In the end, the immigration procedure was at the very lower limit of the range of hassle I had anticipated. The immigration officers did not kiss us on both cheeks, shout “Welcome home, future Canadians,” or sing a chorus of “O Canada!” (It would have been premature, in any case. Perhaps they do that at citizenship ceremonies.) But they were cordial, calm, and easy to please. Over all, the procedure was about as formal and confrontational as purchasing a gym membership — You don’t qualify for this deal, how about this other one? Sorry it’s taking so long, we’ve just had a rush of customers. (There were two RV-loads of Israelis whose passports were about to expire, requiring some personal attention from the immigration officer.) There was none of the atmosphere of suspicion that hangs so thick over US Customs and Immigration. In fact, of all the papers we brought with us, the only ones they even looked at were the passports, the letters about the job offers from Queen’s, the HRDC letter (which they said I actually didn’t need, because of NAFTA — the people at Queen’s have a different interpretation), and Chaya’s birth certificate. The list of items we had with us were cursorily perused, because I handed it to the official who was asking us what we might have to declare, but it was clearly more than she wanted to know. The biggest surprise was on the issue of common law marriage. I had expected a discussion that started with a presumption of marriage, then we would explain that we are not married, and would then be asked for the form, and some documentation. Instead, she asked, “Are you married? Common law?” and didn’t ask for any proof.
Whereas we ordinarily speak German at home — except Chaya, who typically insists on speaking mainly English — Julia felt it would make a bad impression on the immigration officials for us to be speaking a foreign language between us, so we spoke English. Chaya was in no mood to change routines. “We don’t sprech Englisch. Wir sprechen German.” She was also upset that the woman took her passport away, and asked quite boldly for its return.
Chaya has been challenged by the new circumstances. In particular, for the past couple of months she has been telling everyone she meets, apropos of nothing, “I’m going to Canada. There’s snow there.” I’ve been trying to explain to her that it makes no sense to tell people that she is going to Canada when she is already in Canada. She feels a bit cheated by the absence of snow, but if you try to explain seasons to a native Californian two-year-old, you may as well teach quantum mechanics.