In The Stack

One of a miscellany of short observations from a trip to Scotland.

Circling in the stack above Heathrow Airport, we wait for our turn to land, which apparently hinges on everyone aboard having completed the required paperwork: the aptly named UK Landing Card. Successfully navigating the part where I must inscribe my name (EXACTLY as it appears on my passport), I come to a curious request: my place of birth, specifying only ‘town’ and ‘country’. To my eye, ‘Edmonton, Canada’ looks odd without an intervening ‘Alberta’. There must be a spot for the province, mustn’t there?

I check again. Nope. Town and Country, just like the magazine. Okey-dokey.

Working my way down the form — always a favourite recreation — I come to the place for passport number. Although I was able to inscribe my name (EXACTLY as it appears on my passport) without looking at said document, I am unable to inscribe my passport number from memory, so I flip said document open. Something to the right of that fabulous photo catches my eye: ‘Edmonton, Canada’. Yup, that’s how my passport shows my place of birth. Who knew? Not me, certainly, but apparently the UK Government is better informed about the format of my passport than I am.  For a nanosecond I am indignant. What other secrets has our government shared, and with whom?

But, of course, it’s not just the format of my passport, or even of all Canadian passports: it’s probable that most passports share this format. Who knew? Not me, certainly, but likely anyone who thought about it for a nanosecond. In these highly mobile and security-conscious times, it’s an obvious area for international cooperation and standardization.

Yet ‘obvious’ and ‘easy’ aren’t the same thing. Even the relatively simple administrative challenge of standardizing passport formats likely required meetings, negotiations, and even (shudder) compromises. Imagine the work required for international challenges where the solutions aren’t as clear and the stakes are higher: banking and financial market regulation, fishing rights, labour mobility, refugee relief and repatriation, environmental protection, conflict management.

As an adolescent, I wondered why countries couldn’t or wouldn’t solve their joint problems. How hard could it be? Now I treasure anything that we do get right, and try to remember that even though the rightness barely shows, sometimes, it’s still out there.


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6 Responses to In The Stack

  1. Marion says:

    And now, we’re sharing consular space with the UK (in certain countries/circumstances). I can only imagine what negotiations were required for THAT.

  2. Danielle Wawryk says:

    In my pre-children life, I travelled enough to know my passport number by heart, now I barely know people’s phone numbers.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Danielle – Yes, well, children change everything. We saw infants and toddlers on our flights and I could only be thankful I just had myself to contend with. That was more than enough!

  3. steven says:

    Even the relatively simple administrative challenge of standardizing passport formats likely required meetings, negotiations, and even (shudder) compromises.

    I wondered if the Canadian passport just inherited the Town, Country format from the British passport — since at one point, I supposed, the Canadian passport was simply a species of British passport. Tradition may substitute for meetings.

    But as it turns out: “In 1915, Canada switched to the British form of passport, a ten-section single sheet folder printed in English only. […] A series of international passport conferences (1920, 1926 and 1947) led to a number of changes to the Canadian passport.”[source] So, both tradition and meetings, I guess.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Steven – Hey, thanks! I still forget that it’s all out there on the internet. Just think – an entire series of international passport conferences, even with a place/convention with which to start.

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