I’m not sure if I’m getting better or worse at packing. Sometimes I’ve gone away for a fortnight with five items of clothing and a pair of sneakers. Sometimes I’ve gone away for a weekend with twelve items of clothing, hairdryer and curling wand, hair mousse, hairspray, books, snacks and three pairs of shoes (flat, high heels, higher high heels). Of course, the key to packing smart is to adapt Chanel’s advice to take one thing off before you leave the house – take one thing out. In fact, take two or three.
But never mind the volume of packing, the content is always more important. Especially if you’re keen on getting through Customs without getting arrested. When we came back from Italy, the Customs officer took one look at me, my mum and dad, narrowed her eyes and said, ‘Have you brought back any salami or sausage?’. I shook my head and glared at her, mortally offended, ‘Of course not! What are we? Peasants?!’. I pursed my lips and carried on. Pft! Stereotyping!
Ok, I confess – although we wouldn’t dream of carrying smallgoods, we were carrying about a kilo of undeclared gold jewellery and an illegal amount of cigarettes.
I later learned my mother also snuck in some of my Aunt’s tomato plant seeds.
But really! Talk about stereotyping!
My uncle is exceedingly fond of Provolone, that lovely Italian cheese, often found on antipasto platters. My uncle lives in Carlisle, Northern UK, and despite his proximity to Italy, Provolone is (allegedly) difficult for him to source. So, when my father and I were preparing to visit for my cousin’s wedding, we smiled knowingly at each other when the subject of gifts came up – what else but a good hunk of cheese. Not as a wedding present mind, just as ‘here we are’ gift.
So we buy 4 kilos of cheese. Not a discrete wedge, not a subtle wodge but a whole 4 kilos. We had it cut in half and vacuum sealed. Done.
Then the doubts set in. Is it ok to carry cheese into the UK? Suddenly, all those episodes of Border Control came flooding back. Perhaps I’d better check. I scribble off an email to UK Customs. I paraphrase our exchange:
‘Good sir/madam, I’d like to carry 4 kilos of cheese into your country. It’s Italian.’
‘Well, you can’t. We don’t accept cheese from Australia. Only Europe.’
‘Oh, but it isEuropean. The Provolone is Italian, exported to Australia. We’re just returning it to its homeland. It’s going to be quite well travelled, as far as cheese goes.’
‘No. It’s still technically from Australia.’
‘But only technically.’
(I might add, I used a vague email address/name in case I was electronically tagged in some secret customs file…..)
So do we risk it? Is there jail time for illegal cheese? We plot and plan. We’re flying through Zurich – let’s say we bought it at the airport. Really? You think they’ll buy that? We don’t have receipts! Do they sell cheese at the airport?? Should we declare it? A couple of hundred dollars worth of cheese – perhaps they’ll think we’re going to sell it on some epicurean black market. Maybe let’s just bring 2 kilos – it won’t hurt so much if they confiscate it (the pain being caused by a) the idea of this lovely expensive cheese being unceremoniously binned, and b) the idea of it being scoffed by (admittedly unlikely) thieving, stereotyping Customs officers). If we only bring half, what are we going to do with the other 2 kilos of cheese? Let’s not bring any! Let’s bring it all!
On and on. Every day we grew more and more anxious about the blessed cheese.
We make the call – 2 kilos. That should keep my uncle going for a while anyway. We pack it my father’s suitcase (yes, that’s right – if we had to, we were planning to pull the ‘I’m sorry. I’m old and foreign. I didn’t realise you couldn’t bring cheese into the UK. No, my daughter didn’t know I packed it!’ card).
We land at Manchester Airport. We head towards a surprisingly sparse Customs area / exit and … sail on through. No questions, no alarms, no X-Rays, and no sniffer dogs.
We should have brought the whole 4 kilos.
Was it worth it? Yes. My uncle grinned happily when we presented him with his unlikely gift.
‘Ha!’, he laughed. ‘Provolone! Thanks!’
No problem at all.