Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Friday, April 9, 1999

Errors on form
not customary

SO there you are on an airplane, flying back to the United States from a foreign destination, when all of a sudden other passengers begin singing, "I HAVE READ THE NOTICE ON THE REVERSE AND HAVE MADE A TRUTHFUL DECLARATION!"

Not likely, you think? Think again. If passengers filling out the U.S. Department of Treasury's Customs Declaration did exactly what the form says, they would begin singing like little birds.

That's because the form (Customs Form 6059B -- 101695) specifically states: "Sing below after you have read notice on the reverse."

As someone whose spelling incompetence is legendary, I have to admit I felt a certain guilty pleasure in learning of this particular typo. While I can make only 60 or 70 thousand spelling mistakes at a time, the U.S. government probably printed MILLIONS of this form with the spelling error.

Of course, passengers are expected to "sign below," not "sing below" as the form directs. The transposition of a few letters on one form isn't evidence that the country's entire educational system has finally hit rock bottom. But, as Honolulu attorney Earle Partington, a frequent world traveler who recently returned to Hawaii bearing extra copies of the document, pointed out, the form is literally littered with typos, as if it were written by a non-English speaking person. He was given the form when he left Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, but it has to be assumed that Mexico is not responsible.

This is an official U.S. form, Partington points out, presumably designed and printed in the United States. So why, then, does it say things like, "Failure to file required report ... my subject you to civil penalties and/or criminal prosecution?"

They meant "may subject you." Other typos on the form include:

Bullet Spelling the word "foreign" as "foreing." (Twice)

Bullet Writing "then" for "them" and "the" for "then."

Bullet Spelling "process" as "precess."

ALL in all, on a form the size of a standard envelope, there are at least seven typos and misspellings. (I'm genetically incapable of finding more typos since the type font is way too tiny for my 45-year-old eyeballs and, as I pointed out before, I am not the best speller to come down the pyke, er pike.)

But Partington was astounded.

"The sheer number of errors ... how on earth can this happen?" he asked.

At first, Partington and his girlfriend thought the mistakes were just cute. When they arrived at Customs in Los Angeles, his girlfriend began to sing the Mickey Mouse theme. The Customs dude didn't get it.

"I told him that, according to our forms, we were supposed to sing," Partington said.

The Customs guy was underwhelmed. He laughed a little, Partington said, but showed no interest in seeing about getting the form corrected.

And, it turned out there wasn't much for Customs to inspect since the travelers' luggage had not actually gotten on the airplane.

When Partington and his friend finally got their bags the next day, they found that the locks on both were missing and that one bag had $25 worth of damage. Customs had cut off the locks to look inside the bags and ruined the zipper.

That's when Partington decided that the Customs declaration form wasn't so funny after all. Especially the part at the very top of the form that said, "Welcome to the United States."

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802

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