The Border, ofcourse, is the US-Canada border, and crossing is usually going from the Canadian to the US side. Living in Canada, trips to the US are a regular part of life. I mean the first time I asked one of my coworkers and a long time Canadian are there any good cities nearby Toronto for a weekend trip? and he answered, Ya! The US!
I don't think most people face too many undue hassles crossing the border. If everything is on the level, and you co-operate and help the officials who are only doing their duty, you are unlikely to face trouble. But that does not mean there are not some, er, amusing incidents.
Once I was crossing with our university group. Our group included a black Jamaican-Canadian with dreadlocks, a red-headed Irishman, his blonde Swiss girlfriend, our Russian instructor, and me, the token South Asian guy. The official looks at us, and barks, "Are you all family?"
And he was quite serious.
This other time, December 2002, four of us friends crossed at the Windsor-Detroit border, on the way to Florida. The official indicated to us to park the car and go inside for 'deeper' interrogation. It was a year and few months since 9/11, and the Iraq war was just being sold to the Americans. And here I was, with three Pakistani friends (all born in Karachi) and me, a Bangladeshi.
[15 minutes before the border, inside the car]
Allright, everyone, do we have our answers ready? As we rehearsed, okay?.
Remember we have nothing to fear, we are all legally here and nothing's fishy. No I am not shivering, it's just cold.
Don't speak unless spoken to, and answer only what is asked.
Maq, dude! Why the hell did you bring your Pakistani passport? Where is the Canadian one? Why do you still have that Pakistani passport?
[I will leave out the rather colourful details of what our driver friend told Maq he could do to his Pakistani passport]
Once inside, the immigration office was daunting. There, in English, French and Spanish, were written the words, "We, are the guardians of the United States, serving our country and our President with pride, ... yada yada."
Then, right underneath, in Arabic, was "Why are you being detained?"
Then an immigration officer comes in, with this really huuuuuge gun. He cocks it, and then yells, "Hey Mike, this thing f****** works!"
Then he comes over, looks at Maq's (short for Maqbool) brother Omar (what a name, at that time) and said, "So you guys want to enter US. Have you ever been arrested, convicted, or charged with assault?"
Omar, the reliable friend he is, replied, "Not me!"
Translation: I don't know the rest of these creeps, but not me.
Needless to say, the official burst out laughing. He was really cordial after that.
Another time, when I was with family, this officer asked me, "so why are you born in ..., and your parents born in ..., and your sister in ... and your brother in ...?"
As if I had any choice in where I was born!
Needless to say, even though at times they may be vexing, I understand they have a tough job. Their country's been attacked. And I know, most terrorists look like us, so we get 'special attention'. I understand that. However, it is also not right to harrass people just because they are of a certain ethnicity. There's a fine line there.
What about the way back? I can honestly say Canadian officials are the least bit worried about you if you are coming back from the US and riding a car with Canadian plates. My theory is, they figure you have already been vetted going into the States, so why bother.
Most of the time they will ask us: "So did you buy anything in the US over your prescribed allowed tax limit so we can charge duty on that? Did you?"
One time we were returning late into the night (2 am) via the Niagara border. The
And the reaction from the Canadians returning is even better. The same guys who are rehearsing on the way in will be like, "You know, if that guy asks too many questions, I am going to let him hear it."
One thing though, a few days into the States, the heart longs for Canada. It is a cherished sight to see the 'Welcome to Canada' or 'Bienvenue Vers Le Canada'. Many times we have burst into a rendering of 'O Canada' after crossing the border.
I would be interested to hear other people's experiences at The Border. I bet they would be equally colourful.