Travel: Strange customs

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The Independent Travel
THE 1872 edition of the Diamond Guide for the Stranger in Paris preceded the Single European Market by 121 years. Yet it offers timely advice about customs formalities between Britain and France. 'It is improbable that the traveller will have any other answer to the question 'Avez-vous quelque chose a declarer?' than that of 'Rien du tout, Monsieur]'.'

The problem facing HM Customs and Excise is that no one seems to have anything to declare these days. Low prices for alcohol and tobacco in France, and the fact that you are most unlikely even to see a customs official to call Monsieur, have led to a huge increase in illicit imports. So the customs service has released Daytripper, a video about the risks of smuggling alcohol and tobacco from France for resale in the UK.

The makers wanted to make the video realistic. So they hired a red van, filled it with a haul of booze from the hypermarket, and crossed back to Dover. 'Whatever you do, don't stop the red van,' customs officers were told: the plan was to show it being intercepted later, on the way to London, by Excise Verification Officers.

One customs man arrived late and missed the briefing. Sure enough, he stopped the van. For the second take the other traffic had disappeared, so the van is shown departing from an improbably empty Dover terminal before, as planned, being stopped on the open road.

Having 'smuggled' in all this half-price hooch, how best to dispose of it? The obvious solution was, sadly, overlooked. At the press launch of the video last week, thirsty hacks were not refreshed with vin de pays straight off the back of a lorry but with a few cases of Bulgarian plonk, duty and VAT paid.

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