I never gave my passport photo much thought. I figured if I could recognize myself, then others would too. Then I attended a lecture on the importance of using current identification and saw passport photos in a whole different light.
The speaker at this lecture was Phillip, a jovial, middle aged man, born and bred in St. Louis, Missouri. As a financial consultant overseeing several accountants, he had traveled the world and had learned from his mistakes. Assuming the role of a harbinger, he warned us about the dangers of an outdated passport.
"I can't stress the importance of up-to-date identification enough," he informed us. "Never mind if you don't look beautiful or even remotely attractive in your passport picture. Be honest and look closely at your passport, or other identification picture. Are you recognizable in your photo?" Phillip then proceeded to relate his experience during a holiday visit to Israel fifteen years ago. Hoping that they were about to hear a travel horror story, his audience hung onto his every word.
"If I had known then what I know now, I never would have traveled with an outdated passport photo," Philip began. "I had no trouble leaving for Tel-Aviv from St. Louis, and was treated with professional courtesy by all. Unfortunately, when I returned to the States, I walked into a nightmare."
He recounted that the trouble started at Ben Gurion airport when he handed his passport to the customs officer for inspection. The male officer took one look at his photo, then he carefully looked at Phillip, and his brown withered face morphed into a mask of hostility.
"What is this?" he barked.
"My passport," Phillip had replied politely.
"Your passport?" the customs officer had said in a mixture of disbelief and contempt. "You want me to believe that this is you? This is not your passport. Look at this man. This man looks nothing like you."
Phillip smiled at first because the customs officer had a point. In the passport picture he was a few years younger and sporting an afro, while his hair at the time was shorter. Due to the lack of a hair dryer, teasing comb and lacquer, his hair was now considerably less voluminous.
He was taken aside and led to a tiny windowless room. A hermitage it seemed, dark, dusty and threatening. After a while five men walked in, four surrounded him with guns, while the fifth one starting firing questions at him in a language that he didn't understand. When Phillip said that he didn't understand them, the leader of the group turned to English and instructed him to remove his clothing. Phillip thought this rather odd, but complied, all the while trying not to panic.
When ordered, at gunpoint, to remove his underwear too, he was not so compliant. More so, he was now severely ticked off and at a point where he didn't care anymore what happened.
"No !@#$ way!" he swore. "There is no !@#$ way I'm taking this off. You can !@#$ shoot me if you want, but I'm not taking off my underwear!”
Much to his surprise, within minutes he was let go. From what he was told his attitude and bad language had saved him. Apparently, only real Americans can swear with such gusto and resist getting naked even at gunpoint.
Needless to say, as soon as he arrived home from his holiday he had his passport picture updated.