I arrived in Japan during the most recent football world cup. Due to flight delays in other parts of the world, several 747s from the States arrived at the same time. Because of the football, extra precautions were being taken. I was in line surrounded by Americans. After 45 minutes in line they were getting very irate. After an hour many of the older ones were claiming that after this trip they would never leave the US, they couldnt believe they were being made to wait for so long. After an hour and 15 minutes, they started getting racist and stating that the Japanese (my words, they used ones unfit for publication) would never have to wait so long if they arrived in the US, in fact they were pretty sure that every visitor to the US was treated like a king which was far more than they deserved. I was pretty tired too, so I started to educate the whingers about how long I usually waited and how I was treated each time I went to the US. I was treated with loud disbelief and branded a liar. Despite a real live example of a foreigner that had travelled to their country, they chose to believe what they wanted to, rather than what I told them.
I think the only way the average joe is going to realise just how badly their country treats visitors is to give them the same treatment in other ports. I remember when the US started fingerprinting foreigners in immigration. Noone in the US cared. When Brazil started fingerprinting US citizens there was an outcry. Especially when an AA pilot got fined for refusing or for being obnoxious or something. Apparently while it was ok for the US to fingerprint, when other countries did it it was wrong and insulting.
Almost everyone I met over there was a great person. However anything instigated at the government level seems to be way over the top, and applied ruthlessly and senselessly with no real results.
Strangely enough, it seems to me that things have slightly improved at US airports. It's true that the lines may be a little longer because of the fingerprinting and photos, but the staff do, in my experience, seem to be making an effort to be polite and curteous. Until a couple of years ago, politeness and curtesy were not words I would have associated with US immigration.
If you want real fun, try arrivng at Douala when two flights from Europe arrive within about twenty minutes!
I flew into JFK direct from the Middle East post 9-11, and with a United Arab Emirates residency visa in my Aussie passport was expecting hassles, but instead, while a lot of nationalities had to have iris scans etc, I just strolled through, chatted to the immigration guy about how I was looking forward to seeing a Yankees game, to which he told me he was a Mets fan, but no hard feelings, and I was on my way. There were queues of people everywhere, and so even though they were flat out, it was a great experience, and a brilliant welcome to a brilliant city.
As far as Yank bashing goes, I have found the people in the states to be the most friendly genuine people I have ever met, unlike those miserable, moaning, "glass is always half empty" poms. Must be something to do with the sucky climate that they all whinge all the time.
No doubt about it, that's because Americans in general love Aussies and are fascinated with Australia. I get a lot further in America if I let my Aussie wife do the talking. Soon she is friends with everyone in earshot.
I've had mixed experience with customs/entry personnel everywhere. The biggest variable is the mood of the official you're dealing with. I'd have to give the highest grade to Italians for pleasantness and unconcern about where you're from, what you've declared, etc.
If you are polite, cooperative, and respectful, I don't think you'll get messed with too badly wherever you go.
Forget about immigration. Did you see the program about "Torture in American Prisons" yesterday. From the half of it I saw it was a very sad indictment of human nature & how some Americans in power treat other vulnerable Americans (okay I know they weren't saints to have landed themselves in there, still doesn't excuse the brutality & degrading treatment) let alone 'aliens'.
I don't travel to the US as much as I used to in the 80's and 90's, but in those days and the few times I entered the US in the new millenium (mostly ATL) I had no serious problems to mention. Lines can be long and the "NEXT!!" shout from the immigration officer usually sounds like a prison warden, but as soon as I'm near the desk I've been treated correctly. Not overly joyfull, just correct. Maybe my very western look and being a citizin of the Coalition of Willing does help?
Once we came across the border from Canada, three of us, two guys with beards and a young woman, all in our mid-20's in a VW Beetle. No copies of the Communist Manifesto were on display or anything like that, but never mind.
'Pull over there,' was the order, followed by the Third Degree. The climax was the display of some stems and seeds, residue of cannabis sativa, ganja, weed, boo, grass... ooh, ooh! This was allegedly found in the door side pocket of the Beetle. Then came the offer that if we wished to make a full and free confession of whatever we had been up to running dope across the US border we might hope that that would be taken into consideration.
We all just looked back at the Customs folks. None of us were dopers. The car was 20 years old, so who knows if some clown had actually left some dope in the little door side pockets or not, or if this was just some charade these knot-heads played on likely-looking beardies. We basically shrugged and told them to do their worst, since we didn't have anywhere we had to be in a particular hurry that day and nothing in particular to feel guilty about. They milled about a bit huffing and puffing and then let us go.
We were not very impressed with US Customs and Immigration on that day. In fact, there seems to be something about the job that either attracts defective people or else damages normal people who take up this sort of work.
The best one was a load of drunken gamblers who were allowed to simply wander off into the warm Miami night while the Customs and Immigration guys sat in the back room drinking coffee. Once I got through filling out some forms at the gate I came through myself to be asked where my pax were. I pointed out that they must have just walked through, so? Biiig wahallah, 'failure to present passengers for inspection', blah-blah-blah.
I had to take the company Econoline and go round up a couple of those sullen tossers from the Doral Country Club (I think it was) to bring them all the way back to the airport for Customs and Immigration checks at 3 in the morning. Just another day in the glamourous life of the charter pilot, I guess.
Ah well, there is always Lagos. Every so often some rube comes and gets plucked like a chicken. Some big guy shouts at him and the air is filled with flying 20-pound notes as the poor sap tries to buy himself out of some imaginary offence. Then they pass him on to the next guy, and the next.... So as bad as the States is, it could be worse.