Neale’s domain wrongwaygoback.com reminds me of our trip to the Czech Republic last spring. It was a spontaneous idea of Eemeli’s and his friend Tade’s that they came up with during a differential math lecture one morning. A few weeks later, four of us, Eemeli, Tade, Korte and I, hopped into Eemeli’s brother’s maroon ‘85 Mercedes and boarded a ferry to Tallinn.
In Tallinn, we stopped to eat, bought some groceries (a loaf of dark bread, some ham and a few liters of water) and continued our journey south through Estonia and then Latvia. Everything went fine until we tried to cross the border into Lithuania. We were stopped by the border guards, who checked the car’s registration and our passports — standard fare — but they wouldn’t let us cross the border. They didn’t speak any languages we knew. No English, German, Swedish, Czech or Finnish. We were stuck, and it was a mystery why.
After some hand-waving and shoulder-shrugging, the guard finally let up shouting at us in what I assume was Lithuanian. He ran over to the car in front of us and pointed at a little oval sticker that said EST, the country code for Estonia. He wanted us to produce a sticker with the country code for Finland! The border guard didn’t want to let us into Lithuania because we didn’t have a little “FIN” sticker on our car!
Everyone has the country stickers, but it’s not like it’s the law to have one. At least, we didn’t know it was. We couldn’t believe we weren’t being allowed to cross the border because of some silly sticker! The border guard just pointed back at the way we had come, and grunted: “Back! Finland! Back!”
In Finland, you can buy a FIN sticker at any gas station. But how many gas stations in Latvia sells FIN stickers? The situation was surreal. We’d been traveling for over ten hours, and here we are with a border guard directing us to turn back and go home.
Our stubborn guard finally broke down after impatiently watching us stand around wondering what to do next. He’d already directed us to move our car aside twice because we’d been blocking traffic. Tade was trying to negotiate our situation (kind of hard when there’s no common language) when the guard motioned a gesture with his fingers in front of his mouth, moving back and forth. For a second Tade got really scared. Finally he realized teh guard was imitating smoking. Tade ran over to the car and asked if any of us had cigarettes. I did, a half a pack Belmont blues.
The guard grudgingly accepted it, and waved us on.