Huw's recent story of arriving in the United States reminded me of one of my favourite immigration experiences, from the happy pre-9/11 days when Americans didn't fear having to come into their own country.
It used to be the case that a driver's license was all a U.S. citizen needed to get into or out of either Mexico or Canada. Crossing the border was a simple act of walking through a maze of scary barbed-wire fences, self-consciously fixing your hair when you saw the sign that said "YOU ARE BEING FILMED," and then showing your driver's license to a member of the always helpful U.S. Border Patrol. The officers were more nightclub bouncers than anything else, sitting on little stools and half-heartedly analyzing people's licences to check that they weren't fakes.
In the San Ysidro checkpoint one night, the guy in queue in front of me somehow managed to draw the officer's suspicion and was asked: "What's your sign?"
"My... huh?" asked the guy.
"Your sign, my friend. What is it?" the officer asked.
"Uhm. That's not it?" the man asked, pointing at his license.
"No. What's your astrological sign?"
"I don't think I have one of those."
"Everybody has an astrological sign. You know, astrology. That thing where you find out what's going to happen in your life based on what the stars and planets are doing."
"Oh. Uhm. I don't believe in that stuff."
"I don't believe in it, either. But I know my sign," the officer said. Then, nodding to several large Border Patrol blokes with dogs: "Here's your license back. Go have a chat with my friends over there."
The guy did as he was told and I stepped forward to the officer, holding out my license.
"I'm a Pisces," I said.
"I'm a Sagittarius," he said, waving me on and not even looking at my license.