body language

52. Red flags and the difficulty of telling the truth

I ventured across the border into the US yesterday. As usual, it was an interesting adventure. I had taken it really easy loading up the trailer – pack some, rest some, repeat until finished – and was feeling good.


I drove to Sumas crossing as it is the closest one to where I needed to go – Deming, Washington – and I also like the fact that the crossing is not as busy as the ones closer to me. Life was good. I was relaxed. I drove forward to the customs booth. “Nationality?” he said “Canadian but travelling on a British passport” I replied. “What did you say?” I repeated the words. He took my documents. Then he went into a tirade of words which I didn’t understand because I could not hear them over the burble of my Jeep’s V8 engine. “Could you repeat that please, sir?” Be polite, be patient and above all don’t get smart, Sal.


Omg, he repeated and I still didn’t hear. “I am sorry to have to ask you…” I was hanging half out of the window at this point, screwing up my eyes, trying to give him the body language to get him to understand his mumbling was not making it over the delightfully guttural burble of Mickey Blue Eyes (name of my Jeep). By now “he” was not amused. I knew he would send me in for vetting because they always do. What I didn’t know is that he had red flagged me for serious scrutiny for immigration “stuff” (not sure what the stuff was!!).


There is something to be said about being someone who crosses the border not too often but often enough to have a track record. The more senior guys, inside, took one look at their screen and said “So, you have become a Canadian! Why aren’t you using your Canadian passport?” I would have thought that was pretty darn obvious but held my tongue “Because I have not, as yet, applied for one”. “Why not?” Oh my, I wanted to scream “…because I didn’t know there was a necessity to do so when I still had a perfectly valid passport in my possession”. I took the safer route, “…because I didn’t make the time to do that yet”.


But not the end of my problems. Next the really nice man from the food and wildlife section was asking me what I had in the trailer. I listed off as much as I could in terms of apples, oranges, celery, a couple of avocado, cheese… then I faltered. I just couldn’t remember what was in my fridge. I wasn’t trying to be smart, I was struggling to remember and that made me more nervous. I apologized and used the age card “… gee, this getting older really does effect the memory. If I have forgotten anything it is not intentional, it is because I genuinely cannot remember” Then came the really embarrassing part “When did you load the trailer?” What could I do but tell the truth “A couple of hours ago”. “… and you cannot remember what you put in the fridge?!” I didn’t know how to answer that except with a very pathetic “… apparently not and I am embarrassed to admit that”. ‘I see we gave you a pamphlet on what foods you could bring into the States about a year ago. Why didn’t you follow that instruction?” Again, I resisted the “…because, obviously, I lost the darn thing!” and said sheepishly “I lost it”.


Notes to self:

1. Get your Canadian passport sorted out ASAP

2. Keep that allowable foods pamphlet in the trailer!

3. Find out why oranges can come from the US but may not return. Weird. Apples can but not oranges clearly marked that they come from the US. Anyone know why?!

30. Take the time to care about others

As I sat in the hospital emergency department, supporting my friend Patty and her husband who had fallen, broken a rib and punctured a lung, I remembered a couple of truths:

  • Sometimes just being there for someone who is going through a traumatic time is enough. It is not necessary to “do” or say the right things. It is just important that you are there. Maybe as a distraction from all that is frightening.
  • I cope with stress through humour/humor. That was difficult when I was not meant to make the patient laugh. I realized that my one-liners run off the end of my tongue before I can close my lips! It is instinct for me, after all these years of “performance mode”. The only way I could stop myself was to take out my Sony tablet and edit something I was working on or playing games.
I watched a man come into the emergency and he was obviously sore. He was also alone. Time went by and it was evident that he needed x-rays and they took him away for some. When he came back I could see the signs of a “social” being who was alone, for whatever reason. 

I just asked if there was anything I could get for him. That opened up the floodgates. What a charming man! He told me about his life, the love of his life (his wife) and how he had fallen that morning and had come in to make sure he had not done any damage. 

I listened intently. Actively listened. Encouraging him to expand on certain parts of his story. He had asked his wife to marry him just a week after meeting her! I learned about how he started off life selling shell earrings almost door to door. How he later had been in the RAF and learned about contracts and how he later went into business. The whole story was fascinating and, in truth, distracted me from the situation I was in.

The strange part came later. I met him again when I went outside to get a break and he was leaving the emergency. He walked over and started chatting again. Then he asked me “… are you a psychologist?” I laughed and told him no but I was fascinated as to why he had asked me that question. “You just are so good at asking questions and truly listening to the answer. One doesn’t often meet people who appear to genuinely care about what you are saying”. I thanked him for the compliment and told him that it is my hobby to listen to people and, if possible, to help them by getting them to talk more about whatever it is that is troubling them.

I am so glad I took the time to ask him just one question to, hopefully, lessen the stress he was in. I am also glad that I did drop my body language into a listening mode and did listen intently. I am also glad that the man got a chance to talk out some of his “stuff” and find some distraction as he waited for the results of the x-rays.

It turned out that he was fine and I was a happier person for having taken the time to let him tell me his fascinating love story.

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Lesson learned: It is wonderful what one (caring) question can do for a person.

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