Sweet-talking Immigration Officers and their Unstoppable Flattery

He let the cigarette dangle from his mouth while we battled out our argument via the most intense staring contest I’ve been honored to be involved in since perhaps grade school.

“Look, I know the price is 20 dollars – this isn’t my first time doing this, “ I pleaded, desperate to be done with the ordeal.

“It’s 25 or I don’t do,” he shouted, finally showing me some form of personality for the first time in nearly twenty minutes.

This particular immigration officer had just about had it with me. I simply wasn’t playing by the rules. Tourists are not supposed to argue over 5 dollars – especially not American ones that strolled in wearing expensive jeans and carrying a nice bag.

I however, was not feeling much like pretending I was a typical American tourist on this typical Cambodian day.

Oh no, quite the contrary. Despite the heat, the suffocating humidity, and the stench coming from what I was quite sure was the never-before-cleaned-toilet unexposed behind us, I was willing to hold my ground until the immigration officers at this particular land border between Thailand and Cambodia agreed to grant me a visa for the legal price.

The standoff had now lasted 20 minutes. I wasn’t really gaining any ground.

“Here – this is 20 dollars, the fee for the visa, please!” I shouted this through the window that had just been slammed in my face while simultaneously adjusting my bag and attempting to shove my passport and wilted American money through the tiny gap between the dirty glass and linoleum counter.

“No, no, no, no, NO! At land border, we charge extra!” The same officer in the dirty ripped t-shirt was yelling at me again.

“Ok fine, but I would like a receipt in that case please,” I smirked, thinking this would be a clever move.

“No have lady.” He wasn’t buying it.

“But, you just gave me a receipt two minutes ago for my health inception fee. Can’t you use the same receipt as him,” I asked, pointing to the other Cambodian immigration officer seated no more than 3 feet away.

“No. 25 or no visa, lady.” He was holding to his guns. And I finally relented.

As I passed the extra 5 dollars through the now-open window, I decided I was going to be angry for the remainder of my weekend. I was tired – tired of being exploited for a few bucks, and tired of being irritated by it. Despite the soft wind coming off the nearby Gulf of Thailand shore, my face was flushed and hot with anger.

Less than five minutes later, the window opened and the same officer – this time smiling – handed me my passport complete with my new Cambodian tourist visa.

“You have baby coming, lady?”

This did it – I was officially furious; “NO, DO YOU?!” I shouted at the pot-bellied, smiling officer, knowing he would understand my joke, but not probably not my hostile and sarcastic tone.

He laughed, and I stalked off. As I stomped my way past the official border marker, determined to be hostile for as long as possible, a little girl smiled and waved from the back of a passing and moto and I thought that perhaps I was wrong – maybe this was exactly where I wanted to be.

B York

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