Entering America

That could be the US-Canada border, in my case Pearson International, a fifty dollar cab ride outside of Toronto. I was headed to see friends in North Carolina, the Tar Heel State. I always approach this part of a journey to the United States with some trepidation. One wrong check mark on your declaration, one misspoke word, do I look nervous.

I spoke very respectfully, attempting to smile, to let this man who at this moment held my liberty in his hands, know I knew he held such power. He looked at me briefly, typing into a computer screen all the information I gave him.

What would come up? My last visit to the USA? The last book I bought? Maybe they knew I was gay? They asked where I was staying, who I was meeting, what was the purpose of my visit?

I made a mistake, I had not checked one box. He handed my card back, instructed me to go back and check it and then get back in line. The line was long, I had been in it more than an hour now as we waited for Customs to open.

I walked back a few steps into no man's land, checked the box and stood waiting for some direction, determined not to re-enter the line at its end. I was soon pointed back to the man who had sent me away by a woman that was directing traffic. Finally a break I thought, at least I was being recognised in a somewhat more human manner. He looked at the card, stamped it and sent me on my way, without so much as a "Welcome to the USA" or good bye. I wasn't expecting it. No he didn't even look at me.

My experience was not uncommon, a new study recently said, "... 54 percent of travelers from abroad report that American immigration officials were rude, and two-thirds of travelers surveyed fear they'll be detained at the border because of a simple mistake or misstatement."

I am not sure why it is, why it has always been this way, most Americans like people in any other country I have visited are friendly, welcoming and generally happy to say hello to those visiting. I really was entering a new/time space continuum.


Aunty Bertha said...

I regularly get "randomly" selected for a "comp-ex" when crossing the border (3 out of the last 4 crossings - same vehicle, same travellers). I have yet to get the same definition of what a comp-ex is twice. Maybe one day I will blog about my border crossing experiences.

I would like to say that I had a lovely experience with the US Immigration fellow at the airport in Atlanta. We ended up in the wrong line - we had been told by an official that we could go through the US citizen line up which was virtually empty, as we had Canadian Passports.

When we got to the counter and I mentioned to the Immigration guy that we had been told we could use his line, he said we had been told wrong, but he would "do" us anyway. He had a great sense of humour and was totally stamp happy - he stamped everything including our customs declarations.

Customs was also a breeze (I was concerned as we were entering the US after having spent a month in Central America). The biggest concern was the fact that we had no checked baggage - everyone kept assuming that our luggage had been lost.


scout said...

gotta remember, they're not customs agents any more, they're 'border guards'...sheesh.

and there's no such thing as random checks...i know a couple of custom's workers. at the airports it's the airlines who tag you when you check in. if they don't like the way you look, boom, you're tagged!!!

also, theres something like 5 billion names in their computers now.....if your name is on the screen and a flagged one is too, they have to check (by order) to ensure you are not the flagged person. it's a nightmare, i've missed flights because of being singled out.

for sure it's crossing into a different continuuim....nothing enjoyable about it at all.

this keeps up and their tourism industry is going to be hurting, if it isn't already.

Rick Barnes said...

Aunty Bertha I am glad you have such good experiances.

I wonder just how many people choose not to go across? Border Guards (as Scout points out), are a lil more friendly in small crossings.