Friday, September 27, 2013

Strip-Searched in Trondheim Again

I don't want to whine and I'm not alleging brutal treatment or anything like that. But I believe I'm on a list in Norway, too, and that I've been treated like a criminal, to some extent, although I have no criminal record in Norway or anywhere else. (He admits, embarrassed...) Nothing that happened was all that notable, but notable enough that I thought it deserved a blog post.

I was on a flight between two of the world's richest, most egalitarian democracies – Denmark and Norway. Copenhagen and Trondheim, specifically. The plane landed, we all walked down the stairs. As soon as I entered the terminal building, there was a customs agent with a sniffer dog. The dog dutifully sniffed my jeans, my guitar, my bag, my shirt (climbing up onto me a bit in order to do so, but I don't mind, I like dogs). My jeans should probably have been thrown into the laundry bag the night before, but I figured I'd wear them another day or two, they weren't smelling too bad, although they had just endured an evening at Ungdomshuset, the premier punk rock social center in Copenhagen, where I had had a great gig the night before, amidst a thick cloud of (predominantly) tobacco smoke.

I'm no expert on sniffer dogs, but on the Canadian border I have witnessed one of them find a small amount of marijuana (OK, it was me, I had accidentally taken half a joint in the van with me, which my girlfriend had left in a case of sunglasses, unbeknownst to me – no charges). When the Canadian sniffer dog found the roach, it barked excitedly. (Score!) This Norwegian sniffer dog did not bark. It sniffed me thoroughly and then it seemed to indicate it was done, and ready for the next job. (A friend here in Trondheim informs me that Norwegian sniffer dogs wag their tails when they find something, rather than barking.)

The Customs agent informed me, however, that the dog had noticed something. OK, I thought, perhaps it's conceivable my jeans smelled of hash, but mostly tobacco, and I certainly had no illegal drugs on my person or in any of my luggage, guitar case, etc. But the dog hadn't barked, that's for sure.

The agent took me into a room and closed the door.

“Do you have any drugs on you?”

“No,” I replied.

“Did you smoke any pot recently?”

I assume they're interested in actual, physical specimens of pot, not whether it's in my bloodstream, but I answered honestly, that at the gig the night before I had had a couple hits on someone's joint. I just like them to know that this is normal and they should feel stupid for asking such questions, and I feel no reason to lie about doing something that millions of their fellow Scandinavians do every day.

“Do you have any luggage?”

“Yes, on the carousel.”

“Come with me.” He took me to another room, one I had been in before, unnecessarily (and rudely, it seemed to me) pulling me along by my bag to make sure I was coming to the right room. I was, incidentally, not wearing any offensive clothing – just relatively clean pants and a t-shirt featuring the logo of a Danish trade union.

The agent motioned for me to put my things on a metal table. This guy wasn't big on verbal communication, although he was fluent in English, as are the vast majority of Norwegians.

A female agent came in.


I handed my passport to her. The male agent then asked what I was doing in Norway.

“Playing a gig in Trondheim tomorrow, and Oslo the next day.”

“Come with me,” he said, once my stuff was on the table. He took me into a small, windowless room. Same one I was in with a different Customs agent a few months ago, last time I flew from Copenhagen to Trondheim.

“Do you have any drugs with you?” There was that question again.

“No,” I replied again.

“If you have any drugs with you, you have to tell me now.”

That's an interesting thing to say, given that it's plainly not true. I don't know Norwegian law, but I'm pretty sure I don't have to tell him anything self-incriminating without a lawyer present. In any case, they're obviously combing through all my stuff on the metal table in the other room, which I can't see from our windowless cell, so if I have any drugs with me, they'll presumably find them, and don't need me to tell them about it first.

He then instructed me to remove each article of clothing, one at a time. He searched every pocket, turned everything inside-out, etc. After he had me completely naked, he instructed me to turn around and lift each of my feet up, to make sure I had nothing taped to the soles of my feet, presumably. Then to open my mouth, lift my tongue. No anal cavity search, anyway. (Maybe next time.)

He told me to put my clothes back on. If I needed anything, I should knock on the door, he said, helpfully. Then he left me alone in the small, windowless room with one chair and one table, both attached to the wall.

A few minutes later another agent opened the door.

“How are you getting into Trondheim?”, he asked.

“Someone's picking me up.”

“What's his name?”

I actually wasn't sure. I knew whoever it was who was picking me up was a member of Norway's Maoist party, but I wasn't sure which one it would be. I gave him a first name.

“Is he Norwegian?”, he asked.


I answered these questions on the assumption that they were going to let someone out there know why I was delayed.

After another ten or fifteen minutes, an agent opened the door.

“You can go,” he said.

My stuff was strewn all along the length of the metal table. Two agents watched as I packed it all up. No one made any effort to help me do this, which is just as well, since I prefer to do it myself (though usually they insist on helping me zip up my guitar case and stuff, probably because they're supposed to do that). They all looked really disappointed.

I walked through the “nothing to declare” line, since they clearly already had seen every item in my luggage. On the other end was a tall, red-faced young Norwegian Maoist, who looked somewhat flustered.

I apologized about the extra wait, explaining that I had been strip-searched again. He told me that he had been identified as the person who had come to pick me up, and was then taken into a room and searched, though apparently not strip-searched. The sniffer dog had taken an interest in his jacket, they told him.

This is notable. I admittedly hang out in places where people nearby might be smoking weed, but this guy doesn't. He's a straight-edge, clean-cut Maoist, dressed neatly in clothing that did not indicate any overt anti-government or even alternative culture sympathies, a member of a party that is very anti-drug. He doesn't do drugs or hang out with people who do. I'm sure the dog did not smell anything untoward on his jacket, in fact.

While he was in the room with the agent, the agent threatened to search his car in the parking garage, asking him not whether he had any drugs in the car, but how much. None, was the young man's honest reply. He was quite understandably annoyed at this intimidation tactic. In the end they didn't search his car.

My ride and I then drove away, and went to visit the nearby village of Hell, where I wanted to have my picture taken, which he obligingly did for me. And then he dropped me off in Svartlamon, a neighborhood where enough hash has been smoked over the decades that even the walls of the buildings would probably set off one of these Norwegian sniffer dogs.

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