Last week I decided to take my wife on a road trip to Washington and Idaho to celebrate her 71st birthday.
As we were in the lineup at the U.S. customs booth, I noticed a sign stating that vegetables, fruit and plants had to be declared. We were not aware of this regulation until this time.
At the customs booth, I said that I had fruit and vegetables in the car that my wife purchased in Kamloops several days before we started our trip. The officer then directed us to move to the parking area and have the items checked. As soon as I parked I was told to surrender my keys, leave my cell phone in the vehicle and we were to proceed to the customs building with our passports.
As soon as we entered, a very arrogant and abrupt customs officer took our passports and my driver's licence and told me to complete a declaration questionnaire. I indicated on the form that we had some fruit and vegetables in the vehicle that my wife packed for our trip. The officer then demanded that we tell her specifically what items we were declaring. I said that I was not sure, but my wife and I thought about it and all we could recall were some apples, bananas, tomatoes, and a cucumber.
The officer wrote this down on a pad that she had and then wanted to know where the items were located. I told her that they were in the back of the vehicle. She told me to tell her exactly where to find them in the vehicle or she would "tear the car apart" until she found them. I told her they were in a reusable grocery bag behind the passenger seat and in our cooler.
I volunteered to show her where they were, but she said: "You stay here and sit on the bench until I return."
After a few minutes she returned with a bag of six oranges that she had retrieved from the car and said: "You did not declare these." When I told her that we had forgotten about the oranges, she said, "That's what they all say."
She then had us return to the bench while she went away to talk to her supervisor.
After about 20 minutes she returned and said that her supervisor told her that we would be charged with failing to declare the seized oranges and that we would have to pay a $300 fine — cash or credit card!
Again we were told to sit on the bench while she did the paperwork. This took another 45 minutes.
When she returned, she called us to the cashier area and told us to hurry up.
Only after I paid the $300, was I handed back my driver's licence and our passports. We were then allowed to return to our vehicle and leave.
Altogether we were delayed for close to two hours. We were so upset and I was shaking so badly that as soon as we were out of there, I had to stop driving for a few minutes in order to settle down so that I could drive safely.
We felt that we had done something criminal and the fine seemed way over the top.
As two senior citizens who were so badly treated, we felt it necessary to let others know what might be in store for them if they plan to travel south of the border — and don't forget to mention the oranges!