Monday, January 18, 2010

Some People Are Not Cut Out to Be Customs Agents

We had a pleasant trip to Canada today to visit the Roots outlet (bargains galore!) and Costco (our quarterly goodie run). Just a nice morning out. On the way back, however, we had an experience that reinforced just how much mean, small-minded authority figures disturb me. The only thing I can say about the experience is that it gave me a strong sense of empathy for any other average person who, minding his or her own business, runs afoul of one of these types who lets his authority go to his head. Grr. Not to knock border agents generally, or even most of the Tunnel agents, but this guy gives the US Border Patrol a bad name. He wasn’t “just doing my job,” as he put it when Hallie called him on his attitude as he made us jump all sorts of hoops (you go, Hallie!). It’s not the questions or the requests he made of us that bothered me, but rather it was the approach, the assumption out of the gate that we were a potential threat and that he was going to put us in our place. I get that caution appears to be the watchword and that legitimate threats may exist, but we come nowhere close to looking like a threat. The man was abusing his power, what little of it he had in that wee booth of his. I would think it would be possible to protect the border, to ask the questions that need asking, and to discern the normal people from the baddies with grace, strength, and even some humor. The Canadians across the river do it almost all the time. Border agents are often the first official representatives of the country a visitor is entering. I get it that the US Border Patrol or Customs or whoever the rent-a-cops they hire have to make some sort of show that America takes border security seriously, but come on, guys. Take a cue from the Canadian agents on this one: strength can be shown as much through professional detachment and finesse as through bullying. You leave such a bad first impression behaving like jerks.

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