Syzygy

Monday, June 21, 2010

US Customs Language FAIL

When I was returning from the US yesterday, I had to pass through customs and fill out a form. Question 15 threw me for a loop, however:

"15. Residents -- the total value of all goods, including commercial merchandise I/we have purchased or acquired abroad, (including gifts for someone else, but not items mailed to the U.S.) and am/are bringing to the U.S. is:"

and then a blank for the monetary value.

The obvious intended meaning is for you to give the monetary value of all goods being brought back that have not been subject to US taxes. As written, the wording on the actual form is, at best, ambiguous. The problematic portion is "including commercial merchandise", which SHOULD be a parenthetical statement. However, some IDIOT dropped a comma, such that the parenthetical statement is now "including commercial merchandise I/we have purchased or acquired abroad", which now renders 15. as "the total value of all goods", instead of "the total value of all goods I/we have purchased or acquired abroad"

The instructions on the US Customs webpage says this more clearly, perhaps because whoever was writing it knows HOW TO USE PUNCTUATION: "15. If you are a U.S. resident, print the total value of all goods (including commercial merchandise) you or any family members traveling with you have purchased or acquired abroad (including gifts for someone else, but not items mailed to the United States) and are bringing into the United States." The instructions on back of the actual form are much less detailed and are essentially useless.

When I asked the guy at Customs about it, he admitted it was confusing, but said it made sense after more readings. I did not want to press the issue at the time, cuz they can confiscate your laptop without due process. I think it's pretty clear that I was doing an accurate job of interpreting the syntax AS WRITTEN when I asked if I had to report the value of all the objects I brought with me to Finland as well.

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