Customary Greeting


Our flight from LAX was the first plane to arrive in Sydney that morning, and the vast immigration and customs hall was quiet. My two friends (coincidentally, both named Abigail) and I wound our way through the empty maze of line barriers until we were greeted by a friendly customs official, who informed us that one of us would need to go through an “enhanced” customs screening. Since the three of us were traveling together, he gathered all three of our passports and flipped open the first one.

“Okay,” he said. “Which one of you is Abigail?”

The Abigails cheerfully replied, “We both are!”

The customs man was slightly befuddled but made a quick recovery, and he immediately turned to me. “Okay then, you can come with me.”

I really took one for the team that day.

Fortunately, I wasn’t carrying any illicit goods, and only a quick glance at the interior of my (very neatly packed) suitcase assured him that I wasn’t a smuggler. I had, in fact, spent some time before our departure reading up on Australia’s customs rules. They have some of the strictest rules in the world, and I like to pack snacks, so I wanted to make sure my granola bars wouldn’t land me in the slammer. (They didn’t.)

There are a couple of important lessons here.

First: Don’t go through customs with two people who have the same name. Or, I guess if you can swing it, do go through customs with someone who has the same name as you.

And second: Don’t take the “Customs” part of your passage through “Immigration and Customs” for granted. It’s easy to do; we usually just breeze through the “nothing to declare” lane and go on our merry way. Except when we don’t. Recently an American woman arriving in the US from France got stopped by customs – and fined $500 – for keeping the apple from her Delta snack in her purse. Fresh fruit, among other things, cannot be brought into the US. If that surprises you, you might want to read up on the list of verboten items before your next trip (available here). And definitely do your homework on the customs rules of the countries you’re visiting.

If you’re prepared (and not trying to pull a fast one), you can pass even the most enhanced screenings without breaking a sweat.


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