Friday, July 15, 2011

Customs

I ought to be more upset about the sausage than about the names.

The sausage was taken away from me in the airport, you see, by the ever-vigilant Customs and Border Control folks, along with a lovely little can of morcilla paté. Husband and I had purchased both in Europe during our last weeks there, planning to eat them for one of the frequent dinners we call “Bread and Things,” meaning a crusty baguette and an assortment of whatever goodies we fish out of the fridge and cabinets: cheese, olives, mussels, serrano ham. But the last few days got away from us, and we decided to try to take the unopened sausage and paté home with us instead. I did a quick check online and found no apparent opposition to such things, and since the sausage was cured and vacuum-packed and the paté was canned, I thought we might have a fighting chance.

Looking over the pale blue customs form, though, I found a checkbox for “I am (we are) bringing fruits, vegetables, food, meats, animal products.” Dammit. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to do these things; just that one has to declare them. The odds were that no one would have known about the sausage if I’d kept my mouth shut and checked “no” on the form, but I’ve gotten myself through any number of bureaucratic hassles by smiling brightly and following the rules, so I decided to fall back on the tried and true remedy of being obedient. I checked “yes,” and the first CBC agent said there probably wouldn’t be any problem with the sausage and paté as she waved me on towards the second checkpoint. The guard at the second checkpoint wasn’t so sure, and sent us to a separate area to have the products examined. (Here, not for the last time, I kicked myself for being obedient.)

The CBC agent in charge of determining the fate of our treats looked pinched and sullen and decidedly as though she had never enjoyed a dinner of Bread and Things and didn’t think anyone else should either. She read the paté label. “Asturias. That’s France, right?” “No, ma’am, it’s northern Spain.” She made a half-hearted show of flipping through a folder, deciding whether or not our food was worthy of entry into the U.S., and then she double-checked our passports and turned back to my husband and me with a sudden accusatory interest. “Why did you only fill out one form?” I was puzzled; I knew I’d done at least that part right. “Because they always tell us to fill out only one form per family.” She glared at us, nose wrinkled in distaste, holding up our passports. “But you have different last names.” She then proceeded to have another agent pull everything out of all four of our checked suitcases, even though we had already presented the offending food items.

Seriously? You’re going to mess up my stuff and throw away my tasty paté and sausage because you’re upset that I don’t follow outdated patriarchal American naming conventions? We’re still a family, lady. I bit back several unsavory comments, and reminded myself to be obedient. “I’m sorry, ma’am, I thought those were the instructions. We always fill out one form, since we’re married. Should we fill out two next time, because of the names?” She grumbled an unintelligible answer about how the previous agents should never have let us through with just the one form.

I brushed it off at the time, because it seemed like such a petty and small thing. But it continued to bother me, precisely because it was petty and small – of all things, why get upset about the fact that our names are different? We’ve been married for twelve years, and in all honesty, this is the first time anyone’s cared. But she seemed awfully insulted by the fact that we dared to impersonate a normal married couple when we were clearly some sort of subversive communists, unworthy of enjoying tasty dinners.

To be sure, I’m cranky about the sausage too, and not least because the agent made a big display of dropping it into a container marked “Foreign Trash.” (I made a mental note to use this against my husband the next time we get into an insulting match.) But next time, I’m still only filling out one form, and I’m going to hide a whole bunch of extra sausage in my bag and not declare a damn thing.

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