Recently, there was a news announcement in Thailand that the country’s main airport, Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, was initiating a new campaign. Called the “Airport of Smiles” (not particularly imaginative, is it), the new campaign trains airport staff, including Bangkok’s dreaded and very unfriendly immigration officers, to smile when dealing with travelers. That’s why, when I traveled through Suvarnabhumi Airport today, my first trip since the “Airport of Smiles” campaign began, I was excitedly looking forward to my first ever smiling Thailand immigration officer. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Standing in one of Suvarnabhumi’s immigration lines this morning, I noticed the immigration staff at every desk was happy, friendly and practically beaming from ear to ear. Looking back toward the male immigration officer serving the line I was standing in, I saw immediately he looked like the same immigration officer I always get traveling through Suvarnabhumi Airport – grim, stern and as if a smile was so dangerous it would crack his carefully arranged face. Just like always, I thought to myself.
When my turn came to hand over my passport and plane ticket, my immigration officer glanced up, stuck out his hand and grasped my passport. Not a smile, not a smirk, no acknowledgment, not even the hint of his mouth moving. In fact, he didn’t even speak.
Being of the slightly obnoxious type, I, of course, had to say something. So, I asked smilingly, “What happened to Suvarnabhumi’s ‘Airport of Smiles’ campaign? Aren’t you supposed to be smiling?” His mouth didn’t even move and he barely glanced up. Just kept doing exactly what he was doing without speaking and sans, of course, the smile.
I tried again, still smiling. “I thought smiling was a new requirement of the job?” Nothing. So finally I said, “Interesting. Every other immigration officer at Suvarnabhumi is smiling. But not you. Guess the new campaign doesn’t apply to you.” Nothing.
I gave up. Took my grumpily offered, now-stamped-out-of–Thailand passport, back and moved through Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi immigration and on.
I will however be arriving back in Thailand at Suvarnabhumi Airport in three days time. On my way back in, I swear I will stage a protest if I don’t get at least one smile from one Suvarnabhumi mmigration officer.
Thailand is known as the’Land of Smiles’ dammit. Crack one. It won’t kill you.
***written in November, 2010. I came back to Thailand three days later, only to be faced with an immigration officer at Suvarnabhumi even more unpleasant than the first one. As I travel all over Asia, it’s extremely noticeable how unfriendly and unwelcoming Suvarnabhumi immigration officers are compared to every other Asian country. Many are an embarrassment to Thailand and, seriously, if they don’t like their jobs, then maybe they should get new ones? Thais are known as the friendliest and nicest people in the world, so why are Thailand’s immigration officers not?
copyright C. James