Babci vs the Drug Sniffing Beagle

by Sandy L on March 14, 2011

As some of you already know, this past Saturday, I was very happy to be picking Babci up from the airport after her 2 month trip to Poland. I was excited to see her and arrived on time to pick her up outside of the international arrivals gate. For those who’ve done it before, it’s a fun guessing game of figuring out if your loved one’s flight has made it through customs.  The first thing you do is you look up at the board and see who else is arriving at roughly the same time and then keenly observe and eavesdrop the people greeting their relatives. The two flights ahead of the LOT Polish flight were from France.  It wasn’t long before I saw some skinny pointy nosed French people coming out about 1/2 hour after their flight landed. After 45 minutes I saw the first signs of a Polish person. He didn’t look overly Polish aside from the cabbage head, but one couldn’t mistake the plastic shopping bag he was carrying with Polish writing on it. (If you even want to know what most Polish people look like, look at a cabbage patch doll.)

The Long Wait at International Arrivals

Due to Babci’s knee operations and her size, she requested wheelchair access. The last time she walked that distance it took her almost 2 hours to get from her plane to the exit. It took a lot out of her. I knew with a wheelchair, she’d skip the customs line and be able to zip through the customs pretty quickly. I expected her to be just around the corner now. Then 10, 20 and 30 minutes go by and still no babci.  Finally I get a clue to an answer.   Along walks out a TSA official with a little beagle sniffing around people’s carriages and I immediately thought to myself..oh no.  Babci has no chance against a beagle. She was threatening to bring back pungent smoked kielbasa and a whole variety of food products with her.   After well over an hour of standing, I convinced myself that if I just went over and sat in the lounge, she’s bound to come out. Sure enough there she was.

The poor wheelchair attendant looked weary.  At over 250 pounds, she is heavy and he was trying to push her with one hand while pulling her 50 pound bag with the other. He started to lose a little control of her on the down ramp but they made it out the door with no incident. I  suddenly thought the$5 tip I had out for him should have been larger.  The first thing out of Babci’s mouth was “they took everything”.  She was visibly upset and kept repeating herself over and over. “They took everything, they took everything”. Clearly she still had a massive and extremely weighty bag that I was lugging, so I knew she was exaggerating.  I tried to calm her down and said “who cares, you took a chance and got caught. At least you arrived safely.”  I also told her she just got lucky all those other times she came back from Poland and didn’t get caught.

Babci’s Contraband and Mug Shot

When she finally calmed down, I found out the many things she had in her luggage that may have been an issue. It could have been the onion bulbs, or the 5 pounds of European style butter. She had an assortment of seeds in clear baggies and multiple bags of white powdery stuff. One bag looked like crack (but was actually ammonia baking powder partially petrified).   She also had 2 ziplocs of powdered limestone that looked like a big bag of cocaine.  Ugh..I shake my head.  Babci claims it was the smoked kielbasa’s fault, but then I found the real answer to being busted and she might as well have painted a big red flag on her luggage.  She decided she needed to bring back a 5 pound sack of poppy seeds in her suitcase.   She didn’t realize that poppies make opium and that when the beagle found her suitcase, his sniffing and tale wagging was a sign that he just hit the drug sniffing jackpot.

Babci was questioned at length to the nature of the poppies and why she was bringing them to the US.  She said: “I make cakey”, she rubbed her stomach, smacked her lips and said “Delicious.”  She used the same answer for the butter.  I don’t know if they even bothered to ask her about the lime.

After Babci was photographed and her nine digits were fingerprinted and put into some terrorist database, they eventually let her go.  I wonder if they put nicknames on the files like they used to do on old west wanted posters.  “Babci the 9 fingered poppy bandit.”

Home At Last

At the airport, Babci was too busy getting her mug shot and fingerprints taken to notice what exactly had been extracted from her luggage.  The first thing she wanted to do was open her suitcase to assess her losses.   She still had her vodka and at least 5 pounds of assorted chocolates for the kids. Most of her seed packets had made it through, even the ones that were in unmarked plastic baggies.  I dug a little deeper and I found her butter.  “Wow..they let you keep the butter. That’s awesome.”  Then to my surprise, there it was, in all it’s glory, the 5 pound bag of poppies. Surprisingly, the only things they took were the onion bulbs and kielbasa. I absolutely couldn’t believe it.

As I suspected, it didn’t take long before I had more material for my next  article.  I’m so glad the customs guys were so nice to Babci.

Lesson learned. Don’t bring back food products that can be made into drugs and don’t bring home smelly meat that a dog would love to eat. Perhaps this experience will even make her adhere to the actual customs rules on food + animal products.

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Niki March 14, 2011 at 7:54 AM

HA! Babci the drug mule.

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Nicole March 14, 2011 at 8:43 AM

They let me keep cheese from Spain, but not meat… not even the meat I’d purchased in the airport shops on the way back. :( Silly dogs. I feel for Babci.

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Sandy L March 14, 2011 at 5:47 PM

Nicole – really. that doesn’t seem right. The irony is that there is plenty of imported meat coming over here every day. I scratch my head.

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Money Beagle March 14, 2011 at 11:37 AM

They probably went easier on her (i.e. giving her back the poppy seeds) given that she was older and in a wheelchair. My guess is that if I (a mid-30’s male) had that in my luggage, they would probably be pretty skeptical of the ‘delicious cakes’ response. In any case, glad she made it back OK and the Polish vodka is a must bring!

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Sandy L March 14, 2011 at 5:48 PM

Money Beagle – a bottle of vodka might be my next giveaway.

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Jacq @ Single Mom Rich Mom March 14, 2011 at 11:45 AM

But what if the butter had melted? What a mess that would have been!

Sometimes customs is so lenient. It’s nice to see them have some common sense. We accidentally brought back about 6 bottles of rum from the Caribbean, admitted it, asked where to pay the duty and they waved us through. But then another time I had a guy obsess over a $40 shirt for 2 hours.

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Sandy L March 14, 2011 at 5:49 PM

Jacq – the butter was vacuum packed in plastic, so it would have been fine. You could tell from the contents of her luggage that she wasn’t well off, so maybe they knew it would have really hurt if they took all of it. (Although seeds should be fine).

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retirebyforty March 14, 2011 at 2:24 PM

OMG! Babci is a little nutty. :)
I think it’s the kielbasa that tipped the dog off. Can they smell poppy seeds? I would never dare to bring all that agricultural items back. I don’t want to mess with immigration at all!
What is with all the junks she brought back? Is she a bit of a pack rat? We have rubber bands in the US, right?

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Sandy L March 14, 2011 at 5:51 PM

Rb40 – yes, she is a pack rat. I think her sister just offered up some extra stuff she didn’t want/need anymore, so my mom happily took it. I don’t fight it anymore, but this was the babci that my high school self didn’t understand.

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Mel March 14, 2011 at 4:46 PM

I’m very glad she got the poppy seeds back! (“mak” in Czech, I’m guessing something similar in Polish?) I’d never tasted the poppy seed filling before I came here, but oh my is it good! A somewhat acquired taste, but acquired… Yum :)

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Sandy L March 14, 2011 at 5:53 PM

Mel – yes, it’s Mak in Polish too. I’m going to try some recipes with it too. I’ve never baked the hard core poppy loafs yet. She was very happy about the poppies being spared indeed. I wonder how long it’ll be before she cooks something with them…probably Easter.

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Laura L. March 14, 2011 at 8:13 PM

Oh my! Babci is my dear departed mother-in-law! She would come see us, bringing enough food to supply a restaurant. Think 5-pound loaves of mozzarella, gallons of olive oil, big containers of oregano and basil. She also redistributed the wealth of various family members as she saw fit. Once she gave me a much-coveted pot. When my sister-in-law found her pot at my house, the look on her face was priceless. On the flip side, I learned to go through her luggage when she wasn’t around, in case I needed to rescue something I wasn’t ready to part with.

And my daughter still talks about the customs person who ” stole” her can of reindeer meat on her return from Estonia 10 years ago. She was so incensed, she browbeat the agent into giving her a receipt for the confiscated can.

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Sandy L March 15, 2011 at 2:56 AM

Laura – yes, my mother thought they took her kielbasa not because it’s illegal to bring it home, but because they were hungry. That is so hilarious about stealing people’s stuff and giving it to other people “redistributing wealth” is a very interesting way to put it.

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Molly On Money March 14, 2011 at 9:01 PM

What’s the furry thing on the table?

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Sandy L March 15, 2011 at 2:53 AM

Molly – LOL, miss furry throw pillow lover..Figures you’d gravitate to that one item. It’s a bottle of grass vodka in decorative packaging. My cousin works at a vodka factory, so he always sends us back the special edition stuff.

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Molly On Money March 15, 2011 at 8:26 AM

That is fabUlous!

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Money Reasons March 14, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Too bad about the smoked kielbasa, I have to wonder if it’s much different that what they have over here? I would think not…

I’m glad they didn’t try to arrest her or something! Sounded like a crazy day!

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Sandy L March 15, 2011 at 2:57 AM

Money Reasons – apparently, it’s much different. I generally don’t like it though cuz everytime I eat it, it tastes good going down, but I burp it up days later. Plus, it’s really fatty.

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Squirrelers March 15, 2011 at 12:35 AM

Babci is cool.

I share your surprised reaction that the only things taken were onion bulbs and kielbasa. There was a lot of stuff there that you would think would be taken immediately.

Funny, this reminds me of a guy I lived with one summer sesson at college. There were 4 of us, and this guy went home for a weekend only to return with a bunch of kielbasa. Don’t ask me why he did that, though I guess it comes from the reality that he grew up adjacent to an area with a decent amount of folks with Eastern European background (from a variety of countries including Poland).

Anyway, the smell that occurred while he cooked the Kielbasa was enough to drive the other two roomates away. I dealt with it and teased both my friend as well as the other roomates for having a limited worldview.

So yeah, I could see how kielbasa would get the search dogs to go wild.

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Sandy L March 15, 2011 at 3:01 AM

Squirreler – yeah, American food is pretty bland compared to most ethnic food. My mom’s house always smelled funny, especially on Kraut cooking days. The only thing I can’t stand the smell of is lamb..she used to boil it and the whole house had the gamiest smell. I still can’t eat it to this day.

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101 Centavos March 15, 2011 at 6:43 AM

LOL!! Squirreler said it right, Babci is very cool indeed. She and my Mom (Nonnatella to the kids) would get along just fine. But seriously, rusty metal things? We have lots of those here. ;-)
Nonnatella brings us assorted blocks of cheese and prosciutto every time she comes to visit.

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Sandy L March 15, 2011 at 7:48 PM

101 – tell Nonatella she can come visit our house anytime. Yum. Also, regarding the metal things..I was told by my cousins that they would limit the number of them they’d allow her to bring back, because indeed we have plenty of those here too.

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everyday tips March 15, 2011 at 9:11 AM

Love that Babci! I love that she brought back random metal things too. I can’t imagine smuggling butter and ammonia and the other stuff!

I wish we could see Babci’s mug shot! Oh, and I love her description of what she planned on doing with the poppy seeds. (Cakey!)

So glad you shared.

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Sandy L March 15, 2011 at 7:49 PM

Everyday Tips – Yeah, the mug shot would have been great.

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Kay Lynn @ Bucksome Boomer March 15, 2011 at 9:29 AM

It doesn’t sound like Babci understands she was in the wrong. It reminds me a cruise we took recently where they announced at one port that the country was strict about fruits/vegetables from outside sources and they can not take any off the ship.

Passenger bags were being checked as we departed the ship and a couple of ladies in front of us had several pieces of fruit in their purses. I was amused that there are so many people who think the rules don’t apply to them.

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Sandy L March 16, 2011 at 7:29 AM

Kay Lynn – Babci isn’t always a rule follower, especially when it comes to food. I think people justify it by realizing that food is imported from all over the world every day into the US, but I still prefer not to do it myself. I mean is it really worth risking a new pest entering the US for a kielbasa dinner?

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Crystal March 15, 2011 at 7:06 PM

I’d write more but I’m laughing too hard to see the keys properly…what a freaking hoot!!!

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Sandy L March 16, 2011 at 7:30 AM

Crystal – I’m glad you’re enjoying the story.

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Little House March 16, 2011 at 9:47 AM

That’s hilarious! I guess the TSA officials like kielbasa – I wonder if they fed it to the dog or ate it themselves? ;) I mean after all the questions regarding the poppy seed and then officials took the kielbasa, must mean they were eying it the whole time.

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Barb Friedberg March 16, 2011 at 9:04 PM

What a great story. I learned my lesson when I tried to bring a pear back into the USA from Canada. I didn’t realize that you have to go into this whole other department where they ask you a bunch of questions and then confiscate the fruit. Last time I brought anything “live” into the country! Your stories are so fascinating, I really enjoy them.

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laura March 17, 2011 at 11:08 AM

I’m trying to imagine what my ‘too scared to break rules self’ would have been like at customs with all this lot (lol)..I’d probably be holding my wrists out and asking them to cuff me now!!

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Linda March 17, 2011 at 12:08 PM

Every time I leave the U.S. and return, I get a special hand search or scan by Customs. I must look like a drug smuggler or something.

Except that when I got back from Spain two days ago, I breezed right through. Of course. I could have totally gotten away with bringing in the special jamon if I had been willing to take the risk. *sigh*

As for the white powdery stuff, I toyed with the idea of carrying baking soda with me on my trip (at home I wash my hair with it instead of shampoo) but decided not to do so because it could look so suspicious and cause too many problems for me. Nice to know that it seems to be OK to carry along! I’ll remember that for the next trip out of the country.

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Jennifer Barry March 19, 2011 at 1:10 AM

I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when I read this, that was hysterical! I can’t believe Babci is bringing back random crap in her suitcase. I bet that beagle had a tasty kielbasa snack. I guess he doesn’t like poppy seeds. ;)

I know someone who works customs on flights coming in from Mexico. She has a lot of funny stories too, like the woman who denied having any chicken (pollo). When the agent found poultry in her bag, the woman said, well that’s a hen! (gallina)

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Sandy L March 19, 2011 at 7:05 PM

Barb – yeah, it’s not worth the extra time it takes to take the risk, especially if you’re put into a database..I’m sure babci’s days of smuggling are over because she’s going to get checked everytime now.

Laura – you are too funny. You wouldn’t make a very good travel companion for babci that’s for sure.

Linda – Yeah, it wasn’t the powdery stuff that they even cared about, but with so much other stuff in there, I’m not surprised it was low on their list.

Jennifer – yeah, babci’s not big on buying stuff or souvenirs, but she always brings back “free” stuff that her sister doesn’t want or she finds somewhere. I wasn’t surprised at all. In fact, now that you can only have 1 suitcase the volume of crap is much diminished.

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eemusings August 1, 2011 at 5:40 AM

Hilarious!

I too used to hate my parents for being different. Now I think it’s charming (although if I still had to live with them I know their habits would grate on my nerves before long.)

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