Everyone arriving back from abroad must complete this Customs Declaration Form.
Whether you're traveling with immediate family members or not, you'd better fill out at least three or four extra copies since these annoyingly-oversized, hard-to-fold cards tend to get crumpled and lost when we start barking at you to turn off your cell phone! Open that passport to the photo page! Get in line!
1. Print your family name. Print your given name. List all aliases, pseudonyms and, if a crime writer or advice columnist, include current and former noms de plume.
2. Print your birth date. Note: This is no time to be coy. It's in your passport, remember? And we're watching you. We have cameras. You're the guy with the funky glasses, over near the Permanent Resident sign.
3. List your current street address. If you are staying at a hotel, include the hotel's name, address, number of stars, and whether it offers internet access and in-room pay-TV channels.
4. List the countries you visited on your trip prior to return:
When we say 'countries,' I think you know what we mean. Maybe you visited Belgian lace workshops or tulip plantations in Holland. To be frank, we could care less. What we really want to know is this: Did you go anywhere weird? Countries with unusual names. Like, say, Djibouti. Or countries that are difficult to spell: Abu Dhabi, Uzbekistan. That type of thing.
5. Are you bringing any of the following items:
a) fruits, vegetables, plants, seeds, insects?
We mean business here. Our dogs are really good at sniffing out this stuff. Remember the small side salad served on the plane? Lettuce may have slid into your carry-on during turbulence. List it. As for insects, think back. Was there a small beetle, say, or blackfly crawling around in the pouch where you packed your socks?
b) meats, wildlife products, animals or their parts?
Some of the suspicious people we've encountered carry a selection of cooked meats when they travel. Don't ask us why. We're just trying to determine if you're one of them. Are slices of cotto salami or smoked ham useful in some countries as a medium of exchange? That's not our concern. Just keep them out of here.
c) disease agents, cell cultures, snails?
This may seem like a trick question. You're thinking, well, I may have a disease agent here in the zip pocket of my briefcase. But if I list it, those guys in the uniforms will think I'm infectious and put me back on the plane. You have our promise, though. If you're up-front about it, we'll listen politely. For all we know, you might have a valid reason, however mind-bendingly unlikely that may be. As for the snails, that is a trick. We like snails. In fact we keep them as pets back in the office.
6. Have you or any family members traveling with you been in close proximity of (such as touching or handling) livestock?
Did we see a smirk? This happens to be a serious question. There's nothing wrong with conversing with cows or horses. And there are those who, on occasion, photograph livestock. That's normally fine as well. Do we have to spell it out for you? It's the touching and handling thing. Do you go in for that? Please explain. (It's not against the law or anything. We just think it's gross.)
7. Read the instructions on the back of this form. Space is provided to list all the items you must declare, although toxic substances and obscene articles are generally prohibited entry.
Watching from behind those one-way mirrors, we've gotten to know you pretty well by this point. Now you're in the rear of Line 18. When you got to the phrase "obscene articles," we couldn't help noticing that those funky glasses started to fog. Go ahead and step up to the desk, just as if nothing had happened. And, sure. Read the important information on the reverse of this form and sign it.
Truth is, we're rubbing our hands back here. The game is up. Whether it's sunflower seeds, a squished mosquito, or a suitcase full of kinky toys, it's going to be fun to take a peek.
Peter Mandel is a travel writer, and an author of picture books for kids, including his newest about zoo animals passing on a very noisy sneeze: Zoo Ah-Choooo (Holiday House), and also just out, one about a construction worker who uses his belly on the job: Jackhammer Sam (Macmillan/Roaring Brook).