Monday, May 23, 2011

Crossing the US Border

As usual, after a 7-month blogging hiatus I'm finally going to make a good-faith effort to get back into the blogging of random thoughts, OUTSIDE of when I'm on vacation and actually good at blogging.  So here goes...

Today's random topic:  Why are US Border Agents so gruff?

So yesterday I took some friends up to drop them off at the Vancouver cruise terminal.  As usual, it's a quick and rather uneventful drive until you get to the border crossings.  Normally I use the NEXUS lanes, so I don't have to deal much with the Canadian border agents (they typically just wave through the NEXUS card holders with little more than a passing glance to see if there's anyone else stowed away in your car).  Though this time since my friends were "normal people" we had to use the regular lanes.  No wait at all, so we just pulled up to the booth and the Canadian border agent made typical idle chitchat while scanning our documents.  "Where you from?  Where you headed?  How do you know each other?"  The typical questions where it really doesn't matter what you answer, just how you answer.  The usually cordial Canadians welcome you with a "have a nice day" and you're on your way.

I delivered my friends to the cruise ship, then turned back for home.  No adventures in Vancouver for me today, it was a nice drive though.  As I pull up back at the US side, similarly low wait times at the border.  I, of course, now having nobody else in my car, could take advantage of my NEXUS card and use the special quickie lane.  Though really, I think I've had more pleasant US border crossing experiences when I'm NOT using the NEXUS lane.

Now, ostensibly the point of the NEXUS program is that you voluntarily submit yourself to a background investigation by both the US and Canadian governments.  Assuming they find you suitable (and you pay the $50 processing fee), they give you a NEXUS card, identifying you as pre-screened, low-risk traveler who really just wants to be able to get back and forth across the border without hassle.  This honestly seems to be the way the Canadian border patrol views the NEXUS program.  Admittedly, the Canadian border agents are less concerned overall with Americans traveling into Canada, but the US side is so vastly different.

First of all, I have only once had a cordial experience with a US border agent.  I believe they are trained to be intimidating.  After all, I guess they are the bouncers at the door of the hippest club in the world, the United States of America.  But seriously... I am an American who lives less than 2 hours from the Canadian border,  trying to get back to my own home in my own country.  I have done everything I possibly can, including actually PAYING to get a NEXUS card and VOLUNTARILY submitting to a complete background check to ensure that I have no criminal history or pose a likely threat to my own country.  Maybe they can stop being like the bouncer and more like the doorman, who will welcome you back to your home.

This trip as I pulled up to the border:

CBP: What have you been up to?
ME:  Dropped some friends off at the cruise terminal.
CBP:  (looks around the car, looks at me, looks a little longer)  Goodbye.  

That was the end of it.  Should I expect much more?  Probably not.  But I think it was the "Goodbye" that threw me off.  What, not even a "have a nice day"?  Is that so much to ask?  I think a bit of good manners goes a long way.

But I can't be too hard on the fine men and women of the Customs and Border Protection service.  They ARE there trying to keep the bad guys out, and to protect us Americans.  I just wish they were a little less intimidating.  I shouldn't feel like a criminal when I come through the border to get into my own country.

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