Mrs. Trefz Steps Out

U.S. Customs and Border Protection

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It’s not often that I, a mild-mannered housewife, get to defend my citizenship to a gun-toting US Customs and Border Protection officer. “What are you doing en’ering the Uuunited States at 7:21 in the evenin’ M’am?” What I wanted to say was, “Actually we were planning to enter the Uuuunited States at 6:30pm, but your search of our veHicle changed all that.” What I said was, “We’re going to Walmart in the States because it’s cheaper than the one  in Canada.” Cringe.

This is a faith-based response, of course, since my knowledge of Walmart in the States is limited to www.PoWM.com and what friends have said about their prices. My esteem of Walmart the company is shaky at best, based on some of the company’s dubious business practices, so this venture constituted a leap of faith and a bending of principle. Sigh.

Still, with out-of-country family here, a trip “over the river” is in order. It’s not often that I get to go shopping with my two German Sisters-in-law. My feelings about the value of shopping are well-known by those close to me, but my love of my husband’s sisters is equally strong, so I said yes. Besides, Christmas is just around the corner and I would love to check some things off my list.

The problem with cross-border shopping is two-fold for me. The first problem is the “cross-border” part. My dislike of the border is largely based on one experience Oliver and I had there where he was interrogated and almost arrested for reasons that were actually quite straight-forward and benign, but in line with US CBP protocol, were made very complicated and menacing. It was probably not the first time a newly-wed young couple, as innocent as the dawn, sat in the friendly waiting area of US Customs, wondering what they’d tell their Small Group Bible Study that night about their reasons for not attending. “Umm…Oliver was arrested at the Border this afternoon so we won’t be able to make it. Yeah, something about him being suspected of transporting a kitchen countertop in the trunk of his car. We’ll explain later.”

The second reason cross-border shopping is problematic for me is the “shopping” part. I shop like a man: I know what I want, I look for that thing, and I get out. If I’m looking for a pair of boots, I’ll figure out what I want and how much I want to spend before I go, walk into the store, and begin the search. If the first few pairs I see cost $80 or more, I will turn around and walk back out because the chances of me finding my $25 pair are exactly zero. Why would I continue looking? I don’t care if there is a cute ankle bootie with fur trim, because I wasn’t looking for that, so it is irrelevant. Actually, I am the subject of a ground-breaking study that explores a rare defect on the X chromosome which causes this type of odd behaviour is some women. They’re not sure though whether this behaviour is chromosomally linked or a learned behaviour based on a lifetime of not having extra money to spend on things that are not actually necessary.

Given the above reservations then, on November 7, 2011, Mrs. Trefz decided to step out to do some cross-border shopping with “the girls.” I had been told by cross-border shopping friends that “all you need is your license” to cross, so I dutifully left my expired passport at home. Having renewed my license not so long ago, I assumed it was equipped with the advanced technology necessary to meet the new border regulations of the US government. It has some silver key-like graphic on the front. It looks high-tech enough to me.

Alas, it isn’t, and the friendly US Customs Agent explained that my license is missing “the carrots” on the front (no joke), which would indicate that it has advanced features. So basically he’s telling me that my futuristic silver key on the front doesn’t cut it, but that I need carrots. Seems backwards to me, but whatever. “We’ll just do a quick search of your car, ladies, if you’ll just pull into that bay right over there,” he informed us.

“Any sharp things we need to be concerned about?” the next CBP officer asked. Thankfully my metal nail file had been seized at the airport a few years back, so we assured them they’d be fine. While sitting in the well-appointed waiting area my nervous sister-in-law (the car’s owner) wracked her brain, trying to come up with anything that might be considered contraband. Short of a dirty diaper and stale Cheerios she came up with nothing. Neither did the Customs agents, although we did get a bit of a scare when the inspecting agent came walking in with a large unmarked brown paper bag. As it turns out he’d bought subs for the night shift gang.

Three separate times I was called to speak to an agent to explain where I was born and what proof of citizenship I could come up with and whether I was trying to facilitate anyone else’s entry into Canada. The only time I got nervous was when they wanted to know my husband’s name (see above for reason why). Perhaps they were concerned that I had come to finish the installation of the countertop that he had allegedly tried to smuggle into the country 10 years before.

The question I was asked most frequently was, “have you ever traveled into the US with your passport, M’am?” My answer was always the same: “The last time I traveled into the US was before your new passport laws came into effect, therefore I have not had occasion to carry my passport with me when traveling into the States.” During my third interview I mercifully remembered that yes, we had flown out of Buffalo to visit Germany once back in 2006, and I would have had my passport with me then. As it turns out, the people at US Customs keep good records, and proof of my citizenship was found. This despite the fact that Canadian officials had assured them that Debbie Trefz is not a citizen of Canada. This after I have sponsored a spouse, voted in every conceivable election, and taken in a fireworks display on July 1st.

With the issue of my citizenship cleared up we were released from custody and allowed to proceed to the promised land of great deals. As became evident to me last night, however, a “good deal” is relative. When one is used to buying clothes at a typical Canadian mall, then the offerings of an American Outlet Mall seem like a good deal. For the person used to spending no more than $6.00 on a pair of pants at a thrift store, however, even a clearance rack won’t yield anything competitive. I’ll leave it up to my readers to decide whether Mrs. Trefz is the former or the latter.

Needless to say, the Outlet Mall yielded no deals that measured up to my high standards (pun intended), and so we proceeded to Walmart, the apparent Mecca of cheap Lego. We kept our eyes pealed for any PoWM sightings while scanning the Lego section for possible Christmas gifts. I am here to tell you today that an exhausting err… exhaustive one-night survey of  Walmart’s Lego section revealed that a Lego set costing $39.95 at Walmart in Canada costs about $39.95 at Walmart in the States.

Hoping that I might yet snag a deal on Playdough (another Christmas gift on my list) I stood in front of the Playdough section for far too long, trying to actually like any of their three sets.

By 9:45 we were all tired and ready to go home. In total, my selection of “hot deals” included a $5 set of Hot Wheels for a Samaritan’s Purse Shoe box, and two kids DVDs for $5 each.

Back at the border we declared our total purchases to the Canadian official: about $40 between the three of us. “Have a nice night,” he said, and waved us through. And so it was that on November 7, 2011, Mrs. Trefz stepped out.

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8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    bettythecanadianmenno said,

    Oh, Debbie…..the Lego deals are at Target. Who told you to shop at Walmart ??
    Furthermore, who told you you didn’t need a passport ?!?
    Sigh.
    I’d tell you to confer with me next time, but I already know there won’t BE a next time.

    • 2

      Debbie said,

      You’re right about there not being a next time. I honestly don’t need these hassles to save $4. And like I said, when you’re already only spending $6 on a pair of pants, it’s hard to beat that. Besides, I’m willing to spend $35 on a Lego set because that’s pretty much all my kid is getting for Christmas anyway (1 or two gifts and a stocking). That’s the simplest way to save money on Christmas shopping!

  2. 3

    Kathy Dyck said,

    I can SOOOOOOOOOO relate to the need to find deals!!!! I guess that means I should be included in the X chromosome study too.
    You have a fabulous gift for seeing humor (?) in the daily frustrations and I love that you share it with the rest of us.

  3. 5

    June Durksen said,

    Debbie, I feel badly you had this experience going over the border:(

    I ‘v found in the past….border shopping is not worth the time, money or trouble.

    I, like you, have been told many times about the deals in the States??
    I prefer Canadian soil! I try to put my money back into our economy.

    David and I do enjoy Pete’s Market for lobster and steak every couple of years.

    Keep writting Debbie…you have a wonderful gift with words!!!

    • 6

      Debbie said,

      Alas, without these frustrations there would be no good writing fodder 🙂 If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a writer it’s that frustration and humour are the same thing on paper! I’m with you though, June. There’s a reason I have only been cross-border shopping twice: put the money back into our economy.

  4. 7

    Orlando said,

    Mietz, this definitely one of your better ones! And yes, who told you you didn’t need a passport to cross? Canadians have been griping about that for quite some time now! Not to mention that more and more Menno women are joining the ranks of the no-fly list (I’m talking about the one in the airline industry, not because more of them wear skirts…)

    • 8

      Debbie said,

      Of all people I’m sure you can appreciate my toe-to-toe with the Yanks more than anyone. To their credit it must be said that they have provided us with some interesting dinner party conversation pieces. God save the Queen…err…I mean “bless America.”


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