Humor Customs

By Jeff Justice, CSP

airport securityNot everybody has a sense of humor. I found this out when I was going through customs in Canada. Customs people up there have no sense of humor at all. You shouldn’t try kidding around with them. I was driving through a border checkpoint with my family when the customs officer asked, “Do you have any drugs?” And I replied, “Sure! What do you need?” I was joking, but he wasn’t. So we stayed for a couple of extra weeks — I felt like the class clown again, staying after school…!

The week of the 9/11 incident, my friends Chris and Cindy were passing through Canadian Customs on their way home from Alaska. It had been a stressful week for everyone, of course, and some travelers responded to the heightened security measures with impatience and anger.

It was also a tension-filled week for the inspectors, and it seemed to help them do their jobs better when they could work with passengers who were patient and good-humored. As security was beginning to examine Cindy’s luggage, she warned them, “Do whatever you need to do, but if you start waving my underwear around over your head, I’ll have to come over the counter!” It may not read very funny, but it got a relieved chuckle from the inspector — and the humor helped Cindy let go of some tension she was feeling in this uncomfortable situation, too. As he cleared her, he whispered, “God bless you!”

Like me, Chris is a professional speaker, and we’ve both been known to use attention-getting props on-stage. Going through security and customs checks carrying bundles of electronic equipment and wires can be nerve-wracking — wireless microphones, computers and projectors can look suspicious.

Chris’ friendly attitude humanizes such circumstances. As screeners run his carry-on equipment case back and forth through their scope, he explains that the one piece of equipment they are struggling to identify is a “magic” 8-foot-tall ladder that he pulls out of his briefcase when he talks about setting worthwhile goals. Their resistance seems to melt when he tells them the question he will be asking his audience as the ladder appears: “What if all that time you’ve spent climbing the ladder of success, it’s been leaning against the wrong wall?” One inspector just shrugged it off, saying “Oh yeah — we see those all the time!”

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