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.