A few years ago I had a meeting with a BBC executive. He told me to contact him whenever I was back in London for a possible job in the Persian Section. It sounded like a job offer. So a few months later I emailed him and said I’m on my way back to London. He gave me his phone number. The night before the flight my daughter painted blue and orange stripes on my nails. Just as a goof. I thought if anyone thought I was gay or a transvestite, I’ll just tell them the truth.
I got my first reaction at the airline ticket counter.
“What nice nails,” the female attendant said, suggestively.
“Oh… These! My daughter did them. Just for fun.” My daughter, get it? She wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t into women. I straightened that misunderstanding alright. Easy enough.
At Heathrow Customs counter I’m instructed to go to window 12. And who’s at window 12? A Muslim agent in full hijab. I thought how refreshing. The British establishment is mature enough to trust a practicing Muslim to be Her Majesty’s gatekeeper. You won't see a Jew checking passports at Tehran airport. Not in a million years.
I hand my passport with a smile. She takes it and her eyes catch my nails. She’s taken aback a bit but says nothing. She’s a professional.
“What is the purpose of your visit, Sir?”
“I’m here for a job interview.”
“Do you have a work permit?”
“Well, I don’t have a job yet.” I laugh. She’s not amused.
“You are required to have work permit before accepting any employment in the United Kingdom.”
“I understand, ma’m. I’m sure my employer will make sure of it.”
“You would need to get a work permit from the British embassy in Washington.”
“I’m a U.S. citizen but I currently live in Mexico. Can I get it there?”
“Why are you living in Mexico?”
“My sister lives there. I crash at her place from time to time.” I smile. She gets on with it.
“Are you currently employed?”
“Yes I run my own website.”
“What is the name of your website?”
“Iranian.com.” I thought she would be impressed.
“Can you show me your bank statement?”
“I have to log into my bank and show it to you on my laptop. Is that ok?”
She waves me away to sit on a chair. I log into my bank and I see my account is overdrawn. My check hasn’t cleared. Shit. I go back to the counter but thankfully she doesn’t ask me to see my bank statement.
“Who invited you for a job interview?” She’s looking straight into my eyes. Is this an interrogation?
“An executive at the BBC Persian Service.”
“What is the person’s name and phone number?”
I give it to her. She goes into an office and comes back after ten minutes.
“The gentlemen said you are here to see your girlfriend.”
“What? I don’t have a girlfriend… Oh wait. Last time I was in London I brought a friend along to have dinner with him and his wife. But she’s not my girlfriend. I just stayed at her house for a few days.”
“Will you be staying with her on this trip?”
“I wish. But she’s in Iraq.”
“Why… is she… in… Iraq?” She’s losing it.
“She’s a diplomat at the British embassy. I’ll be staying with other friends.”
“Who are your other friends.”
I give her the names of two guy friends. Iranians. There is no room left on the Customs card for the agent to write on. She shows it to me.
“We will have all this information in our database, Mr. Javid. I advise you not to stay the full six-months on your visa. We will re-evaluate your stay in the United Kingdom.”
“Does that mean I can’t go to Budapest and come back to London?”
I really thought she’d strangle me.
“WHY ARE YOU GOING TO BUDAPEST?”
“A friend of mine is having an art show. I’d like to see it.”
She slapped my passport in my hand. I was going to say Asalam Alaikom but I thought maybe not.
After a week I got rid of the nail colors. I got too many weird looks. I thought it would be best before my BBC interview. Good thinking. I was interviewed by an old colleague from the time I was a freelancer in Washington for the Persian Service. She asked me a few questions about what sort of job I would like to do and so on. Then I joked about smoking pot.
My stay in London was short.
>>> An earlier blog I wrote about coloring my nails: Nice nails, mister