After passenger told U.S. Customs agent that her suitcase once held a smashed banana, she was detained and added to a watch list

In Reader's Digest, Megan Kennett writes about the time a U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agent at JFK asked her if she was bringing any fresh fruit or vegetables into the country. Instead of truthfully answering "no" she said told the agent she had gotten rid of a smashed banana and that's why her suitcase might smell like a banana. As soon as she said that, "the agent stood up, took my passport, and then started to walk away, looking at me only once to say, 'Follow me.' That was it. No explanation, no going back."

She was taken to a holding room:

The banana police then brought me to what I like to call “agriculture jail,” which is a holding room for the USDA. Here, as with the agent, no one spoke to me or explained what was happening—or gave me back my passport... After a while, an agent behind the desk called my name and handed me my passport. “Can you tell me what’s going on?” I inquired. “Take your bags to the secondary agriculture check,” was the reply. So, that was a “no.”

Kennett was finally cleared to go when a more thorough search revealed that she was not in possession of a banana. But she says she was added to a watch list of banana smugglers and every time she traveled for the next year she and her family were escorted to “agriculture jail” and sent through secondary screening.

Photo by Alberto Bigoni on Unsplash

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How to win a battle against bureaucracy

"Be nice, know your shit, but don't take any shit."

That's web producer Hannah Birch's advice for getting what is rightfully your from a government bureaucracy that thinks of you as an annoyance with an number attached to it. She did't use those exact words (they were written by Reason's Anthony L. Fisher), but they sum up her hard fought lesson in getting a driver license from the NY Department of Motor Vehicles.

From Reason:

Birch suffers from oculocutaneous albinism, an eye condition which allows her to see well enough to drive safely but which prevents her from making out the small-printed text of an eye exam. She writes, "even though I can’t read those tiny little letters on the sheet of paper they hold up, doctors in three states now have concluded my vision is good enough for me to safely drive."

The NY DMV provides a form which allows a person to submit a doctor's evaluation of their ability to drive. Even though Birch had that form, as well as a doctor's thumb's up, she knew she was in for a long hard slog at the most loathed of state bureaucracies because as she notes, "government workers can still make it difficult for you to get what you’re qualified for under the law."

Here's Birch's advice:

Know As Much As You Can in Advance Figure Out As Much As You Can Quickly Use Keywords Speak Directly and Stand Your Ground Follow Up With the People Who Helped You Out

ProPublica: My Story as a DMV Edge Case: How to Battle Bureaucracy and Win Read the rest

Are you dead yet? Letter sent to pensioners to confirm existence

From the BBC: "A letter sent to about 4,000 retired people in Jersey asking if they still exist has been described as offensive by some of those who received it. ... The department said it wanted to make sure money was not paid into the accounts of people who had died." [via Arbroath] Read the rest