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November 06, 19:30

Don't try to explain open source to customs

I learned my lesson: Don't try explain open source to U.S. customs and immigration officer. Developing free software is obviously a suspicious activity that needs to be examined with tough questions and a highly uncomfortable tone.

I didn't even realize that the situation was getting tense before my chit-chat with the customs officer took the following bad turn (after a somewhat failed attempt at making him understand):

Officer: So how do you make your money?
Me: I do training and consulting on how to use the software
Officer: What do you make doing that kind of work?
Me: It's pretty good
Officer: That's not what I asked you

The guy actually wanted the figure of my last engagement. I was foolishly thinking that we were having a friendly yet polite chit-chat session where they feel you out. Wrong was I.

So the guy types and types and types (I obviously have a SUSPICIOUS status in my hidden US file now) and finally sends me on to my second-round interview. If I thought that the first one was just a bit uncomfortable, then the second one got downright aggressive. Who do you work for? What the fuck is your occupation?

Maybe not fuck, but it was definitely an ordeal straightening out that I wasn't breaking any U.S. laws by contracting and developing open source software.

These two gorillas were of course (stupid) white men to which I tried my best to keep a friendly report. It was not like I was unwilling to answer their questions or tried to hide any thing.

The contrast to the rest of the security checks were startling. I had my bags to through special x-ray, had my computer and camera examined for traces of explosives or whatever, but all that was just getting the security checks done without the tense attitudes. Of course, all of these security people were either Asian or Indian.

What a horrible customer service experience: Welcome to the United States!

Challenge by Jamis Buck on November 06, 19:37

I'm sure that it was worse for you, being a foreigner. But let me just say that flying in the US is a major pain nowadays, even for us US citizens. My flight to RubyConf was mercifully simple, except I forgot to take my laptop out of its bag when I went through the inspection, and they had to take it out and inspect it with the little wipe-on-a-stick. Flights I've been on prior to RubyConf required a patting down and metal detection. Pretty insane.

I have to admit, though, that I've never been grilled. Sorry 'bout that David. :(

Challenge by Jan on November 06, 20:52

Damn, I think I would just avoid going to the USA if possible.. Seriously, how does bothering thousands of people everyday help catching terrorists? If they can train terrorists to fly big fat planes, they can just as easily train them to get trough annoying questions from customs. I doubt they would even blink an eye while answering "what do you make for a living?"

Challenge by Ben on November 06, 21:53


Apparently coming in from Canada is one of the toughest/most questioning of entry ports. People must duck out of the US on their VISAs for a weekend then pop back in, especially "white collar" professionals like your self.

Same thing happened to me when I was working in the US and flew to Canada for a weeks holiday. I was heading back into the US and went through some tough questions and stupidly, I hadn't brought any business things like cards etc that showed my Australian address. ug. And this was 2 weeks after 9/11.....luckily I got back in.

btw - Go to Mario's Coffee and Cigar store (doesn't sell cigars) in North Beach for the best Foccacia ever when you are in SF

Challenge by Michael Koziarski on November 07, 0:36

If it's any consolation, the last time I was in the US, I was 'randomly chosen' each and every single time I boarded an aeroplane. I hope you enjoy your time in SF, as much as I'm enjoying Rails.

Challenge by Phil on November 07, 7:36

As a citizen of the US I'm sorry to hear about your experiences with US Customs & Homeland security.

Basically, the US now (post 9/11) is like an injured animal that does not behave rationally. Freedoms of citizens (the so-called PATRIOT act is a prime example) and non-citizens alike are being trampled in the false hope that this will offer us a little bit of security.

In addition we're going off and invading other countries now based on the idea that we need to get them before they get us (the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war).

It's sad what's happening to the US. We can only hope that sanity will return in a few years, but given the election results here, it's going to be at least 4 years before that happens.

Challenge by cameron on November 08, 17:14

I don't think what you experienced sounds like post 9/11 terrorism concern, more like good old-fashioned labor protectionism.

I had a similar experience entering the UK a couple years back (I'm a US citizen), apparently the main problem was the number of times I had entered within a 6 month period (perhaps 5 or 6). I think the concern was that I was repeatedly entering the UK and claiming a 3 month tourist visa (true), and working while I was there (not true). I would characterize the experience as thoroughly unconfortable and intimidating. Interestingly, once the guy decided I was ok, he switched instantly from Mr. Intimidation to Mr. Charming. It was all part of the act, but that didn't really make me feel any better.

When I travel to Europe now, I try to always have documentation of my finances prepared in advance, although I haven't needed to use them so far.