Friday, September 16, 2011

Germany 8: I know what meat is

Our flight home was not as nice as the flight over, "nice" being a relative term, of course, as nine hours in an airplane is never my first choice and even if I get to spend it in business class thanks to a last-minute fare cut and FF miles, it's still nine cramped hours in a seat designed for someone four inches taller than I am.

But on the way back, we were both in coach. We have gotten quite spoiled by our recent trips in business class. At least, I have. SH pays for those trips by logging many many miles in coach. But I am finally living the life to which I would like to be accustomed and being yanked back to reality is no fun.

Quick aside: Business class is nice. But what would really be nice is my own plane.

When I was in the Junior League, I wrote an article for the JL magazine about a woman who had some connection with the JL. She and her husband owned a couple dozen fast-food franchises scattered around the south in small towns. Given the difficulty of traveling to the stores, they had purchased their own plane. It paid for itself with the time savings.

When she told me about the plane, she spoke in a tone of disbelief - that she actually had her own plane.

It's so great! she told me. We don't even have to go through security! And the seats are comfortable, even for me - I'm short!

There was no bragging, no ennui, no, "Oh you peasant you must fly coach with all the other ordinary people." No, she thought it was cool and I thought it was cool and I put something about it in the story.

The president of the JL cut that part out. She didn't like the woman I had interviewed and didn't like that she had a plane. The official word was that she thought it sounded snobbish, but it didn't at all. The JL president was just being a pain. Who wouldn't want her own plane? And who wouldn't be thrilled to have it?

But I travel coach except for those lucky times when I get to travel business class. We had a long flight back. In coach. SH and I weren't even sitting together. I was tired. We got off the plane in Atlanta. Had to wait for our luggage so we could re-check it to Milwaukee. Homeland security, is that really necessary? Do you not make our lives complicated enough?

As we were waiting, the USDA agent (I assume she was USDA) came with the sniffer beagle. He came up to us and stopped next to the carry on bag of the man waiting with us.

The beagle had found a banana.

What a good dog.

It was a legit banana. The man was a soldier coming from Germany to a TDY in Georgia. The banana was from the commissary so it was OK to bring it into the US. I learned something new.

The beagle found nothing in our bags, probably because there was nothing to find.

SH had completed the customs form. He had declared the chocolate and mustard in a tube that I bought for my next door neighbor and he had declared my coasters. There wasn't anything else to declare or he would have declared it. SH is a very law and order type guy when it comes to submitting to petty bureaucracy. He doesn't cheat on his taxes or his expense reports (which is a good thing - I am not a fan of cheaters) and he for the most part stays in the lines.*

In 2006, when SH and I went to Spain and Morocco shortly after I had been laid off from my job and thought I would take a quick little vacation before I returned to the world of supporting myself instead of throwing myself on society's mercy, we bought about five pounds of serrano ham to bring back to the US with us.

We declared it on our customs form. Showed it to the agent when asked. And watched in shock and despair when he put it into a giant trash can.

You can't bring meat into the US, he said. I'm sorry.

We argued with him until he printed out the relevant rule.

At least eat it yourself, I told him, as we walked out of the customs area, our shoulders bowed with the grief of losing over $100 worth of serrano ham. I can't bear for it to go to waste.

Before we went back to Spain in 2008 for our honeymoon, I called the USDA. I called Customs. I emailed the USDA. I emailed Customs. Customs said sure you can bring in serrano ham for personal consumption. USDA said maybe you can depends on where it's from.

I could never get a clear, definitive answer with the intersection of the response from Customs and the response from USDA.

We decided not to risk it. We got it: no meat. Don't bring any meat from other countries into the US. Chocolate OK. Mustard OK. Meat not OK.

We were in Atlanta, going through customs/USDA. SH gave the customs form to the agent. The form, you will recall, did not include a declaration of meat.

The agent, who would not have been out of place at the McDonald's drive through line, looked at the form. Flipped it over. Read the other side. Looked at SH.

"Any meat?" she asked, unsmiling, bored.

"Nope," I answered, thinking, Can't you read?

She continued, still bored. "Any sausage, any ham?"

Sheesh. Did I look stupid? Did I look like I did not understand what the word "meat" means? "Meat" is the broad category that includes animal, mostly mammal, I suppose, flesh. Sausage is a product composed of ground meat and spices. Ham is a cut of meat from a pig. They are both meat.

I understand what meat is the same way I understand that M&Ms are a kind of chocolate. That oatmeal is a kind of cereal. That daisies are a kind of flower. Usually, people understand the general category to which a specific item belongs.

"No!" I snapped. "No meat! Not since the Great Serrano Ham Tragedy. We don't have any meat."

She stared at me, still expressionless, as SH hissed, "Shut up! What is wrong with you? Why are you giving attitude to her?"

Maybe because when I edge toward civil disobedience, I go where there are actual stakes, not just where there is a feel-good pizza party.

She blinked, then waved us through. Bitch.

* He will speed, but highway laws fall into a category where apparently, the government does not know best.


Dorrie said...

once when going through customs in Atlanta or Phildelphia I wonder why I had to join a different line then everyone else. It was because I was flying on to California and the restrictions are even stricter!

I do not envy those customs people... can you imagine asking the same stupid questions repeatedly all day? and getting the same answers all day? I think they are actually robots and that's why she couldn't read your card lol

Rubi said...

I have never recovered from the indignity of having been returned to coach class after two delightful years of company-paid-for business class to the far reaches of the globe.

I must be doing something right, though, since Iberia has a lovely habit of upgrading me to business on the Madrid-Boston leg when I fly back all bloated from a million tapas. I suspect it's because they think it's cute that a big, blonde guiri like me can speak Spanish like I was born in Lavapies. (Because, after a fashion, I was.)

Class factotum said...

Dorrie, I got stopped in central America on a bus. We had to get off the bus and they sprayed for the Mediterranean fruit fly, then we reboarded. Those fumes were really good for people, I'm sure.

Rubi, tienes que contarnos todo en tu propia blog!

Rubi said...

Si, hija, pero me da una pereza. Con limpiar el guardamuebles, hacer maletas y todo lo de mas... mas facil responder que crear.

Paciencia, paciencia.

Christa said...

The ham story made me sad. That is a lot of waste. But it reminded me of the time my husband thought he was smuggling cuban cigars back into the country. He even took the time to slide the delicate little labels off the cigars and store them in a separate suitcase just in case they tried to hassle him. His love of a good cigar is a powerful thing.

Lindy D. said...

I have had peanut butter, jam and cheese spread confiscated from airport security. They told me these are "like" liquids. Very maddening.

Anonymous said...

Fool, anyone can check "no" on the box. They make you repeat it verbally to see whether you hesitate, stammer, look shifty-eyed or whatever other behaviors suggest that someone might have *lied* on the form. You seem smart enough to know that, so don't go all Miss Thing on the Customs guy. Just makes it worse for you and the next person. Sorry 'bout your ham.

Class factotum said...

Anon, it didn't occur to me that they were looking for lying behavior. That agent just didn't seem smart enough! But I will try to remain calmer next time, especially as I will try to get away with it.