Over the weekend I was lucky enough to experience the famed hospitality of America’s land border officials, read on to find out how I was received.
I am sitting in a small room. Four rows of chairs are laid out but the majority of the space is dominated by a large desk, which curves around the outside of the room in an L shape. Sitting on the other side of the desk are a number of US border guards. It is in the hands of these individuals, that the hopes, dreams (or in my case holidays), of numerous people lie. A framed portrait of Donald Trump hangs upon the wall opposite me. Softly, a barely audible sigh escapes my lips.
My experience had begun 5 minutes earlier as the car had gently ground to a halt at the inspection point. As we stopped, I put on my most polite voice and addressed the two officials who approached the car.
“Hello, how are you today?”
“Out of the car with your passport”. Came the abrupt reply.
Cleary the man was having a long day. Thirty three percent of the American population works longer than the 40 hour week. Combine this with the significant and intense social and economic pressures faced by modern Americans, and perhaps this accounted for the frosty reception. I was sure that his good humour would soon re assert itself. He would probably say that I sounded like that guy from Notting Hill, clap me on the back and jovially welcome me to the country.
Or maybe he just didn’t like foreigners.
I stepped out of the car to the usual barrage of questions that a border guard is entitled to ask.
“What’s your favourite radio station?”
“Would you say you currently feel fulfilled in your current career?”
“Do you have any drugs, firearms or Mexicans hidden in your anal cavity?”
The joke was on him, the only thing I was smuggling in was British charm. I was in fact, so busy kissing my own arse that I had completely forgotten to grab my work permit, which was in the glove compartment of my car. We turned around and re-approached the car. My partner gently explained the situation. Faced with a polite, calm explanation, the guard exhibited a level of empathy and understanding completely proportional to the scenario.
“M’am step away from the car!”
Whilst the authoritarian goon was struggling with his ego and hopefully not a firearm I had stepped round and retrieved my work permit. I presented the item to the border guard. After a cursory glance he handed it back to me, hitched up his belt, puffed himself up and spoke condescendingly to me.
“This is a Canadian document, why have you got this?”
If you have a Canadian working holiday visa, you are obligated to bring it with you when crossing the border into America. You need this to receive a 3 month visa called an ESTA. Without it, entry to the US and a return to Canada are out of the question. Thousands of these are handed out each day.
The official continued his informative explanation.
“You don’t need this here, do you know where you are now?”
Directly behind him, a large white sign gleamed in the sun. Welcome to the USA. Pure Michigan. In the backdrop was painted the US flag. Barely managing to conceal a smirk, I replied.
“Erm, I think I have an idea”.
After this brief but enlightening exchange, that was when I found myself in the waiting room. My name was called and a youngish customs officer opposite me began to quiz me about the nature of my trip to the States. Unlike his colleagues outside, he seemed to be in possession of a sense of humour. After the initial probing, which involved him ascertaining where, why and for how long I was going to America for, he took a closer look at my visa. Straight faced, he traced a line under a part of the document and re- enunciated a short part, which appears on all working holiday visas.
“Not valid for employment in businesses related to the sex trade, such as strip clubs, massage parlours of escort agencies. You make sure you don’t participate in any of this work during your visit sir”.
“I won’t”. I assure him, with a half laugh.
Upon seeing my reaction, his face goes completely blank. He pauses for a second and then, with his index finger traces along the document once more.
““Not valid for employment in businesses related to the sex trade, such as strip clubs, massage parlours of escort agencies.”
He looks up again with a more piercing gaze.
“You’re not planning on working in any of those are you, sir?”
Was this guy fucking with me? I was almost one hundred percent sure. It must get really dull sitting at a desk all day, asking the same questions, over and over. This was almost certainly a wry dig at the infuriating bureaucracy that he waded in, day in, day out. Yet there was always that tiny chance, did I want to gamble my holiday on a shitty joke? No, better to play this one straight laced.
“I won’t,” I reply, wearing my serious face.
There is a brief pause, with the official almost certainly clutching his sides with laughter inwardly. My passport is stamped. I breathe a sigh of relief and swat away a disturbing image of myself in a roadside Hooters bar in the mid-west, carrying large mugs of beer across a bar whilst truckers luridly gaze at me. We get back into the car and drive across the border into the states.