After nearly three weeks of leisure, good food and wine as well as the occasional swim in 17℃ water the time had come to say goodbye to Sweden and fly back home to London.
But before we left, we stopped over in Gothenburg to see family and spend a day at the amusement park there. The 10-year old is a daredevil and forced her dad to join her on the most gruesome rides, while I was spared such terror and headed to the child-friendly section with the 7-year old.
After about an hour in the park, my husband sent me a text,
“I’ve been sick, I’ve got food poisoning.”
When I suggested that it might be the rides that made him sick rather than the food he’d eaten he was a little offended. But, as I pointed out to him as kindly as I could, wasn’t it odd that he should get food poisoning every time he visited the amusement park?
The 10-year old, however, wasn’t feeling very sympathetic to her dad’s situation and insisted on going on the next ride for which they had a special pass. I reluctantly offered to take his place, but when we walked up to the young attendant at the entrance to the ride and explained the situation, and asking if I could take my husband’s place so that our daughter could go on the ride, the answer was unequivocal:
“No, you haven’t got the right ticket.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that,” I answered, “but my husband who has the right ticket, has been sick and can’t go on the ride. Could I please use his ticket just this one time?”
“No, the ticket is personal and can’t be transferred.”
“Yes, but we’re family, and he is sick,” I pleaded, trying to stem my growing frustration.
“Sorry, rules are rules,” came the response.
That’s when my otherwise very diplomatic and even-tempered husband lost his temper altogether. Fuming, he grabbed the tickets from me and started pushing towards the gate while barking at the attendant,
“Fine, I’ll go, but I’m warning you, I’m going to be sick up there!”
“That’s ok; we can clean up after you.”
While I understand that there are rules that need to be kept for the sake of people’s safety, in many cases, there are rules that surely could be bent a little without anyone getting hurt. Yet, there are people who seem to hide behind rules, using them to assert their power over others or simply lacking the imagination necessary to think outside the confines of the more trivial rules.
At the airport in Gothenburg the following morning, we were queuing up to have our passports checked, and as usual, I handed all of our passports and boarding cards to the Swedish officer, who responded to my smiling face with a look of reproach.
“Please hand out the passports,” she said.
“Eh, what?” I asked, confused.
“You can’t hand over someone else’s passport,” she said, looking increasingly irritated.
“But we’re a family. These are my daughters,” I protested meekly, feeling rather intimidated at this point.
“That’s irrelevant. It’s a criminal offence to hand over someone else’s passport unless they are incapacitated, and you’ve just tried to hand over someone else’s passport.”
Lost for words, I stared at the officer. If I had been trying to hand over the passport of someone not in my family, I would have understood, but the idea that I was committing a criminal offence by handing my under-aged children’s passports to the immigration officer was ridiculous.
The officer, however, did not find the situation remotely funny and not wanting to cause further trouble that might make us miss the flight, or worse, result in me being arrested, I handed out the passports to my daughters and husband and one by one we gave them to the officer for inspection.
“Now I am content,” she said with a smirk as she handed our passports back and we filed obediently through to the other side.
Afterwards, I was fuming, not so much over the rule itself because I understand she needs to follow the rules however ridiculous they seem, but I was furious with the way the officer had spoken to us as if we were naughty children doing bad things. I was angry too at how intimidated she’d made me feel, a little scared even that I’d get into trouble with the authorities if I made one bad move or said the wrong thing to the officer in front of me.
Touching down at Heathrow Airport a few hours later I wondered if the same rule – unheard of until now – would apply at the British immigration officer’s desk.
Not at all. At Heathrow, I once again handed over our passport to an officer, and she smiled, asked our names and where we had flown in from before she looked at the passports and returned them to us. That was it.
I’m not advocating the wholesale breaking of rules, but sometimes rules are there to be, if not broken at least bent.