Crossing the border of any country is never a fun, easy, or efficient process. It seems as if all the countries in the world passed a joint resolution at the United Nations to hire their most surly, jaded citizens to work their respective borders. I have had a number of frustrating, time consuming border crossings, but if there was one border I thought would have been easier than most, it would have been the American-Canadian border. And how wrong I was.
During a 2010 trip to Vancouver for the winter Olympics with my sister (who lives in California), I was crossing the western most portion of the border between Canada and the contiguous United States outside of Bellingham, Washington and just south of Vancouver, British Columbia. After a surprisingly short wait in line at the border, it was our turn for an interview with the Canadian border patrol. The agent asked us the standard questions – where are you staying, how long are you going to be in Canada, etc. Then the questions gradually became stranger.
“Why are you coming to Canada?” the border agent asked. ‘We’re going to the Olympics!’ my sister and I responded emphatically.
“Which events are you attending?” The border agent shot back. ‘Hockey and Curling.’ I responded confidently.
“Which countries are playing?” Seriously? He wanted to know which countries were participating in the events I was going to see? I knew the answer for the hockey game off the top of my head, “Lithuania and Slovakia” I responded, as I grew increasingly more annoyed at the game he was playing with me.
“Why would you go to a game between Lithuania and Slovakia if you’re from the US?”
I responded as calmly as I could, “When I bought tickets, I was not informed of which teams would be playing or which teams had even qualified for the Olympics. I bought these tickets a year in advance.” He gave me a look as if to say, ‘Okay…i’ll buy it.’ Then he questioned me about the curling event.
“Which countries are in the curling match?”
He was met with an immediate silence from me as I struggled to remember all EIGHT countries that were in the curling match. I started to rattle them off with assists from my sister and counting them on my fingers as I went.
“Let’s see….United States, Canada…..uhhhh…..China, I think China will be there. France, Germany….ummmmm.”
‘Shit!‘ I silently thought to myself. I never thought I’d be tested on all eight teams playing in the curling matches I was attending. And the high pressure situation at the border didn’t help much. I’m sure he was loving watching this poor American squirm trying to name off all the countries. He paused and savored my awkward silence as I tried to recall the other three countries. Just as I was about to give up, he granted me a pardon on that question and moved on to his next question.
“Let me see your tickets.”
I had ordered the tickets online and they were waiting for me at an office in downtown Vancouver, past this asshat.
“They’re will call,” I uttered, now visibly frustrated.
He gave us a pass on this one, but then moved onto his next question, which was quite possibly the dumbest question I’ve EVER been asked. As he was evaluating our passports, he paused as he compared them closer.
“If you guys are actually siblings, why do you live in different states?” Seriously, guy?
If he weren’t some sort of authority figure, I would have ridiculed him endlessly for this absurd question, but since he had a badge on and was standing in between me and the Olympics, I gathered my composure and tried to explain to him in the least condescending way possible that people can and do move between states and my sister had moved to California for university a few years earlier. I also wanted to point out that both my sister and I had ‘Aurora, Colorado’ as our hometowns on our passport, how we looked extremely similar, and even more telling, had the same last name. And also how his haircut was stupid, but I resisted the temptation.
Finally, after inspecting our passports one last time, he relented, handing back our passports and allowing us to cross into Canada. My sister and I were speechless as we drove into Canada, processing what had just happened. Was that guy for real? Or just messing with us? My guess was that this was not the standard protocol for American’s entering Canada. After all, we share the longest non-militarized border in the world, are each other’s largest trading partners, and share so much common culture with our brothers and sisters to the north. But I tried to forget the whole experience and focus on what was at hand – the Olympics.
Fast forward almost two years. A friend was coming to visit me in the US from Berlin for a visit. When choosing a destination for our trip, we settled on Seattle with a visit to nearby Vancouver and Victoria.
She is a German citizen, and remembering my previous border crossing, I began to worry how we’d be able to get across. If they gave my sister and I that much trouble because we were from different states, it certainly wasn’t going to be any easier crossing with a friend from another country.
As we drove towards the border, I began prepping her for the rigorous questioning we were certain to face. We had our hotel paperwork ready, were prepared to explain EXACTLY how we knew each other, why she was visiting, and what we were going to be doing while we were in Canada. When we got to the border, I handed over our passports and waited nervously for the interrogation to begin.
A few seconds passed but it felt like minutes, and then as quickly as I handed the passports over, the agent handed them back, smiled, and said, ‘Welcome to Canada!’
And just like that, we were let in. But what had happened during our first crossing? If they were concerned that my sister and I were from different states, then they’d certainly ask questions about why this German girl and I were trying to cross the border together. And yet they didn’t say a word.
It was a relief, but it led me to wonder if it really was that easy to cross the border, then what did I experience the first time? In the weeks since, I have come up with a list of reasons that the Canadian border patrol was being so difficult. Here are my best guesses:
- Border security was much tighter for the Olympics.
- Canada has since relaxed their strict border crossing policy.
- My sister and actually aren’t siblings and don’t actually look all that much like one another. One of us is adopted, yet we’re too blinded by sibling love to realize it.
- Canadians trust Germans more than Californians.
- The border agent was compensating for his own bad border crossing experience when entering the United States.
- The border agent thought my haircut was stupid.
I guess I’ll never truly know…Have you ever had a particularly nasty border crossing?