Enjoy Your Stay

Peace Arch US - Canada Border Crossing
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The US – Canada “Peace Arch” border crossing, south of Vancouver, has always been a slightly Kafkaesque experience. In fact, until I got a second, “clean” passport (in which I don’t allow visa stamps from the Islamic Republic of Anywhere) and the new passport card, I used to be routinely “orange carded” upon entering the States, requiring interviews with various INS morons about my activities in countries they couldn’t pronounce or find on a well-labeled map.

My favorite television commercial from the Olympics nicely parodies the experience of crossing into the US from Canada.

My experience going the other way has always been different. Sure, Canadian Border agents are probably no smarter than their American counterparts, wear essentially the same uniforms, ask the same questions, and have the same concerns and jurisdiction. But there is a marked contrast in tone. The same questions asked accusingly by the American officers are asked politely and without any sense of prejudice by the Canadian officers. Going south, one is essentially told, “Okay, we’ll let you enter the US.” Going north, the tenor of the message is, “Welcome to Canada.”

This is a story of a northward crossing.

The Olympics brought several friends north from California to experience the festivities, most of them Olympics junkies and recidivists. I picked-up two of them, Annie and Beth, at the airport in Bellingham, Washington, just across the border, the day before the games were to commence. Surprisingly, the border crossings in both directions were without delay. In fact, heading north, back into Canada, eight lanes at the Peace Arch crossing were open with no other cars in sight. It looked like the calm before the storm.

At the portal, the Canadian Border Services officer reviewed our passports and ran through his normal list of questions, most directed at the American visitors: Why are you coming to Canada? Where are you staying? How long will you be here?

Annie explained that they had come for the Olympics and would be my guests for the week.

“Do you have tickets for any of the events?” asked the border agent. “None,” replied Annie, “but we’ll try to pick-up tickets at the venues.” “What are you hoping to see?” he inquired. “Opening Ceremonies,” said Annie.

He went back to his routine inquiries: Do you have any food with you? Has anyone asked you to bring anything into the country? Do you have more than $10,000 in currency?

No, Annie reported, we had no food, no items being muled for others, and we had less than $10,000 currency.

“Well,” said the border agent, “Without $10,000, I don’t see how you’ll get a ticket to the Opening Ceremonies. Enjoy your stay in Canada.”


9 Responses to “Enjoy Your Stay”

  1. 1 mbjesq 4 March 2010 at 2:51 am

    The difference in experience in crossing the US – Canada border in opposite directions reminds me of the contrast I found at the India – Pakistan border at Wagha – Attari, which I described in an essay called Symmerty and Dissymetry


  2. 2 Brendan 4 March 2010 at 3:46 am

    Haven’t crossed the US/Canada border for years but it was never a pleasant experience. Stopped going in both directions (I’m an American) but the absolute worst was ONE customs official in Canada who was unfortunately in charge. I can’t decide if the time spent in my boxers and socks was worse than the body-armor wearing, gun toting officer standing guard while I answered a slew of drug-related questions.

  3. 3 mbjesq 4 March 2010 at 9:17 am

    Sounds like a bad way to pass time, Brendan. At least you got to keep your socks on. The floors can be cold on the 49th parallel.


    • 4 Brendan 4 March 2010 at 3:53 pm

      It was a bad time, and I’m not sure why my socks remained on considering the border cop insisted on checking between my toes with gloved hands.

      But what was worse was, after spending an uncomfortable hour in the backroom while my friends wondered what was going on, after getting our car searched and everything appearing clean, was that we were denied entry.

      But this was going from Minnesota to Saskatchewan so nothing against Vancouver.

  4. 6 mbjesq 4 March 2010 at 8:38 pm

    I generalized in saying that the concerns of the US and Canadian Border Services were the same; but, in actual practice, they differ across the same portal and from one geographic region to another. I can’t imagine that drug interdiction is a principal concern of the Canadian officials on the BC – Washington frontier; and yet it might be for their American counterparts, since Vancouver is the main port of importation of heroin and BC bud seems to be the healthiest sector of forestry and agriculture these days. And, of course, the terrorist watch. CIC is more concerned about unemployed Americans entering Canada to look for work and to take advantage of the health care system. A friend who was temporarily between jobs was recently turned away at the Peace Arch crossing for that very reason, even though I had agreed to guaranty both his expenses and his timely departure.


  5. 7 millyonair 9 March 2010 at 9:25 am

    A border guard with a sense of humor? I’m impressed!

  6. 8 Austin Travel 13 June 2010 at 8:57 pm

    I’m actually pleased that the US is so strict since Canada could be a gateway for unsightly people to enter the US.

  7. 9 mbjesq 14 June 2010 at 11:03 am

    Absolutely. America must keep-out unsightly people at all cost. The uglification of the American gene pool is actually one of the under-appreciated threats to the red-white-and-blue way of life in an age where gaudy trifles like emboldened terrorists, venal banks and corporations, and environmental catastrophes dominate the popular imagination. And even if these hideous invaders don’t manage to procreate within American borders, who wants to see them littering the streetscapes?

    As they used to say in the 1970′s public service advertisements: Keep America Beautiful!

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