I’m bad at going through border control. Every time I pass across a national boundary, my passport is checked. I am asked questions. I try to be friendly and truthful. I am nervous. I stutter and stumble and do what I always do when I am nervous: keep talking.
At the border into Canada, the guard asked “Where do you live?” “Boston,” I told him happily. “Where do you live?” I asked back. I was trying to be friendly, assuming he was doing the same. He gave me A Look and said, sternly, “Canada.”
I realized he wasn’t just being friendly.
The first time I went to the UK, I told the lady I was going to Filey. She told me she’d never heard of Filey and wasn’t sure it was a real place. “It’s near Scarborough,” I said. She frowned and after a few moments put the first stamp into my nearly expired passport.
The second time I went to the UK, the man asked me why I was there.
“I’m going to see my boyfriend’s parents,” I said.
“Er, already here.”
“Already here? Why’s he already here?”
“He lives here.”
“Were you a student here?” He paged through my passport, looking for evidence of a visa.
“No,” I said.
“Was he a student there?”
“He’s twenty-eight.” I felt as though this explained everything that needed to be explained.
“So his parents live in Cambridge?”
“No, they live in Cardiff.”
“But your card says Cambridge?”
“Well, uhh, we’re going to Cardiff later.”
“You’re only here until Monday.” It was Saturday morning.
“When are you going to go to Cambridge.”
“Today?” I said helplessly.
“Why’s your passport so beat up?” He tried to sound more friendly. I must have looked scared.
“I carry it with me.”
“No other ID?”
“I have a driver’s license too.”
“This is really beat up.”
“I’ve had it for a few years.”
“This much damage comes from carrying it around for a few years?”
He pages through my passport some more.
“You lived in Korea?” He thumbs the page with my Korean visa on it.
“And Russia?” He looks at that Visa.
“No. I was just there visiting.”
“Why were you in Russia?”
“I’d been living in Mongolia. It was a good way to get home.”
He broke. “Mongolia? What were you doing in Mongolia? How was it?”
I told him.
“Do you speak Mongolian? Can you say something in it? Where did you live? Was it beautiful? Did you ride a horse?” His questions came quickly. While I talked he nodded and looked at the other stamps.
“What about Iceland? I hear Iceland is nice in the summer.”
“We went in the winter.”
“Did you see the aurora?”
“Yeah, once night.”
“Is it as great in person as it looks in pictures?”
“Yeah, it’s amazing.”
He looked up at me and smiled.
“I hope you find something amazing here too.” He stamped my passport with a heavy mechanical click and handed it back to me.