Passing from the United States into Canada was easy-peasy. The man in the border patrol booth was friendly, asked us questions that made sense, and sent us on our way with a “have a nice visit” and a smile. The whole thing took about two and a half minutes.
Boy, were things different when we were coming back into the United States.
First of all, they have you wait in your car behind a line until the dude in the booth (I saw no women) was finished interrogating the car ahead of you (which is normal), but the sign telling you to stay behind the line says to stay there until the car in front of you has been “released.” This already gives the whole operation a “guilty until proven innocent” kind of feel. Not a very friendly way to enter the country.
Next, on our drive past the line to the booth, about a dozen cameras at different angles took photos of us and our car. I’m sure there are some keepers in there!
When we reach the man in the booth, it was definitely an interrogation versus a questioning. He seemed suspicious about everything (which I guess is their job), but he could have been a bit less rude. No matter what our responses were to his questions, he did not seem satisfied. Between the officer’s interrogation and the photos of us that must have been sent to the officers inside the “examination station” (as Kevin has dubbed it) something apparently made us seem suspicious– good candidates for a search and further questioning.
We were ordered to drive over to a designated car searching station, told to get out of our car, and to leave everything except for our passports and our money. I guess I can’t say that I’m totally surprised that they chose to search us. We’ve looked cleaner, more put together, and less like dirty drug smuggling hippies before. Neither of us had showered in days—if we had showered in our hostel in Toronto, we probably would have ended up dirtier than we had been before showering. Kevin even tied back his long locks and took off his plaid vest, leaving only two plaid garments: his pajama pants and his flannel shirt… but I guess that wasn’t enough.
Upon our arrival into the examination station, the officers tried several different interrogation techniques on us:
- The intimidation technique: All of the officers wore menacing, unwelcoming expressions on their faces the whole time. Even though we knew we had nothing to hide, they had a terrible ability to make us feel nervous and guilty.
- The “I’m your buddy” technique: “I don’t care if you smoke dope on your own time. I just want to know if you’re bringing any into the United States from Canada now.” They tried to make us think that they were cool. “Dope” was their choice word, seemingly an attempt to use the lingo of “kids these days.”
- The confusion technique: They asked us the same questions many, many times. Were they thinking, “Maybe the eleventh time we ask them if they have drugs with them they will answer the way we want them to”?
Eventually they called Kevin into a back room, leaving me in the waiting area wondering what they were doing to him. Were they questioning us separately again in a more vigorous way? Would it involve a bright light being shown into our eyes? How many different ways could they ask us why we were in Canada? How many times could we confuse them by telling them we were seeing a band called Sigur Ros. “Huh?”, they would always respond. “They’re from Iceland” always seemed to satisfy their confusion. Did they really think we would ever tell them “Oh yes, I forgot! We actually are bringing drugs from Canada into the United States”?
It turns out that they had brought Kevin in the back to pat him down. Of course they didn’t find anything on Kevin or in our car. After about thirty minutes, having exhausted their interrogation techniques, they finally let us go. Kevin and I left the interrogation station, relieved but shaken, with a “Thanks guys! Happy Easter!” Did they respond similarly? “Sorry for the inconvenience guys. Welcome home.” No. Of course not. As we left, the officers stared us down, looking disappointed that they had found nothing on us. They were certain that they could crack us.
It’s no wonder that America looks bad to foreigners coming to visit. What a welcome everyone gets! Maybe next time we go to Canada (which will be sometime in the next few months) Kevin should wear his tux and I should wear a pantsuit. Dirty hippies? I don’t see any!
Welcome to Michigan…