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June 2024
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My First Chat with a Border Guard

You know the feeling – the border is approaching – will they think you have done something wrong? Will they stop you? What will you say? It was 11 o’clock and I was driving back with my two older daughters after a very successful day out at the very impressive Rheinfalle in Schaffhausen, the largest waterfall in Europe. We’d eaten out, we were tired, and we were still an hour from Basel.

Rather than travel back on the unfamiliar German roads, I thought I would cross over into Switzerland and be just a little more relaxed on roads where at least the signs made sense.

As we crossed the Rhine, the lights of the border post loomed brighter and brighter, and the gun carrying guard grew larger and larger.

“Guten Arbig!” he said, officially. In my best Swiss German I replied automatically “Guten Awber…” and suddenly realised I was using Basel Dytsch, while the Arbig version of good evening is the Zurich version, and there is something of a rivalry there… Bad move.

I had to get out of the car – he wanted to see the papers. Not being a German speaker of any note I just gave him everything in the dashboard… a big pile of stuff including two sticky sweet wrappers. He didn’t look impressed. He spoke to me and asked me some questions, but all I could remember was “Ich verstehe nit… sprechen Sie Englisch?”

He didn’t smile. It was late. Here was this foreigner driving a car with Basel numberplates – in what was clearly Grasshoppers territory – and without even being able to speak the language. And didn’t he know that all good Swiss children go to bed at 7pm? He said a few more things, but all I could hear was him repeatedly saying “…Sie mussen Busse…..!” and some other stuff.

“Vom wo muss ich die Bus gehen?” I said aghast. How could this border guard expect me to take my two girls all the way to Basel by bus – at this late hour? But he kept on insisting that I must pay for the Busse.

Finally I realised – he didn’t want me to catch a bus to Basel, he wanted me to pay a penalty for not having the correct papers with me for the car!

Phew! After that, the uneventful journey was a complete relief!

2003-11-01 03:45:45

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