The Inadvertent Sausage Smuggler, or Declare Your Meat In Minnesota
Okay, so this travel series is almost done. I’ll finish with some gorgeous pictures from the French/Swiss Alps and Mont Blanc in the next few weeks.
But first, a rant. This one about the Customs racket in Minnesota.
So there we were, freshly off the plane, exhausted and hungry (Air France had “run out of vegetarian meals,” so we were surviving on those little butter patches and chocolate). I was feeling nauseous and high on jet fuel fumes and lack of food–truly like the voms were right around the corner. A travel wreckage. I didn’t even recognize our own suitcase until it had gone around the carrier like, 35 times. That was our first delay. Then, it was off to the Customs line.
I had filled out the declaration form on the plane claiming the tea and chocolate we’d bought, remembering at the last minute the half-eaten apple and bread still in my backpack. As we waited our turn, I watched as about 14 bags of dried things were removed from luggage belonging to a couple who appeared to be from India or Pakistan. I could hear the head Customs agent — a sturdy, elfin man with a Fargo accent and a superior sense of himself — lecturing them, “Honesty is always the best policy…”
Glad it’s not me, I thought.
Our first bag went right through, but the second was pulled off the conveyor for what I thought was a routine inspection. Customs Nazi rooted through my underthings and toiletries, fishing around for what I assumed was the chocolate. But no.
I gasped in wide-eyed horror as he whipped out what you would’ve thought, judging from his triumphant “Wooooooeeeeey!”, was a live goat.
“Ah ha!” he exclaimed, hand raised high in the air, white-knuckled fingers curled around a bag of…
What?! Holy crap, I’d totally forgotten about the local, organic, herbed and peppered, specialty hand-sausaged sausages I’d bought for my mom. (I thought this would be a nice present since the last sausage she bought for herself in France was eaten by the dog before she got a single bite.)
Sausage. I had wrapped it in three plastic bags, stuck it in a zipper pocket so it wouldn’t touch the rest of our stuff (we’re vegetarian) and promptly erased it from my consciousness.
I did my best to explain the situation to Customs Nazi, starting with, “I might throw up on you, but….” and using every wild hand gesticulation I could to convey our tale of good-faith declaration, vegetarianism (“Then who’s the sausage for, huh???!!”), sleep deprivation, feeling like Air France was actually the Hunger Games, etc., etc. No sympathy whatsoever.
Rather, after some shuffling back and forth to his computer, and a grand waggling of his eyebrows, Customs Nazi informed me that I would be receiving a penalty that day. Of 300 — THREE HUN-DRID — dollars!!! For failing to declare the contraband, which he victory-slammed into the trash with a leap and a fist-pump. (Strangely, there was no sound when it landed in the big metal can, leading me to believe there’s a chute that connects directly to the cafeteria, or a black market in the basement.)
My weeping pleas for leniency were met with, “I can’t treat you differently than I did them [the Indian couple], just because you’re a US Citizen, now can I?”. Really? So, a few forgotten sausages in the bag of a tax-paying, law-abiding, sickly US citizen should receive the same penalty as suitcases full of lentils belonging to foreign nationals who were clearly lying on their form??
The guy informed me that I could either pay the $300 there and then, or appeal in Federal court, but that would cost at least $1,000. I stared at him blankly and started speaking my faux French, turning to lunacy as a last resort. He remained unsympathetic and asked if I needed medical assistance.
He asked again for the $300 and I said I had nothing but 20 Euros (true). When he asked for a credit card, I said it was over limit (lie). When he asked if there was someone I could call to “help me out”, I said no. So, he finally gave me a copy of my citation and a paper with the address to mail my $300 within 21 days — strange how this offer didn’t arrive until he’d tried to intimidate the money out of me in every other way.
“Soup-SON!” I grabbed the papers and off we ran to our flight home, where they were waiting for us.
I will use the next 21 days to find out how I might get the penalty waived, or at least reduced, on the grounds that while I am guilty of inadvertent sausage smuggling, 1) it was an honest mistake and 2) Customs Nazi was sneaky and obnoxious.