Thursday, July 29, 2010

Passing Through Customs

Amber and I love Canadian road trips. Unfortunately, going to Canada means passing through customs a couple of times, and that, I don't like.

Let's say you're a border patrol agent at the port of entry in Pembina, North Dakota (at the north end of I-29, along the main road between Winnipeg, Grand Forks and Fargo). 90% of the people passing through today are Canadians driving to Grand Forks or Fargo to go shopping. Then, someone with a North Carolina license plate drives up. "Where are you coming from?" "Alaska." You're probably going to take your time with these guys, aren't you?

Now...I understand that border patrol agents have a very important job, and they have to suspect everybody. Nobody wants to be the person that lets a soon-to-be-famous terrorist into the country. I get that. And, I'm more than willing to spend a few minutes at a customs station as part of the process to keep this country as safe as possible. But that doesn't mean I necessarily enjoy the process.

The problem we usually face with customs is that whether we're going to Nova Scotia in March, Manitoba in October, or Southwestern Ontario just for the heck of it, our trips are far from ordinary. They can't help but get suspicious. Wouldn't you? I mean, why would two people from North Carolina want go on a vacation in Manitoba of all places? And why in October?

Besides that, I don't think I'm very good at the customs game. It always feels like a test, and sometimes, I think even the right answer is the wrong answer. One of the first questions the agent asked me in Pembina was if I knew my license plate number. Being good with numbers and memorization, I gave it to her. Do most people know their license plate number off the top of their head? Is perfectly reciting my license plate number actually a tell, suggesting I came overprepared and might be trying to hide something? I don't think my perfect license plate memory is to blame, but the agent in Pembina definitely thought we were trying to hide something. She asked us lots of seemingly irrelevant questions ("How long have you lived in North Carolina?" - how is that relevant?) while searching the car for clues.

Now, you see...Mo the cow puppet is not the only stuffed animal we brought with us. We also had three other stuffed animals in the car. (Yeah, we like stuffed animals. So?) The border patrol agent took that as a clue that we had undocumented kids hiding in the trunk or something. How do I know? Because she said so. "Do you have any kids?" "No." "I see a lot of stuffed animals in the car. What is that about?" "Well...ummm..." Seems like I can never make it back into the United States without having to pop the trunk at customs.

But hey, at least we didn't have to pull off to the side like one person a few cars in front of us did, and a 20-minute wait at customs (most of which was spent in line) isn't that bad when you compare it to the wait at the busier Detroit and Buffalo crossings. And I'm sure crossing the US/Canada border is nothing compared to crossing the US/Mexico border. Actually, we've never really had a problem passing through customs. We've always had our documents, we've never been denied entry, and it's never taken more than a few minutes. So what am I complaining about, anyway?

Either way, we have a much easier time with the border patrol agents when Amber is driving, so I think I'll let her handle customs duty from now on.


James Allen said...

That is hilarious about the stuffed animals. I'm attempting to think of several humorous responses you could have used, although Customs isn't probably the best forum for that sort of thing.

Customs Info said...

haha, yes I too would have been curious as to the stuffed animals! The travel plans would have peeked my interest too. But I guess everything turned out ok. Cheers and happy trails!

maplestar said...

I haven't had bad experiences crossing in private vehicles, actually. And we just did the crossing last weekend. I wonder if part of that is that in every case I've taken a private vehicle across, we've had both a Canadian and an American citizen in the car, so they feel they need to be nice to "one of theirs." Didn't feel as comfortable when I crossed alone: either by Greyhound bus or at airport customs.