14 May 2012

Montreal and the border crossing

We're in Vermont now, near Burlington. We'll be leaving in a few minutes to drive south to Middlebury, Rutland, Manchester, and Bennington before returning to Albany NY this evening.

Montréal and the Jacques Cartier bridge

Yesterday when we crossed the border from Canada into Vermont, the border control officer asked a lot of questions but he didn't make us open our trunk or any of our bags. The first thing he wanted to know what our relationship was. I wanted to say "none of your business" but of course you can't do that. I just said we'd been living together for a long time, and that seemed to satisfy him. Doesn't that seem like an intrusive question? Does every group of people crossing the border have to answer it?

He also wanted to know why we were crossing the border on a little back road instead of on an interstate highway. I said that we were touring around, and that we wanted to drive down along the islands in Lake Champlain to Burlington. He asked us why we'd be going to Albany via Burlington, and again I wanted to tell him it was none of his business. But I said we were going to spend the night in Burlington because we'd never been there before.

I also told him that a few minutes earlier we had bought two bottles of wine that were labeled as « élaboré au Québec » — who knows where the grapes or grape juice came from — but we were carrying nothing else besides a newspaper. He accepted all that and let us go on our way.

We had driven the 40 or 50 miles down to the border along the banks of the Richelieu River, which flows north out of Lake Champlain into the St. Lawrence River near Montréal. We drove around for a few minutes in the little Quebec town of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, but it was raining off and on so we couldn't get out and take the walk we had planned. The drive down the river and across the islands and bridges in Lake Champlain was picturesque. It's a very remote area, even though it's not very far from Montréal or Burlington VT.

Saturday morning in Montréal we went up to the top of the Mont Royal, after which the city is named. From there, you get panoramic views. Some pictures are included here. Montreál is a sprawling city of 1.7 million people in the middle of a metro area with a population of four million.


  1. Crossing the border into America is always a twilight zone experience.

    For a nation pretending to be so free, Homeland security officers sure make one feel unwelcome every single time.

  2. Ken

    Remember the 11 questions that I was expected to answer every monday morning LOL !!!!!

    For us , it is also:
    What is your relation?
    Do you own this car?
    and on Friday morning when we will cross to go to DC , it will be?
    Where are you going ?
    What is your relationship with the person you are visiting?
    Where does she work in DC? ( giving the name of the employer ends the questioning)

  3. We had our entire car unloaded for inspection going into Hungary in 1969, that was our last problem.
    When I took my GREs in the late 60s, I was asked a lot of questions about belonging to subversive groups or being a communist. At least those days are gone, but we still are suspicious of "others" aren't we?

  4. I told the border control officer that I used to work for the U.S. State Department. The questioning stopped then.

  5. Whenever we spend time in Vancouver, B.C., we always take the "roll over and let them sniff you" approach with the border folks. They seem to appreciate full compliance and a show of submission. I get the sense that they are waiting for just the slightest bit of 'push back' to their questioning; then, they can have some real fun. I do my best to not make their day.

  6. Hi Ken !
    Franck and I were asked the 11 questions Mr The Beaver ;-) listed and had to stay for almost an hour at the border... What seemed to bother the customs officer was the fact I answered "yes" when he asked me if I had already lost a passport... And this might be the explanation for which I had to stay apart from Evelyn and Lewis before being allowed to enter the White House and visit it... Do you think they may "see" that one has last lost one's passport one day in one's life ? This must have taken place in the... 80's !!! We also had to pay $6 per person to enter the States... I felt like laughing when the officer asked Franck and me what our relationship was... But only smiled and said "mother and son"... The poor officer had a heck of a time to have a pic of my thumb... Had to do and do it again several times and put on each time some more product he handed me each time (you know the disinfectant liquid most people have in their bags nowadays...)
    Quelle galère, lol !
    Mary (Frack's Ma)

  7. Nothing you could tell me about US border or customs personel could surprise me.

    There is a checkpoint on the AZ CA border at Blythe. Now they often ask for your citizenship there, as well as what you are carrying if you are stopped. They often look in trunks.

    There is also a checkpoint on the 405 Freeway between LA and San Diego and one on the 8 Freeway near Yuma.

    And did you know there is a checkpoint at the entrance to LA International Airport, where they randomly pull people over and check cars?

    Although I like to joke, and when the agents ask questions several sarcastic answers come to mind, I stick to simple replies.

  8. "The Land of the Free." No comment!

  9. I think some border control officers are just bored and think of bothering the peasants as entertainment. My college professor daughter went to Germany to teach a three-week seminar, and was thoroughly hassled by a Dutch immigration officer at the Amsterdam airport. He told her he wasn't going to let her in because he'd never heard of the University of Bayreuth! After a half-hour, he let her pass.

  10. My brother and SIL had a similar experience entering Vermont on a rural road from Quebec, plus they had bicycles and equipment. I think the border people may be even more suspicious at those points than on the main ones. It's a sad world these days.

  11. It's not boredom or random. You get this coming in on a flight as well: they're engaging you in a conversation and listening to your manner, not so much the content. I could do a whole year's worth of blogposts about the questions I get returning to the States several times a year. These days at least, they try to be halfway cordial because they've gotten media attention focused on their rudeness and unwelcoming manner. I'm always interested on the way I'll be approached (I was born outside of the States and so I usually get more than my fair share of questions). These days, I'm disappointed if the whole exchange ends quickly!

  12. Hmm, 2 US citizens crossing the border in the same car. Why would one assume a relationship other than sharing a car on a trip? AS soon as two or more people cross, do they have to declare a relationship?
    Crossing the border with a non-US citizen is another matter. Our son is PACSed and when he and his PACSée entered the US and she was with him in the US line, the immigration official said that in future she'd have to go to the foreign line as they were not married. Now they have a baby and he's not going to be a US citizen unless I, the grandmother, ask for it (and I'm not inclined to do so these days), so I guess they'll all go through the foreign line and my son will be bawled out for consorting with foreigners.
    Nina, my husband has always resented the false chumminess of the immigration officers. And the rudeness during the whole anti-French sentiment at the beginning of the Iraq fiasco.

  13. HP, yes, the border control officers make you feel like a criminal. Their tone is not just inquisitive, but accusatory. "Who do you think you are to think you can just cross the border into our country...?"

    The Beaver, yes, I remember your telling us about the 11 questions. For some reason, I thought that showing the official two U.S. passports would make things different, but no...

    Dean, yes, submissiveness is required. But it's maddening.

    Marie, I don't know if the immigration people can see that you once declared your French passport lost. Getting fingerprinted, yuck. And paying for the privilege! Double yuck.

    Diogenes, yes, there's no humor at any border now. I remember years and years ago when I was coming through customs at JFK airport, a customs officer asked me if I was bringing from France any presents for family or friends. I said no. He looked at me straight-faced and said: "Well if you aren't carrying any presents I don't think I can let you in!" I was startled but then we had a good laugh.

    Chris, that doesn't sound like it was a lot of fun for your daughter. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth, doesn't it?

    Emm, you are so right.

    Nina, are you a glutton for punishment? I don't like it when I see the border control officer scan my passport and imagine all the information that comes up on his computer screen.

    Evelyn, you've been lucky then, since 1969. A few years ago I was going back into France through CDG when two young customs officers decided to open up and search my two big suitcases. It was the first and only time such a thing had ever happened to me, so I was a little shocked, but the whole interaction was full of a lot of good humor and even laughing. I didn't feel like a criminal.

    Ellen, I feel for you son and DIL. In our case, why didn't the officer just say: Are you two related to each other, or just friends? But no, it was finger-pointing and: "What's the relationship here?" Maybe he was just clumsy (maladroit) but I didn't like the tone. Maybe they are just trying to provoke...

  14. We were all asked what our relationship was to each other, too, when we crossed the border on a rural road from Quebec back into Vermont -- and we were an elderly mother, her two daughters, and husband of one of the daughters. It must be a common question. My brother-in-law was so nervous! He just hated the feeling that you are under their control, I guess. They do seem suspicious of everyone... but, I guess its their job to be suspicious of everyone :)

  15. Ken
    I think if's just a picture of my fingerprints which they take since you don't have to put your thumb in ink as we used to do this before in France to get our identity card done...

    Until when are you staying in the States ?



  16. Hi MaryJ, We will be back in France late in the day on Sunday. Bises...


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