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.”