4

After a recent trip that included some places where "sewer" means "street", insect bites can be nearly fatal and "hospital" is an empty building that might have had electricity at one point but now has nothing, I returned home and the Customs Agent asked me "if I had anything to declare"

I was tired and dirty and and said "I declare I'm extremely happy to be back home where the water won't kill me, the toilets flush and the hospitals have actual doctors."

He waved me on, but I couldn't tell if he was amused or annoyed or neither and I'm not sure if it was a really bad idea to make a joke to the agent.
Could I end up having problems if I make jokes to US Customs agents?
Does it matter if the joke is pro-US or something different?

  • 12
    They have heard all the clever answers that can be, some more often than they want to hear. Never try to wisecrack officials. Just be friendly, to the point, and polite. – Weather Vane Jul 14 '18 at 21:20
  • 1
    Best to avoid humour in this context, too much risk of being misinterpreted. Stick to honesty, brevity, and clarity. – A E Jul 15 '18 at 14:03
10

In my experience, any given agent, like any given person, may react with amusement, annoyance, or indifference, but as long as you retreat quickly and meekly if an agent is annoyed, you'll probably be fine.

Even the same agent might react differently on different days, or at different times on the same day.

Part of the problem is that the agent might think that you are being evasive, or that you are challenging the agent's authority. If your joke included an explicit statement that actually responded meaningfully to the question, it would probably go over a bit better. I'm thinking of something like "[insert joke here], but I have no goods to declare."

  • 2
    Also, jokes that suggest a problem are right out. I'm thinking of the scene in Stripes where a recruiter asks "have you ever been convicted of any crimes" and the answer is "Convicted? No, never convicted." – cpast Jul 14 '18 at 22:04
  • 3
    There is too much scope for misunderstanding what you think is funny, but the agent might not. Many years ago at Vancouver airport I saw a sign saying "all jokes about weapons and bombs will be taken seriously". – Weather Vane Jul 14 '18 at 22:38
  • 1
    @WeatherVane yes, joking with security agents about security matters is quite different from joking with other agents about other matters. – phoog Jul 14 '18 at 23:07
  • @WeatherVane hm. Well I suspect that joking about security matters with any sort of agent is never a good idea. I'm most familiar with a rash of sarcastic answers in the years just after 2001 to questions such as "do you have any bombs," which most people found absurd. The answers created serious trouble for some of the people who gave them. These questions were typically posed at security checkpoints. – phoog Jul 14 '18 at 23:11
  • @phoog that would be a good question from an agent who knows that it is not what you answer but how you answer to be important. – Weather Vane Jul 14 '18 at 23:14
3

Most officers will have the usual sense of humor, the normal amount.

But yes, you can get in deep trouble when you make the wrong joke to a customs agent.

As you were home bound and entering your own country, the most trouble you could expect was a very thorough search, down to the body cavities and a lengthened stay in a lock-up till your system has circled so they are sure you did not congest something illegal.

When you make a joke in a foreign country you can add to that, like being blocked from entering the country and getting a ban.

Most of the time they will not go to the excesses, but the officers can initiate things like that, even when they do not have the power to take all actions themselves. And the officers that work in customs do have more powers than many of the others that work in the police force and security.

The actual text of your joke, as you wrote it here, should not be a reason to take very much action, but the wrong officer or an officer in the wrong mood could have started the process and something suspicious, like an insect that left eggs in your belongings or some such, could have made the situation much worse.

  • Downvoter care to explain? – Willeke Jul 16 '18 at 16:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.