Categories
Nonfiction Observations

Border Crossing.

When we crossed back into the US yesterday, this is how the conversation went with the border officer:


Husband hands officer three US passports.

US BORDER OFFICER: So there’s three of you, huh?

HUSBAND: Yes.

OFFICER: How are the other two connected to you?

HUSBAND: That’s my wife in the back seat and this is her father.

OFFICER: Where do you live?

HUSBAND: Seattle.

OFFICER: Where did you go?

HUSBAND: To Vancouver.

OFFICER: How long were there for?

HUSBAND: Just for the day.

OFFICER: Why did you go to Vancouver?

HUSBAND: To sightsee.

OFFICER: Well, how was it?

PAUSE. HUSBAND and FATHER speak at the same time:

HUSBAND: It was fun.
FATHER: Great!

OFFICER: Are you bringing anything back with you?

HUSBAND: No.

OFFICER: Okay. (hands passports back) Have a nice day.

The car pulls away from checkpoint. MARIA exclaims: That guy was so easy on us! That was the smoothest border crossing we have ever had!


This is the conversation we had the last time we were at the border. I have not embellished it:

Husband hands border officer two passports.

US BORDER OFFICER: How are you two related?

HUSBAND: She’s my wife.

OFFICER: Where do you live?

HUSBAND: Seattle.

OFFICER: Where did you go?

HUSBAND: To Vancouver.

OFFICER: Where did you go in Vancouver?

HUSBAND: Downtown and Stanley Park.

OFFICER: How long were you in Vancouver for?

HUSBAND: Just for the day.

OFFICER: Why were you there just for the day?

HUSBAND: (pointing at MARIA) To see some of her friends.

OFFICER: Why were your friends in Vancouver?

HUSBAND: To take a cruise to Alaska.

OFFICER: Are you bringing anything back with you?

HUSBAND: No.

OFFICER (to HUSBAND): What do you do for a living?

HUSBAND: I’m a scientist.

OFFICER (to MARIA): What do you do for a living?

MARIA: I work as a doctor.

OFFICER: Where did you go to medical school?

MARIA: UC Davis.

OFFICER: Where is UC Davis?

MARIA: Near Sacramento. In California.

OFFICER: Is this your car?

HUSBAND: No, it’s a rental.

OFFICER: If you live in Seattle, why did you rent a car?

HUSBAND: We don’t own a car.

OFFICER flips through passports, scans the faces of HUSBAND and MARIA, then hands them the passports.

OFFICER: Okay. You can go.


Let’s be clear: In the grand scheme of things, this was not a terrible situation. No one asked us to get out of the car. No one searched our bags. No one got hurt.

Most of our experiences at the security checkpoint to return to the US, however, have been more like the second anecdote than the first. The officers often ask irrelevant questions (“what hotel did you stay at?” “what restaurant did you go to?”), make inquiries about the car (“where did you rent the car from?”), and never make pleasantries. In fact, as we were waiting to get to the checkpoint yesterday, we reviewed every single thing we did in Vancouver. We wanted to ensure that we knew all the answers as a group.

Why the difference yesterday? We still used a rental car, everyone in the car still appeared Asian, and we still came from Seattle.

Was it because there were three of us? (Does an algorithm suggest that trios crossing the border are less likely to cause trouble?)

Was it because we had an elder with us? (Does the US border patrol have a lower suspicion of illegal activities when a genial senior citizen is part of the trio?)

Was it because the officer we saw yesterday was in a good mood?

Does it mean anything that Canadian border officers are less intrusive and kinder to us than the US border officers when we are returning home?