EXHIBIT (A) – Crossing the Canadian border from the United States in Detroit, Michigan. I was asked what my career was and I replied ‘prospective travel writer,’ (and at the time, I was). I was stared at for a few moments and then run through a series of questioning and search of my car. I was asked specifically about my profession and I said that ‘I was just giving it all a try, and that I only run a blog online.’ The official asked me to prove that I have a website online and that my stories were legit, so he asked me to come around the desk to join him in front of the computer, where I linked him to my blog – after a few moments of him searching through the blog, he instantly sighed and waved me through to enter.
EXHIBIT (B) – Fresh off a plane, entering Marrakech, Morocco from Sevilla, Spain. I filled out ‘writer’ on the form. The official didn’t speak english, only Arabic and French, so luckily I knew the translation for writer in French, so I replied to their confused inquiry with ‘écrivain.’ His eyes lit up and he pulled the closest patrolling official next to him, and they spoke for a full minute before asking me ‘journaliste?’ I denied and waved my hands and tried to explain that I simply wrote a blog, and when that didn’t register, I mimicked opening a book and writing, as if to say that I wrote books and not press material. For some reason, it appeared that they were going to detain me from entering if I had said yes. So luckily after a bit more scrupulous attention, they waved me to proceed.
EXHIBIT (C) – It was late and I had just left Marrakech by plane, landing in Marseille, France. The lines were long and French was not a universally spoken language for those trying to enter France – which ended up being the perfect recipe for moody and irritated passport officials. It took me over an hour to syphon through the mazed international/non-EU passport line. There was no form that I was asked to fill out, and the official spoke English well enough. He asked the typical questions, I replied with ‘tourism’ as the reason for entering and I tried out ‘blogger’ as my career choice. But I wasn’t paying attention that I left anything extra in my passport – as the official thumbed through my passport, he came across my press pass. It has in large white letters upon a black background, the words ‘PRESS PASS’ with a photo of me and my name, and below my name it said ‘Lead writer/photographer.’ On this trip, I’ve used the pass to bypass expensive tourist entry fees and to prove that I am who I say I am to other interested parties. The official stopped, snatched up the pass, called over his boss and they heatedly argued a bit. He finally looked back at me with his depth-scanning eyes and asked if I had lied to him, that I was actually a news journalist. I was taken aback with surprise. I denied and said that I blog, I write online. I only use that as an I.D. and so on and so forth. After minutes of various questioning and the officials speaking in hushed voices, they decided to believe what I had said and let me pass.
While each experience might have been circumstantial, it seems as though the words ‘writer,’ ‘blogger,’ or especially the term ‘journalist’ scares the living hell out of border officials and all kinds of trouble can come if you present yourself in that way.
I haven’t spent time researching why this may be, but I am interested in your thoughts and experiences – can you shed some light on the subject?
(Photo via commons.wikimedia.org)