File this one under “your cultural capital hard at work for you.”
Last Wednesday, Carrie and I are crossing the border into the U.S. When the agent asks us what we are going to do in the United States, I say “we are going to a lecture at the Library of Congress.” This was, naturally, the most American, most patriotic answer I could possibly muster. It was also true.
The agent looks at me with this blank stare. I look back at him. He finally says “in New York City?”
Now it’s my turn to face him with a blank stare. I am trying to figure out what to say. From the passenger seat, Carrie leans over and says “in Washington D.C.”
Now it’s really awkward. The guy doesn’t ask us any more questions. Instead, he mutters something about there being more than one Library of Congress. You know, the one in New York and in some other city. The thing is, there isn’t more than one Library of Congress.
Now, to be fair this was a total social class thing. It’s a bit asinine for the bourgeois professor to get all in a huff about the border guard not knowing where the Library of Congress is. On the other hand, we’re equally intimidated by the hard-ass and usually quite sour American guards who give us a tough time about going south over the border.
Bottom line: I thought I had an ace line and instead I wound up embarassing him. He let us go, but I was getting ready for the full body cavity search.
On the way back, Carrie and I tried to come up with a list of things definitely not to say to the Canadian border guard.
Q: Did you buy anything or receive any gifts while in the U.S.?
A: Nothing except this here leaky test-tube. Wanna have a sniff?
A: No, we left the radioactive materials in Washington.
A: Yes. We got this lovely small flying squirrel.