I don’t want an ugly American passport

Marketplace Staff Jan 31, 2008
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I don’t want an ugly American passport

Marketplace Staff Jan 31, 2008
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KAI RYSSDAL: It’s not enough to just say you’re an American anymore. As of today you’re going to have to prove it if you’re trying to get back into the country from Canada or Mexico. There is some good news. You can get a credit card-size passport now. But commentator Karrie Jacobs says the government might be pushing the American brand a little too hard.


Karrie Jacobs: I recently mailed in my passport to get additional visa pages, because I was running out of space. But the National Passport Center didn’t send me the familiar pale, blue pages I was expecting.

What I got instead were pages gaudily printed with scenes of Americana: Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, cowboys and longhorn cattle, a bald eagle in profile with grazing buffalo.

My bank sells checks with similar imagery, like artwork by Thomas Kinkade, painter of light, or a pattern called “Puppies! Puppies! Puppies!” Me, I always order the plain, blue safety paper.

Each newly redesigned passport spread also features a quote from a famous American. For example:

“What a glorious morning for our country.” — Samuel Adams

“We live in a world that is lit by lightning. So much is changing and will change, but so much endures and transcends time. — Ronald Reagan.

I can’t say that I’m happy.

First of all, there’s the aesthetic question. I love my passport — the classic blue cover, the stamps and stickers from all over the world. It’s the adult version of my childhood stamp album. And now, somehow, it’s become a vehicle for visual propaganda.

But the bigger issue is one of identity. When I travel, I try to be the Complex American — a citizen of the fascinating, nuanced, multicultural, messy and basically decent place I know this country to be. But I feel like this passport blows my cover. It’s like suddenly, against my will, I’m wearing ugly khaki shorts and talking way too loud.

It’s not that I’m unpatriotic. But the need to repeatedly thrust our whole catalogue of national iconography in the face of every customs officer we meet strikes me as kind of gauche. Isn’t the gold eagle on the blue leatherette jacket enough of a symbol?

And, if not, could I please just have: “Puppies! Puppies! Puppies?”

RYSSDAL: Karrie Jacobs lives in Brooklyn. She uses her passport on assignment for Travel & Leisure, where she’s a contributing editor.

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