Russian navy on parade in Vyborg.

The Russian navy on parade in Vyborg, the city in Russian Karelia that is still known as Viipuri by the Finns to which, until the end of the Second World War, it still belonged.

A Finnish acquaintance of mine recently organized a trip to eastern Karelia, the part grabbed from Finland by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. It was a family trip to trace family roots. The passport of this acquaintance was lodged for the necessary visa application with the appropriate authorities. The passport, issued just a few years ago, had been used for trips all over Europe, to the United States and to Japan without a hitch. The fact that a few pages are very slightly crinkled from an accident involving spilled water quite rightly had not bothered any of the several border agencies who had inspected the passport in preceding years.

But it bothered the Russian authorities enough to turn down the application. No reasoned argument was enough to change their minds. The only way to get a visa was to get a new passport, with two weeks left before the planned visit.

The detail I have omitted is that my acquaintance made the mistake of revealing their profession in their application as ‘journalist’. As most of us know, this is a no-no when applying for visas to large and powerful countries such as Russia, China and India when we are traveling for the purpose of leisure. Appropriate euphemisms are advisable, such as Communications Officer or Consultant.

I don’t have any evidence that the application of my acquaintance was hindered on the basis of their stated profession, but the suspicion is strong, based on precedent and considering that the many vacant pages in their passport were in perfectly sufficient condition for the necessary stamps to be placed. In any case, the rule of thumb continues to hold good: if applying for a leisure trip visa, do not confess to being a journalist (and if you apply as a journalist, expect a lot of extra red tape and hassle). I say this at the risk of scuppering my own chances of being turned away from all sorts of places I am likely to want to visit and revisit – but why should it be a risk?

Aren’t journalists allowed to have holidays? I suppose we should take it as some sort of compliment to know that some people still think we’re dangerous!