Where do I begin?
Let’s start with how my day was going before I got to London. I woke up ready and excited to see London. The day before, in Amsterdam, was an incredible day. I woke up early from my sleep and could still feel the good vibes of the city of Amsterdam and was eager to see what the UK had in store for me.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary as Gina, Keli, and I packed our stuff and jumped in a cab to Centraal Station to catch the Eurostar high-speed train to London. Everything was great. We made our way through customs without a hitch.
Now, the day before we left Amerstadam, I went shopping and bought a new Gucci/Adidas collaboration backpack and shoes. It was something I tried to get online but had no luck in the US as everything was sold out. But by chance, as I was walking through the mall in Amsterdam, the Gucci store had the products I wanted and in my size. So, I spent 3100 Euros and filled out some form about paying taxes. I was not well versed in the tax system in Europe but my wife said it was easy. She said you buy the product and when we get back to the states we get a portion of the tax we paid in Europe back to our accounts. It seemed like a deal to me. Whether or not I got the tax money did not matter to me as I just wanted the product.
Before we can board Eurostar, we have to go through customs and security. One of the issues I had with the purchase of my new backpack and shoes was the actual packaging. Both of the items came with a beautifully designed box. The backpack box was just a little bigger than a carry-on for a plane. So, I knew that I needed to make a decision, was I going to try to keep this box, or was I gonna have to ditch it? Well, I decided to ditch it. I put my items in a Gucci store bag and off we went to Centraal Station. Customs removed my items from the Gucci store bag and ran them through security. Everything was perfect or so I thought.
We boarded our train and in about 3 and half hours later we arrived in London. I was excited and started filming with my GoPro. Ahead of us are about 300 other excited people to be in London. My family and I are bringing up the rear of this group of people as we make our way down an escalator. We turn the corner following the signs that tell us we are exiting the secure area. I look past the corner as we make a sharp left and see Customs Agents standing and looking at people. This is when my day went from great to shit in just a few seconds.
I can clearly see that they are looking at me. They make small talk as they are looking directly at me. I know this look as I have gotten this look many times in the US. I am a big man and a good-looking man. I also like wearing hats, preferably Fedoras, and I had on my burnt orange Dean the Butcher by Goorin Bros. hat company. I looked nothing like the other 300 people in front of me and neither did my wife or daughter.
As we approach closer to the Customs Agents, I am smiling just trying to keep my cool. I know what is coming and I know I just got to be cool. He then asks me, “Excuse me, do you have your passport? And, where are you coming from?” He might as well say, “Can I see your license and registration please?” because this is what I have heard before in the states. I calmly give him my passport and he asks me, “So, what is in the Gucci bag?” I tell him I bought a bag and shoes while I was in Amsterdam. He asks for the receipt and I quickly give it to him. “How much did you pay for these items?”, he asked. I told him 3100 Euros and then he says, “Do you know where you are?” I tell him I am in London and he answers me before I can finish, “You are in the UK!” with a serious attitude. “What else do you have in your bags? Do you have any weapons or illegal substances?” as his tone becomes more and more a fuckin’ jerk. In my head, I am thinking I just went through your security and customs, and if I did have anything they would have caught it then. But, I bite my tongue and just try to answer him as calmly as I can.
My wife Gina starts to get nervous and tells him that she has bought about 13k worth of bags while we were in Paris. He asks for the receipts and proceeds to tally up a total. “13k? No, it’s more like a little over 20k euros. Do you know you have to pay tax on this 20k?” Gina answers him, “Well, it was my understanding that when we leave Paris we would declare the tax there…” He cuts her off, “Do you know where you are?” Gina has no time to answer before he says, “You are in the UK. You need to pay taxes in the UK. We are not Paris.” I get it, Customs Agents have to do the dirty work. They have to fight crime. But, I clearly was not trying to hide what I bought. My Gucci bag was damn near the size of my luggage. I had nothing to hide.
I am trying to keep it together at this very moment. I don’t like the tone in how he is talking to me and Gina. “Hmmmmm… based on my calculations, you would owe about 5000 Pounds and a 1000 pound fine for not declaring these items in the UK!” What the fuck is he talking about? Why the fuck are you taxing me for my shit!? This is some bull shit! What if I was wearing it? Was he gonna tax me then? Because if that was the case my hat was over the limit. Gina tries to reason with him about her making a mistake and not understanding the rules of taxes. I am thinking fuck you and this bag! Take this bitch and I will go buy another one and keep doing this every month of my life if I have to. “I don’t know you! How do I know you are not a French Nationalist? Look at him!” as he refers to me. ” He is a big guy. He is wearing this big hat. He has this big Gucci bag and flaunting it in our faces!” as he is looking at me. What the fuck is he saying? A French Nationalist? What part of the way I look makes you think I am French. He clearly could hear how I speak. Plus, a French Nationalist is like a far-right neo nazi type thing from my understanding. What does my hat have to do with anything? Also, he referenced my size, but what about the other people in front of me that stood well over 6’5″! I didn’t see him stop and question them about being big. This is some bull shit once again! I was ready to have him take all my stuff and give him two middle fingers.
But, my daughter is clearly starting to panic as I can see it on her face. I just have to stay calm. Gina’s words are starting to stutter. Our trip has been magical up to this point. The people throughout Europe have been amazing. But, here we are in the UK and I am now connecting the dots. This is America. We were profiled and he told us we were. Gina pleads her case as I am thinking just send me back to the EU because this is some bullshit! I feel so violated. I feel like I am not a human. I feel like a lower-class citizen being held hostage by someone who doesn’t even make as much money as I do. I bite my tongue for the sake of Gina and Keli.
“Look, I believe that you are Americans who did not know the rules. I am gonna let you go. But, you need to hide that bag because the people out there may get upset. And they will take it from you and you won’t catch them but I can catch you!” What the fuck are you talking about homie? Catch what and who? Gina tells him, “I am a Psychologist. This is why I can spend this much money.” He then jokingly says, “Well, based on what I am doing for you… you owe me about 20 free sessions.” What we owe you is an ass whooping! You dick! “Oh, thank you so much I am so sorry.”, Gina tells him. “Well, get going before I change my mind.”, he says. Gina starts to say something and I stop her and tell her, “Let’s just go!”
We walk away feeling violated and my anger is boiling up. I was so excited about coming to London. The rest of the night I was upset and hurt.
While we were in Amsterdam, we visited the Anne Frank House. Anne Frank was a Jewish girl who was in hiding during WWII in Holland. She kept a journal that would later be found and published as a book. When you visit the house where she was in hiding with her family you learn how they had to be very careful not to be caught by Nazis. As we walked around the house the smallest of footsteps would make the floor creak. I don’t know how her family did this for 2 years. Anne and her family could not make noise because they were hiding above another family who could turn them over to the Nazis. It was a very sobering experience being in that house. It was oppressive even 80-plus years later. Anne’s father was the only one who made it. All the others were sent to Nazi Concentration Camps and died.
I am not comparing my situation to Anne’s. But, if in this little interaction I can feel like complete shit, then what Anne or anyone else who has ever been truly oppressed, I could only imagine what they felt like.
My mom always to taught me to fight against the bully. She taught me to protect those that I love and those that can’t defend themselves. The world is filled with so much good yet we still have a long way to go.