Monthly Archives: June 2007

Continued Immigration Adventures of a Citizen of the World

WARNING: boring entry follows, but I feel like I have to post it anyway because it really happened. And plus, I may end up getting some visitor from search engines this way. Summary: Canadian border patrol is lax and US border patrol is totalitarian and not always well-trained. You may now stop reading any time after this point and I will not be offended.

I’ve lived in the United States since 1991, and after a series of visas (F-1, TN-1, H-1B) finally got my green card last year, so I’ve been an outlier for quite some time. I have seen a lot of confused border guards try to figure out on the fly if I’m legal without letting on to me that they don’t really know the regulations all that well. Often they take out their uneasy feeling of confusion on me because I’m handy.

Today I flew back from Vancouver after a short visit to Canada, the country I was born in.

Canadian passports expire annoyingly frequently, being good for only five years. My most recent passport expires in August 2007, so after a trip in May, I sent it in to get renewed. Higher than normal traffic at the passport office means that I had not received my new passport when it was time to leave for this trip, so I researched regulations (which, as it has been widely publicized, had recently been tightened to required passports for most travelers between the US and Canada) in a detailed way prior to leaving.

I was quite certain that permanent residents of the US were allowed to enter the US with just a green card (as I did on my visit to Canada in May), but was less certain about Canada. For once, I was more worried about getting into Canada than getting into the US!

I investigated and found

which seems to hint (but not conclusively imply) that a US green card is enough to enter Canada.

Just for good measure, I thought I would double-check the US requirements. I found that according to that my green card was enough. It said, in part that

U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) must provide one of the following:

  • I-551, Permanent Resident Card (“Green Card”)

OK. I have one.

Also page 7 of

EXPLICITLY states that

“Lawful Permanent Residents are NOT required to have a passport.”

Just for good measure, this PDF file shows pictures of the documents required, and the green card is enough for departure and entry by air.

I know, I know… overkill in the research department. Chill, Richard! Don’t be so paranoid. Right?

Then I took my trip. United Airlines automated check-in flying out of the US requires a passport, so I had to stand in line and deal with a counter clerk. Very annoying. Good thing I got there early. Then after landing in Canada, I gave the border agent there my green card and said that I’d applied for a passport and was still waiting for it. No prob.

Flying back to the US. The Vancouver airport lets you pass US immigration before you take off. Handy. The line was huge, and I handed the guy my green card. He asked me if I had a passport and I said no. He says, “Are you familiar with the new passport regulations?” Then he proudly hands me a slip of paper with the new regulations on it that reads AND I QUOTE:

“Beginning on January 23, 2007, all persons – including U.S. citizens – traveling by air from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda will be required to have a passport (unless traveling with a U.S. Permanent Resident Card, asylee or refugee document, Merchant Mariner’s Document, or NEXUS Air card) to enter the United States.”

I could tell he was happy about having caught what he thought was just another scofflaw. He says “Everyone needs a passport.” I stammered lamely “But… but… I have a green card?” He says, “Doesn’t matter.” Never mind that I could point out the part in parentheses on the slip of paper HE JUST HANDED ME to prove him wrong. “Here,” he says, sliding the piece of paper a little closer. “Keep that.”

I could tell his guard dropped and he was going to let me through, but I was still stammering. I explained that I’ve applied for a renewal and I’m still waiting and no, I didn’t have any proof that I’ve applied for a renewal (I don’t know what proof I’m supposed to get). I show him my passport that expired ten years ago that I brought along just in case. Still beaming at trapping me, he finally lets me pass.

Not that it matters — I suspect if he’d escalated me to the secondary room where questionable cases go, I would have gotten through pretty quick with someone who actually knows what the regulations are. Er. Maybe.

Viva bureaucracy!

The Life of Pi (with a Free Boost)

At some food outlets, you order at the counter and then wait for your order to come up. A lot of these places will give you an order number printed on your receipt. But some will instead ask your name, and then call your name when your order is ready. I suppose this is an attempt to “personalize” service, and make you feel like more than just a number.

One time, I ordered at a place like this, and when asked my name, I said “Richard” because that’s what it is. The teenaged employee then asked “Is it okay if I just put ‘Rich’?” This kind of irked me… I didn’t volunteer my name. They asked. I told, only grudgingly. Being corrected simply for the sake of the convenience of the slow-typing employee was kind of adding insult to injury.

My first instinct was to promise to myself that I would answer future queries of this sort with “Bartholomew” and then when asked “Is it okay if I just put ‘Bart’?”, triumphantly state “Absolutely not!”

[I will only briefly touch upon the obvious issue that asking a person’s name to match them to orders solves the problem very poorly compared to a guaranteed unique order number. I would guess if your name is “John” or “Brittany”, you would frequently have to delve down to the specific contents of your order to make sure you haven’t gotten food intended for someone else whose parents were as uncreative as your own.]

Of course, reason set in, and I realized that this poor employee did not invent this ridiculous policy asking customers to disclose personal information in an attempt to allow them to have a easily recalled primary key. So instead of wasting effort on how to make their lives more difficult, I then turned my energy to figure out how to make their lives easier.

Obviously, a short name is easier to type. So now, when I order my Orange Berry Blitz (which although has curiously disappeared from the menu board, can still be ordered) with Fiber Boost at Jamba Juice, I lie about my name.

At first I would use the name “Gus”, since it’s short, so quick to type, and rare, so I probably won’t have to delve down to choice of free boosts the figure out which of the three of us similarly named folks this Orange Berry Blitz actually belongs to. Also, the name is funny, which for me, is key.

However, whenever I said “Gus”, I always got this look that seemed to say either “Huh?” or “I don’t believe you.” I always had to say it a couple times. And it’s not that easy to say or hear in a loud environment.

What are the criteria for a pleasant name lie? Short. Easy to say (because I’m lazy too). Easy to remember. Easy to spell. A real name in North America. Recognizable, but not too common. Male.

Here’s a brainstorm list of two-letter possibilities: Al, Bo, Cy, Ed, Hi, Mo, Pi.

The names Cy and Bo are known in athletics but uncommon enough to probably elicit the “huh?” response from unworldly teenage clerks. Al and Ed are simple but common male names.

Lately I’ve been trying “Ed”. I figure an employee would have to be admirably lazy to try to shorten that. “Is it okay if I just put ‘E’?” That takes way longer to say than to find the “d”.

But “Ed” is also not that great a choice. It’s easy and fast to say, but it is also not that easy to hear, especially over the rabble of blenders grinding up energizing smoothies. It’s not that easy to touch-type (although it is easy to one-finger type) on a standard QWERTY keyboard. And worst off, I always have to think about it when they ask me my name, which makes me paranoid that they have trapped me in a lie.

I could try Al, but worry since it is short for Albert, Alan, Alex, Allan, Alvin, Allen, Alberto, Alonzo, Alfred, Alexander, Alfredo, Alejandro, Alfonso, Alton, Ali, Alvaro, Alexis, Alphonso, Alva, Alphonse, Aldo, Alden, Alfonzo, Alec, and Alonso, I could end up fighting for my juice with a dozen people all with different names and several ethnicities.

Mo is less common, but can also be spelled “Moe”, which means I would have to say and spell it.

That leaves Pi. Sure, I’ve never met anyone named Pi. But it is arguably the most famous Greek letter, and the name of a character whose Life Of is documented in a recent award-winning book.

And the best part for this customer who has always had a soft spot for mathematical constants, is that my order identifier would finally be my favourite number… something that just can’t happen at a stodgy traditional place that confines their order numbers to integers.

How very transcendental.