Border crossings

Real, physical, border crossings. They are getting scarce in Europe these days. As a result of the Schengen agreement, many countries can be visited without stopping at a border control office to show your passport. No one there to welcome you to their country, except for some roadside signs. By the way, it is a good thing that road signs have not been harmonized all over Europe, otherwise you would not recognize that you are in another country.

It is easy when you look at a map. Different countries have different colours, with clear lines between them to mark their borders. And when you are travelling on roads, you will find border crossing stations or markers at almost exactly the geographical position where your road crosses the border. But if you are using other means of transport, border crossings can take place anywhere but at the actual geographical position of the border. Or they don’t take place at all.

Take for example the Eurostar train to London. When you check-in for this train at Brussels South you will have to pass the UK Border Control. That seems to be an easy way to keep people off the train that you do not want to enter the UK. But it is also a bit strange. Does this mean when I am on the train, I am already in the UK? And what about the platform in Brussels South? Is that UK territory? Probably not, because there are other passengers on the train who get off at Lille or Calais, which is in France. Hmm, so some of the passengers on the train are in France, and others are in the UK.

And, of course, things get even vaguer when you take an airplane. When you clear the border control at your airport of departure, you have left the country, and have not entered another one yet. So, for the time being, you are in no man’s land. That is why they keep you inside buildings very carefully. Your feet still stand on the land of the country you just left, you are breathing the air from the airspace over this country, they still speak the same language, but you are no longer there. Only when you get off your plane at its destination, and pass through another bit of no man’s land until you get to immigration, you are actually in a country again. You have possibly passed through the airspace of a number of countries, without having been actually there. Or have you? It depends on if you were already there when the flight took off. No, it has nothing to do with teleportation, but with some seemingly weird rules about the nationality of a child that is born on board. I once heard that the child gets the nationality of the country above which the airplane is flying at the moment of birth. Or of the country of origin of the airline company. It depends on the countries involved which rule prevails. The bottom line is, when you are born on a plane, you are actually in a country, but the other passengers are not. Or are they?

Anyway, border crossing is in many cases a rather virtual and artificial procedure. Enjoy the moments you can physically cross a border!

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