As I plan my next trip, I hesitate to book a connecting flight in the USA. I have lots of experience of border crossings and being of a happy nature with longer than average hair for a man, capped with a constant smile I am often regarded as suspicious.
On several occasions I have been asked to open my bag, had my hands swabbed and my eyes examined, all to the disappointment of the guard conducting the search.
Entering Switzerland from France I and an ‘equally longer than average hair for a man’ friend were almost through border control, there was one last younger officer positioned on the last post of defence. We were seemingly fit to pass, until my friend raises his hand in a cheery hello. Instantly the young guard pulls us over and we are escorted into a long room with a dividing table between the two of us and four border guards.
The wall behind us is all glass, allowing us to see our car being searched after they find nothing on me or my friend.
At the beginning of this search I remember a mixture of emotions. As the guards facing us pull latex gloves over their large gun yielding hands a smile crosses my face to be quickly replaced with fear. Not only are we to be cavity searched, I think to myself, but with an audience like that of a drive in movie. All passing traffic has front row seats to our beastly interrogation.
Luckily the guards only came close enough to swab our hands with cotton buds. After searching our wallets and personal effects the younger officer, insisting we were hiding something, searches the sweat marks in our car.
During this search I and my friend converse with the older officers, friendly with their glove free hands we chat about the weather. The great British ice breaker.
The younger officer returns upset, his search negative. On being set free and reunited with our car we see the steering wheel, the seats and seat belts cleaned with the guards swab instruments. He had done a good job and if you felt inclined you could have eaten your lunch form the dashboard. If only he had spent time in the back seat, where children’s sweets and chocolate biscuits covered the greying upholstery, where cleaning was a priority.
But this wasn’t the first time we had been stopped on the continent. After being over taken in our trusty inconspicuous LDV van by the French Gendarme we were asked to pull over at the next junction.
Four older guards approached us and asked us to open the van doors. Explaining that the rear doors were roped shut, as they didn’t close properly we slide open the side door.
We had everything we owned for a working adventure in the van on our way to the French Alps. Snowboards were mixed with carpentry tools and our wetsuits hung from the back doors. After explaining our reason for being in their country with our broken French, one guard opens the nearest bag to him, finding a hand held scales he turns and asks, “What is this for cocaine?” With a smile they leave the congested rear of the van and move to the cab. On the front seat is a book called ‘Merde- the French you were not taught at school.’ Whilst we pass around business cards for my furniture to two guards who are pleasantly chatting with us about the weather, the other two guards climb into the front of the van and sit happily reading this little book of slang. Eventually letting us go, we disappear in a cloud of exhaust fumes.
And this observation of older guards being of a friendly gender is worldwide.
On entering British Columbia, Canada returning from a festival in America we were asked by the Canadian guard if we British carry guns. The car was full of cheap beer and wine, three British guys and a Canadian Girl were packed tightly into the small Nissan we had been lent for the weekend. My response should have been something to assure we weren’t to be stripped naked, instead I answered, “No we don’t have guns but the lady in the back has a rifle.” With this the guard let us go with a smile.
On our way to this very festival, crossing into America, we were in need of green cards inside our passports. The small waiting room was full as a line snaked its way to the front desks of the heavily armed American border control. Our time was up and we were met with an older guard than his colleagues. After doing the necessary paperwork he commented ‘that he is not going to let us go as we were fun people.’ A friendly conversation continues and we find out that our guard was once a truck driver and had retired from that and found work in the border control room to pass the time.
The world over the older generation seems to have a more realistic outlook on life, that not everyone deserves to be interrogated for going about their daily lives. As his colleagues walk around with automatic weapons and stern looks on their faces our truck driver laughs with us as we talk of our adventures, and the weather.