BUSINESS TRAVELLERS around the world have been puzzled by a bizarre mystery. For months, airport officials have done nothing to make our lives worse. How come? Why are they not doing their jobs? We feel oddly neglected.
Well, the long wait is over. A new set of suitably ridiculous rules developed in the West is expected to shortly spread misery to airports around the world. The new regulations can be summed up thus: from now on, All Passengers Must Look Like B-Movie Librarians.
This is not a joke. There are the four new rules in the West for passport photos and related documents:
1) Passengers must push their glasses to the ends of their noses and gaze over them, not through them.
2) Passengers must not smile.
3) Passengers must pull their hair back so that it doesn't cover their face or ears.
4) Passengers must wear frumpy floral dresses and have their hair in a bun.
Okay, so I made up the last one, but it's only a matter of time before it joins the list. The first three requirements, with minor differences in emphasis, are already in force in the UK, Germany, the United States and Canada, and are expected to spread from West to East over the next few months.
I learned about this when I sent some photos of my son to a consulate and they were rejected.
“We can’t accept them. He's smiling,” complained the staff member.
I looked at the photo and shook my head, saying: “No, he isn’t. He’s a teenager. That’s not a smile. I would describe it more as a sardonic grimace.” This was clearly true but she refused to accept it and told me about the new rules on passport photos.
The regulations have caused lots of problems. Officials have rejected hundreds of thousands of people who have a stray hair over their faces, or wear their glasses where they are supposed to be worn, over their eyes, rather than over their nostrils. The UK authorities rejected 15,000 baby photos before announcing that they may be lenient for passengers aged 12 months or less.
There are other problems too. A UK man named Paul Ashman had his passport photo rejected because it was “too dark”. In a letter to the BBC he pointed out that he did not know how to fix this, pointing out a salient fact: “I am black.”
Why is this happening? “Digital photo analysis machines get confused by people who smile,” the consular official told me. But the following day, a friend of mine told me about Japanese cameras which not only have the usual face-recognition functions, but a SMILE-recognition option. You leave it on in the corner of the room and every time people look happy it snaps a picture.
How come hi-tech multi-million dollar airport photo analyzers cannot cope with a stray hair, while Japanese pocket cameras can differentiate between different expressions? It seems suspicious to me. My Japanese friend offered to get a smile-recognition camera for me, but I politely declined.
“I don’t think I need one,” I said. “Now if you had a camera which can detect a sardonic grimace, THAT I could use.”