This excerpt is from Why I Will Never, Ever, Go Back To The United States (link to complete article at the end):
After a year of traveling, I had planned a last, short trip. I was going to take the train from Montreal to New Orleans. The travels I had been undertaking earlier this year had brought me to places that were meant to form the background of my second novel.
This trip, however, was for my dad. He, a trumpet player, loved New Orleans and had died a year ago. It felt like the first sensible trip I undertook this year. I had been searching for ways to forget about the last hours at his deathbed. He had been ill for 15 years and his body just would not give up. It was a violent sight. I had decided the trip to New Orleans would put an end to those memories.
Usually, I barely plan my trips in advance. But this time I had booked everything: my train tickets, hotels and my flight back to Montreal, from which I would depart back to Amsterdam. In total the trip was supposed to take three weeks. The confirmations and tickets I had printed and tucked away in a brown envelope I had bought especially for the trip. I like things to be neatly arranged. At home, in Amsterdam, my house enjoys a slight version of OCD.
The first part of the trip, from Montreal to New York, is known to be one of the world's prettiest train routes. When we had just passed the sign 'Welcome to the State of New York,' the train pulled over for a border check. I put the brown envelope on my lap. On top of the envelope I filled in my migration form with utmost dedication. I love border crossings. Forms don't lie.
The customs officer walked by and asked everybody on the train a few questions. Where they were from, where they were heading. The usual stuff. Everybody who was not a U.S. or Canadian citizen was to head for the dining car to fill in an additional green form.
In the dining car sat a cheerful looking family from the Middle East and a German man with a mouth in which a small frisbee could easily be inserted. I took the seat across the German, who had already filled in his green paper, and started on my own, dedicated, hoping to impress him. He was not throwing me friendly looks. The customs officer took the German's papers and welcomed him to America. They switched seats. He put his hands on the table and looked at me. We must have been of similar ages. He had a goatee and slid my passport towards him like it was a small gift.
I had not finished my novel yet, but my passport was complete. It was filled with pretty stamps. He did not like the stamps.
First, he saw my Sri Lankan stamp. The customs officer raised his eyebrows.
"Sri Lanka, what were you doing over there?"
"Surfing. Traveling. My best friend lives there. He is an architect."
The officer flipped on, seemingly satisfied. Secondly, he found my stamps from Singapore and Malaysia.
"What were you doing over there? Singapore and Malaysia? Aren't those countries Islamic?"
(Read the remainder of the article here, because from here onward it becomes kafkaesque.)
I used to like to joke around with US border agents because they never seemed to have any sense of humour and I crossed the border so much that I had developed a 'border line' sort of routine for pissing them off without getting pinched. I wouldn't even consider that behavior now, and have pretty much decided that I hope to never cross that border again.
The hell if I can find a reference to it, but years ago, long before passports were required to enter/leave Canada, I believe it was the governor of New Mexico at the time who had a problem with a border agent who demanded his passport. The agent insisted that New Mexico was a country, not a state. It was on some NPR program that I heard the story.
Instead of an IQ test, how about cultural education. Let them try the foods of different countries, make them memorize passages from all of the holy books, and then make them stand in the border control office with their eyes shut, and their hands behind their back.
Maybe they should know the names of all the states and pass a fundamental world political geography test as well.
The incident I was writing about took place well before the existence of the TSA, but it's interesting to hear that it's still going on. The funny thing is, I bet the TSA wouldn't give me a job and I'd never make that sort of mistake.