
To an australian immigration officer, however, this could mean…………hmmmm………….2 cellphones, eh? Maybe, he’s packed up, and left Finland for good, and wants to settle here???
Up to this point, I’d kept my cool; but, now, I was really starting to get pissed off! For one thing : if I was planning to pack up and move anywhere, Oz would NOT be top of my list!
There were a whole of other things that came to mind, but I held my tongue.
Anyhow, I was finally allowed to pass through immigration, and stepped into the outside world, with relief. I won’t deny that the entire experience had left a bad taste in my mouth; until that moment, I’d traveled extensively to a dozen other places, and never been subjected to that sort of scrutiny.
Well, I was determined to not let that crap ruin my 2-week vacation. So, I quickly put it behind me, and focused on enjoying myself. Which I did. Oz is actually quite a nice place. The people themselves are a very friendly bunch — easy-going, laid-back, relaxed. I actually loved it there.
I spent a few days in Brisbane itself, and then flew to Sydney for the Xmas, and then back to Brisbane for the New Year’s. I didn’t have any friends there, but it was so easy to simply make new acquaintances on the fly. In Sydney, for instance, I met a guy at a bar. Within an hour of chatting, and sharing a couple of beers, he invited me for an Xmas barbecue at his parents’ place.
And, I’ll tell you this : NOBODY does barbecue like the Aussies !!!
Oh, and one more thing : I rented a car…………which turned out to be quite an adventure, seeing as those Aussies insist on driving on the “wrong” side of the road (haha).
At first, I was scared. It wasn’t my first time driving on the right-side (I did that back in the UK). But, I hadn’t done it in ages. So, naturally, my instincts were “left-handed”, so to speak.
To my amazement, I fell into the rhythm as easily as riding a bike. Perhaps it’s because I kept telling myself : “just remember how you do it back in Finland………..and do the OPPOSITE!” Hahahaha