MOST OF us know the feeling: as you walk through Customs, you wonder whether you'll be stopped, and those holiday purchases subjected to scrutiny. Fewer of us have actually had the customs officer running his hands through our luggage, asking where all this stuff came from. And only Columba Bush went through all this and then saw the story hit the front pages of newspapers across America. But then she is the wife of the governor of Florida, and a member by marriage of one of America's most famous political families.
Mrs Bush had been on a shopping trip to Paris, and she seems to have got a little carried away.
She bought $19,000 (pounds 11,875) worth of clothes and jewellery, but she didn't admit it to Customs at Atlanta airport: she declared only $500. "So we asked her for receipts," said a spokesman for US Customs, "and they were a little bit more." She had to pay a fine of $4,100, putting herself and her husband, Jeb, on the television and in the newspapers for days.
Mr Bush, son of the former president, George Bush, and brother of the Republican presidential candidate, George W, is aghast. "I can assure you it was a difficult weekend at our house," said the governor. "She knew that what she did was wrong and made a mistake." His wife "feels horrible", he said. The explanation, he says, is that she had spent more than she should have done and didn't want him to know. "It is a lot of money. But look, that's between her and me," he said.
The trip was, ironically, his gift to her after she followed him around the campaign trail in last year's elections.
Mrs Bush, from Leon, a town in central Mexico, has neither sought nor found the limelight in the past. She met her husband when she was 16, and found her role model in his mother, Barbara, not political wives like Hillary Clinton.
"All these years, I found that being a good wife for Jeb is my most important role, no doubt," she said in an interview recently. But she is a seasoned international traveller, and must have known that her holiday shopping was more than a little over the limit.
Her husband wants to draw a line under the affair. "She has apologised," he said earlier this week. "She feels horrible about it, and I love my wife more than I love life."
The media have had a field day, not only because of the legal breach but because of what it tells us about the Bushes' spending habits.
"Memo to Columba Bush," said the Miami Herald in an editorial. "Next time you feel the need for a shopping orgy, try this: Buy American."
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies