The most expensive sandwich in the world is a toasted cheese battered in champagne and sprinkled with gold flakes from New York’s Serendipity 3 which sells for US$214 ($311). But one woman ended up paying more than eight times that amount for half a foot of metro she forgot to declare when she landed in Australia after a layover in Singapore.
The mistake cost Jessica Lee $2,664 and sent her going viral on TikTok. Soon her face was splashed in news stories around the world – her story even caught the attention of Subway, who stepped in with a gift to offset the fine.
“Now my family calls me ‘Subway girl,'” said Lee, a 19-year-old Australian content creator.
The story of how a lettuce-topped chicken foot became “the most expensive sandwich ever,” as Lee put it, begins when it began to feel a familiar feeling to many travellers: the hangover-like jet lag caused by long-haul flights.
Lee had just returned from an idyllic holiday in Greece, but his return to Australia on July 1 was anything but. She and her partner had traveled more than 12,000 kilometers in 24 hours. Brain fogged and “extremely hungry,” Lee said, the stopover in Singapore became a saving grace since she was able to eat.
“I got a foothold from Subway, and we’ve been waiting in line for so long for this,” Lee said. “So I asked [the airline representatives] before boarding my connecting flight if I could get it on the plane, and they said that was fine.”
Lee ended up eating half of it and stashing the rest in her purse along with chocolates. She had forgotten the rest of the sandwich until officers checked her bags once they landed in Perth. She had failed to tick the appropriate boxes on the declaration form – a breach of Australia’s Biosecurity Act, a law designed to prevent pests and diseases from entering the country.
Australia strictly enforces its biosafety laws. The nation known for its diverse landscapes and wildlife is keen to stay “free from the world’s most invasive pests and diseases”, according to its Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
“These pests and diseases could disrupt our agricultural industries, our natural environment and our national economy,” a department spokesperson said.
This means that all travelers and luggage are subject to checks “with X-ray machines, detector dogs, physical inspection and questioning”. Incoming passengers are also given a form to “declare any at-risk goods, including food, animal products and plant materials”, according to the agency. Failure to comply can result in a range of penalties including criminal prosecution, visa cancellation or, in Lee’s case, a $2,664 fine.
“When the officer looked at us and said, ‘Yeah, it’s gonna be almost three thousand,’ I just started crying and crying,” Lee said.
That night, the mixture of jet lag and anxiety over the fine kept Lee from falling asleep. Thus, she explained the ordeal in a TikTok clip “with the hope that it does not happen to anyone else”. Within hours, the video garnered thousands of views and comments. As of Wednesday morning, the video had been viewed more than 1.3 million times.
“All my friends and family were sending me screenshots of news articles, and I was just sitting there thinking, ‘Like, yeah, I’m actually on the internet for being an absolute idiot,'” he said. she said laughing.
But the costly mistake also came with a silver lining, Lee said.
The Domino’s Pizza TikTok account tagged Subway in the video, telling the company to “help it out”. Minutes later, someone with the international sandwich franchise contacted Lee, telling her that “although they can’t pay the fine, they would like to help,” she said.
In addition to a voucher for $2,664 worth of sandwiches, Subway also sent a package of branded treats, which Lee unwrapped for his subscribers.
Subway did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the company said in a statement to Food & Wine that “if there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this, it’s to always finish a foot in one sitting.”
Aside from the many sandwiches she can now buy, the frenzy has become “some kind of motivation” for the currently unemployed Lee. A month ago, she quit her babysitting job to pursue a career in social media.
Although he risks becoming a “Subway girl” meme in perpetuity, the episode inspired Lee to use his newfound audience to achieve his goals.
“I made a stupid mistake,” she said. “But I was like, ‘You know what? This is going to be the thing that, like, gets me through.’ “
And that, for her, justifies a gaffe more expensive than a breaded champagne sandwich.
The Washington Post
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