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I'm astonished at the number of folks who are sincere in their belief that politeness and respect make one immune from abuse at the border. The belief seems to be based on their own politeness and lack of hassles thus far.

I crossed the border more than a hundred times over ten years with no difficulties whatsoever. I grew up in a police family and am unswervingly polite and respectful. That did not protect me from 12 hours of interrogation in a white room and a deportment (reason still undetermined and undisclosed: a Freedom of Information Act request brought a document 75% redacted) when I happened upon the wrong, bored CBP official.

Just because you've affirmed the consequent a few dozen times doesn't mean politeness will help you.




I'm astonished at the number of folks who are sincere in their belief that politeness and respect make one immune from abuse at the border.

I am baffled that you would interpret statements that "it makes a difference" to mean "it confers immunity". Of course it does not confer immunity. But it does make a difference. The author of the piece strikes me as extremely contemptuous. I imagine he attracts a lot of negative behavior from people without having any clue that he did anything to encourage it.


I'm a guy who thinks of the TSA as "security theater" and I still thought the author sounded like a douchebag.

The guys an attorney; he's obviously pressing legal buttons because it's intellectually interesting to him. Bully for him. He has studied the law a bunch and knows exactly what to say / do down every branch of the decision tree.

Me, I'm just trying to get into the country or past TSA as easily as possible and the last thing I need is some dude winding up the officer who's about to inspect me.


The guys an attorney; he's obviously pressing legal buttons because it's intellectually interesting to him. Bully for him.

At the risk of really, really stepping in it:

My oldest was not identified as "gifted" until he was 11. A few months later, it dawned on me that his obnoxious habit of torturing me with argumentative behavior was rooted in boredom. (He was in special ed in public school as he is both gifted and learning disabled, something schools generally do a poor job of dealing with.) This realization empowered me to put a stop to this bad habit of his by making sure he was more constructively occupied and spent less time bored.

There is an old saying: "Idle hands are the devil's workshop". I have noticed that extremely argumentative people are typically quite intelligent and their arguments frequently seem to be something they do to entertain themselves, and damn the consequences. In most cases (of individuals I have personally known), where this is an incredibly obnoxious habit on their part, like my son, they also have some kind of personal handicap (in other cases of individuals I have personally known, they might have a handicap but I did not know for certain). Baiting people is a cheap and easy means to get around their handicap and get some of their intellectual needs met.

Someone utterly and completely convinced that "politeness makes no difference" may well have a personal handicap that may have never been identified. "Twice exceptional" individuals (gifted and learning disabled/handicapped) frequently go unrecognized. Their strengths tend to make up for their weaknesses and mask the problem(s). But it also generally makes for an enormously frustrating life so, unsurprisingly, most of them seem to carry a huge chip on their shoulder. Such individuals are often fairly paranoid as well, most likely due to routinely and consistently having their very real problems dismissed, poo-pooed, and so forth and generally being treated like they are imagining things. Since they aren't imagining things and do have a very real problem and their predictions are routinely borne out as more accurate than that of most people around them, they commonly become convinced that everyone else is also just an idiot. I have an "invisible" handicap that was not diagnosed until late in life and I spend a lot of time wrestling with something that Einstein described very well:

"A question that makes me hazy, am I or are the others crazy?"

On another note, IIRC, only 7% of face-to-face communication is the actual words we use. The rest is body language, voice tone, facial expression, and context (and I might be leaving something out). So if you have a chip on your shoulder and you walk up to the desk and haughtily look down your nose at the person across from you and your facial expression and body language just scream "I'm better than you, I'm sure you are an incompetent dolt and I am expecting you to be an ass to me", before you have said a word you have already negatively influenced the way the whole thing will go. Then you open your mouth and your voice tone just reinforces all that negativity. People who do that sort of thing are frequently not consciously aware of it, which tends to just make them believe the world is full of assholes since "everyone" routinely reacts negatively to them.

I can understand that sentiment. When I was very ill, in constant excruciating pain and doped to the gills, I could not keep both feet out of my mouth no matter how hard I tried. And I really tried like hell. But there are people in the world who will probably never forgive me. I feel no real compulsion to kiss their asses. I feel like "Excuse the hell out of me for living". Getting well/healthier has done a lot to improve my social experience. I don't have to try nearly so hard anymore yet I get better reception from people generally. For me, this means that subjectively there is a huge disconnect between how much effort I put in and the outcomes I get. That doesn't mean that if I am polite, it makes no difference. That means that trying to be polite and actually being polite aren't the same thing.


All very good points, and convincingly presented. But I don't think anybody (nobody here, at least) is contesting that politeness is important and useful in social interactions.

The question was whether being polite or brusque (and he wasn't rude after all, just perfunctory and not actively polite) in refusing to answer CBP officers' questions would have made much of a difference to the CBP response.


If you cannot see that interacting with CBP officers is "social interaction", then I don't see where we can ever come to any agreement. And if you were not there and if there is also no videotape of the interaction, I don't see how you can assert with any certainty that he was not being rude at all. As I stated above, the vast majority of such things is conveyed not by words but by voice tone, body language, facial expression and so on. As far as I know, the only account of the incident is from his point of view. Perhaps the CBP officers have gotten together and written their own account, but so far I have seen no mention of it (and I consider that unlikely as it could potentially cost them their jobs -- security jobs typically require you to generally keep your mouth shut). His writing tone and his framing of things (that these people are "thugs" who deserve to be treated a certain way by him for, apparently, not simply up and quitting their jobs as proof that they don't agree with ...whatever he is taking issue with) doesn't give me much confidence that he wasn't rude in some way.

For that matter: Most people cannot up and quit their jobs. Having a job is not strong evidence that someone wholeheartedly supports and believes in all policies and practices of their place of employment. In many cases, it is only evidence that they prefer putting up with the crap at work to putting up with the alternatives (such as homelessness). Even in cases where someone does strongly disagree with what goes on at work, most people cannot afford to simply up and quit and there may be little they can do to change it while they are there. If they really feel strongly about it, they typically begin job hunting and leave as soon as is practicable without cutting their own throats. Additionally, if they have any sense, afterwards they tend to keep their mouths shut about the things they did not approve of. Talking trash about a former employer can be a good way to ensure that other people will be reluctant to hire you.

He makes snide remarks about the "low pay" of these people in a way which strikes me as classist and then makes even uglier remarks about how they deserve his treatment for not up and quitting which he claims they can do "at any time". He damns them coming and going, which does nothing to convince me he was even civil. Everything he wrote paints a picture of an individual with a chip on their shoulder who is actively looking to create such a confrontation. In his own words: "But that’s a small price to pay to remind these thugs that their powers are limited and restricted." So his stated goal was not to simply exercise his rights. His stated goal was to "teach them a lesson", in essence. That kind of goal is generally rife with unstated hostility.


> On another note, IIRC, only 7% of face-to-face communication is the actual words we use. The rest is body language, voice tone, facial expression, and context (and I might be leaving something out).

That's a popular idea to throw around nowadays. Try body-languaging and voice-toning "excuse me, could you point me towards the nearest post-office?" to someone.

But yes, a really negative attitude usually shows.


That's a popular idea to throw around nowadays. Try body-languaging and voice-toning "excuse me, could you point me towards the nearest post-office?" to someone.

:-) :-) Not being a smartass and I'm sure I couldn't body language a "could you point me towards the nearest post office" to a total stranger, but my oldest son talked in sentences late and invented an elaborate system for communicating with me involving two word phrases, made up words, miming and grunting and gesturing. I finally stuck him in preschool to force him to use sentences, which I knew he could do but was refusing to do for some reason. Years later, when I was so ill and frequently in the midst of swallowing pills and thus unable to speak right at that moment, he was the only family member whom I could gesture and grunt at and usually get what I needed.

Language had to start somewhere. Presumably, it began with voice tone conveying important information, which is not terribly different from what most animals seem to do for communication.


Alright, you had some kind of primitive system for communicating certain "messages". It could be comparable to Morse code - two taps on the table means "me hungry", etc.

But I don't think that's related to people saying things like "70% of all communication is non-verbal". I just took it at face value, and tried to point out that it's not. It's just a comment that's tempting to throw around because it's kind of dramatic.

Instead of slapping an arbitrary percentage value on it, I'd be more comfortable saying "a considerable part of our communication is non-verbal", which it obviously is. 70% is just too high a percentage to be realistic.

Yes, language had to start somewhere, and because grunting and gesturing just isn't enough, it had to evolve to what we have now.


I've crossed the border a number of times myself. What has been amazing for me over the last several years is the striking difference in demeanor between foreign customs officers and those I deal with coming back into the US, especially at the Canadian border.

Coming in and out of the US through the local major airport -- San Francisco -- my experiences have been mixed coming in. Customs varies between nice and a little bit surly, but never outright so.

However, when I drive or fly to Canada? Canadian customs is amazingly friendly and welcoming -- even when crossing at odd hours like 2am when on a road trip. However, coming back into the states, be it dealing with customs at the border (major and minor crossing) or at the airport, I sometimes ask myself -- "why do I live in this country?"

Customs has a hard job and dealing with a lot of people friendly to rude during the day does take a toll. However, often times, these are the first people that someone coming to visit the US encounters. I would hope for a good first impression, but unfortunately that isn't always the case.

Going to Europe this winter it will be fun to compare and contrast again.


Interestingly enough, I had the exact opposite experience as a Canadian camping in the US this summer. The customs at the US was fantastic, it was our first time visiting, and my 11 year old daughter was very nervous. The customs office asked questions in a nice way, smiled at my daughter and told her not to be so nervous, indicated that we'd have a great time where we were going, and generally was very friendly and welcoming.

Coming back into Canada, the customs agent was not nearly as friendly. Perhaps we looked a little scruffy after a week of camping, but the questions were more brusque and suspicious.


Every country is different.

In Tokyo I was through customs so fast I wasn't sure I was through.

Last time I entered Jamaica I was shaken down. After going back and forth for a few minutes I realized it was a shake down and simply asked him "how much?" $50 later and I was on my way. To make a long story short I had brought a few gifts for friends who were meeting me there and the customs agent claimed I was bringing items into the country to sell. Um yeah, I'm selling 4 towels?

In and out of Costa Rica was interesting. When I went I only took a backpack and surfboards. They didn't say much entering the country and only checked out the surfboard bag. Leaving the country they searched everything multiple times prior to leaving (once at security then again plane side). They were all very polite though.

Admittedly I don't do a lot of international travel but I've never had any problems entering the US have always answered the 1-2 questions with yes/no and "I'm glad to be back."


Every country is different, but coming back into the US is a uniformly annoying experience. From my experiene, US Customs/Border agents are at the very least lacking any sort of friendliness with some sort of powertrip being the norm.

Given these are some of the first people visitors to this country encounter, I would hope they would be friendly and professional rather than surly and on an power trip.

Every foreign country I have been to (mostly Europe and Canada) has been friendlier and more welcoming than every single instance that I have had in dealing with US customs upon re-entry. And, for the record, I am in the "here's my passport" and answers questions crowd.


And I have experienced the exact opposite when entering US. The agents have always been friendly and courteous. I wonder if it has to do with what airport you enter the country from. All of my international flights end up going through ATL.


Politeness works fine with many people in many circustances, and it has bought me out of a few pinches. I've seen a cop's face go from suspicious anger to placidity from a smooth handling of their concerns. I'd wager that most of the time, politeness won't hurt and sometimes it will help. Sometimes though you're right, particularly with law enforcement, if someone is in a bad mood and on a power trip it will not make one iota of difference. What I took from this is to pay attention, there's no need to consistently clam up like this guy does, but remember it's an option because sometimes it may be necessary.


You're still chasing a red herring: By all accounts this guy was polite.

You're using the word "politeness" to mean "absolutely subservient to the whims of authority".

He WAS polite, but stood on his rights. Including the absolute right to silence, which he politely explained.


"absolutely subservient to the whims of authority"

That's reading an awful lot into what I wrote. By the author's own language he appears to bear a grudge against the CBP, so while he sounds polite by his own account he clearly goes out of his way to prove a (valid) point. I don't really see a problem with, most of the time, answering that I was on a business trip and packed my own bags, nor should most people in a "polite society". I don't see how this is being subservient to anyone. Wouldn't a better policy be to assume no problem and only raise the issue if they raise it first? It's healthy for society to have people push back against the system but it's also in our best interest, overall, to have security and part of that security is making judgments based on how someone responds to simple questions.


>>“Why were you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.

>>“None of your business,” I said.

That's not being polite. Being polite would be to say "Just visiting for fun".

It sounds like he didn't want to get through passport control.

Much of life is about jumping through silly arbitrary hoops to get what you want. In the case of getting through customs+immigration, you just keep quiet, don't cause a fuss, and tell them what they'd like to hear.


> That's not being polite. Being polite would be to say "Just visiting for fun".

No, that is revealing information unnecessarily.

"Sorry, I am not required to answer that question" is a polite version of "none of your business".


What information did you reveal? That you thought China would be fun?

Jeez this is verging on some conspiracy theory where you disclosing the fact that you had fun/thought you may have fun implicates you in someones murder.

Either you answer the question with a nondescript answer "I like China" or you're just being a dick.

Reminds me of the idiotic thinking of Richard Stallman.

I have no time for 'principled' martyr type people who cut off their nose to spite their face.


The statement was not a polite version of the original. It offered additional information.

You may not see any problems with it, nor agree with the article's assertions. That is your choice. Equally the "dick" is allowed to tell them it is none of their business - though I think my (slightly more) polite version would be better.


>> "Equally the "dick" is allowed to tell them it is none of their business"

And as has been stated elsewhere, the security personel are allowed to detain them, submit them to body cavity searches and be equally dickish.

It goes both ways...


> It goes both ways...

Actually it usually goes only one way..


Agreed. It's usually the public acting like dicks to security staff. They're doing a job. They're providing security theatre so that idiots feel safer.


The security theater was introduced after 9/11, for whatever real reason, and I think it would be really difficult to find evidence of the public actually asking for it. It's strange you claimed it did.

It's pretty difficult to believe it makes anyone feel safer, and if it does, it's comparable to believing in "change you can believe in".


"Being polite would be to say "Just visiting for fun".

thats not being polite, that is answering the question and thereby opening yourself up to accusations that you were being misleading.

"None of your business" was a simple statement of fact, neither rude nor polite.


I think a lot of the discussion here is boiling down to this statement in particular. Maybe you don't interpret "None of your business" as impolite, but when I hear it, it's usually a snippy reply to someone being too nosy. It's actually difficult for me to imagine this line being delivered in such a way that I _wouldn't_ interpret as being rude or aggressive.


Yet "I'd prefer not to discuss my affairs" conveys the same message with a much different connotation.


Call the ACLU and sue. At the very least, you'll waste some of the ACLU's time and money. (ducks)




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