08 June 2012

And We Didn't Even Get Shot At

Last week I found myself in France again, this time down south in Provence, where the cherries are already ripe on the trees.

I was the designated chauffeur for my sweet mother- and father-in-law (though I prefer the French terms: "belle-mère, beau-père"). It was a 6-hour drive each way, mostly on beautiful national autoroutes, where the speed limit is 130 km/hr (78 mph). I had a hard time getting past 120 due to years of American interstate highway indoctrination.

But when we had our one run-in with the law, we were only going 3 mph.

Just before re-entering Switzerland from France after our 4-day interlude, we needed a bathroom break. At the border, I asked the cop if there was a toilet here. He pointed one lane over through some traffic cones. I said "merci" and drove in that direction, and promptly went over the curb into a parking area that I now saw was just for trucks. I looked back at the border cop, cringed and shrugged. He did not draw his gun. Instead he looked away in an apparent attempt to ignore my embarrassing faux pas.

Now, I'm no expert on border patrol interdiction, but if a car pulled up to an international border and the people asked to go to the bathroom -- especially if they were two octogenarians and their clearly clueless younger driver with a foreign accent -- I'd immediately suspect these were drug mules possibly needing to expel contraband ahead of schedule.

But instead of the cop, we were approached by a resentful worker in a blue work vest, whose look alone asked what the fuck we were doing here in the truck-weighing area. I apologized and tried to explain in my stressed-out limited French. He noticed our Swiss autoroute sticker was expired, then pointed in one direction for the toilet, and another for where to buy a 2012 sticker.

After we accomplished both tasks, we pulled up beside the big closed red-and-white striped mechanical gates that led out of the trucking area onto the highway. I tried to make eye contact with the guy inside the control booth while pointing at our new sticker on the windshield. He ignored me. Then a huge truck pulled up and the gate open. I zipped in behind him, watching the two gates above to see if they were going to dent my beau-père's beautiful old Audi. But we just sailed on through.

Can you imagine this happening at the American-Canadian border? Don't even think about the Mexican-American border. I didn't even have to pay duty on the bottles of French wine in the trunk.


  1. While going from Ontario to Maine, US customs took all our whole tomatoes and grapefruit (both purchased in Washington State). They allowed me to keep a half tomato, since it was already in the "prepared" state. I could have kept the grapefruit, too, if I had skinned them all before entering Maine.

  2. Bizarre customs regulations. So if the French authorities try to make me pay duty on wine the next time, I'll just uncork every bottle and take a gulp.