I recently traveled to the US and back to India. On my way to San Francisco I had a connecting flight at Frankfurt, Germany. The following is an experience at Frankfurt that I can’t quite categorize. Is it ignorance / insensitivity / rudeness / racism or maybe even an over reaction on my part?
The official at the boarding gate asked for my passport and boarding card. I handed over my passport and he got back saying. “You need to get a new one”. I was surprised by this comment and asked why. With the current security overdrive at airports, for a second I thought he intended to stop me from boarding my flight to the US.
He pointed out that my passport was not machine readable as there wasn’t any machine code that he could scan. “This passport is archaeological” he said. He followed it up with a smirk and said “But in India this passport must be brand new. Right?”. He then handed over my passport and let me through. I was offended and said “No that isn’t the case.” and moved on.
On the flight I spent quite some time pondering over the incident and wondering if I should have complained and escalated the matter. My passport sure is 9 years old and it’s true that it doesn’t have the newer machine codes. However I felt the official had no business to say that in India it must be brand new. From the incident it can be construed that not only did he not have much respect for India but also for Indians.
However I do not think it’s fair to always jump to a conclusion that the person was a racist. So I wonder if he just was an insensitive and rude person and was just as likely to make such nasty comments even to passengers from the developed world. What if this comment was made by an Indian to someone from Afghanistan or Somalia, countries that unfortunately are far less developed than India? Would I think the comment was ok? The answer is definitely a no.
I suppose I will never know if the man really did have a racist inclination or he was just being rude. However I think this is a good case to understand how an incident could be construed differently by different people. What an Indian would think as racist would perhaps be ignored by an American as just rude.
BTW I do not know if the person was part of the Lufthansa crew, German security or US security that is at times posted to provide additional security for flights headed to the US.