It’s noticeable when travelling to and from France that the french don’t bother too much about border controls as such. While UKBA will happily spoil the end of the holiday experience by creating vast queues of British folks trying to get back home the French booths at the Channel Tunnel or ferry port often have nobody in attendance, the only check they make frequently is a chemical security swab.
Where one sees French Douane is on the autoroutes, often armed groups around toll booths where all the traffic has to briefly stop to pay the road toll. It happened today that we received their attention. As we made our way north from Rouen up the autoroute towards Calais a motorcycle escort, one in front and one behind, lights flashing, appeared from the trees at the side of the road and signalled us (somewhat confusingly) and shepherded us into the next service area where there was a large crowd of uniformed personnel and a sectioned off area.
Clearly a major check was going on and their primary questions concerned whether there were any other people in the camper van and where had we come from? In particular had we been in the south of France? And they wanted to see our passports. Most of their 'catch' at the checkpoint seemed to be trucks from southern France or southern Europe but being a camper van I guess we could have been hiding a few illegals. I assume that’s what they were looking for. Anyhow, we weren’t and they soon lost interest.
I have to say they were perfectly polite and reasonable, even to the point of noticing that Mrs was driving and specifically calling a female operative over to talk to her. They didn’t even comment on the tray of garden seedlings that get a much faster start if planted in France and didn't hold us up more than a few minutes.
Interestingly their only other question was whether we were carrying tobacco. Make of that what you will, I had to disappointment them with only two small half used pouches (although they didn’t look except a glance in through the van door). What is the present obsession with tobacco all about?
I don’t smoke enough to want to import quantities when the stuff grows in the ground almost for free but I enjoy trying different mixes and types. As an aside I recommend Gauloises ‘melange original ’ if you want to give any hand rolling enthusiasts a surprise!